Book Review

Best Reads of 2018 (So Far)

This past weekend we experienced the most crazy, wonderful blessing – one of our good friends from college, whom we have not seen since our wedding eight years ago, showed up in Hong Kong with her husband and baby. They had already planned this trip before we announced our move, so when we realized we were going to be in the same place at the same time, we all kind of freaked out. I mean, mostly Mary Claire and I freaked out. But I think the boys were excited too. Just in a more tough, manly ways.

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We had an absolute blast with Mary Claire, Benjamin, and Banning and are secretly hoping they just drop everything and move here so that we can hang out all the time. While we were together, Mary Claire mentioned that she’d read several of the books I’ve recommended over the years, and she kind of called me out for not posting any book recommendations in such a long time. So…long introduction to say…for all of you who have had absolutely nothing to read these long months where I haven’t written about books, the dry spell is over. You’re welcome. 😉 Here’s the best of what I’ve read so far this year.

Note: I realized that most of my favorite books so far this year have been recent releases that deal with sad or difficult circumstances. To be fair, they all have some measure of hope to offset the sadness, but if you don’t like books where people deal with hard things, you might not like these.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

33253215This book, man. It is not for the faint of heart. This book tells the life story of Cyril Avery from birth to death. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable. The book ends on a sweet note which might strike some readers as too convenient, but I felt set up for it from early on and found it satisfying the that it ended in a place of peace.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

34912895Hannah showed up on everyone’s radar after The Nightingale in 2015. Her newest book takes place in Alaska in the 1970’s where Vietnam veteran Ernt Allbright takes his wife and his 13-year-old daughter Leni to live off the grid. The family think this will be their salvation, but in the long, dark winters, Ernt is haunted by the ghosts of the past and becomes increasingly paranoid and irrational. Leni realizes that she must fight for survival for herself and for her mother in the great Alaskan wild, There is something mesmerizing about the wild, rugged beauty of a mostly unsettled land. The story itself is very reminiscent of The Glass Castle although fictional, so there is definitely a trigger warning for domestic violence. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending which felt a little abrupt and too neat compared to the rest of the book. However, if you are someone who needs it to end on a hopeful note, you will probably like this.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.

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A short and sweet account of an adult child (Ruth) stepping in to care for her father as he slips into dementia.  I read it in almost one sitting and I loved it. In spite of being quite short, I felt like it delved into the issues inherent in being an adult child taking care of a parent as the parent loses agency. It also dealt with the complexities of dementia without being overly sappy, sad, or sentimental.

 

 

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

35133922This memoir has exploded onto the scene and (deservingly) gained a lot of attention. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family (again somewhat a la The Glass Castle) , Tara Westover had no access to formal education. Taught that western medicine was evil, she learned to use herbs and natural remedies for everything from childbirth to severe burns. Violence and control were part of every day life, but they were all that Tara knew. At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

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Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

 

 

 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler.

35133923Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she has is just hitting her stride in her career and has finally become a mother after years of trying. Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false. As someone who grew up in an environment I would call “prosperity gospel adjacent,” I was moved by this memoir of wrestling with the harsh reality of death within this specific context. Bowler’s writing is funny and witty and heart-wrenching all at once and this book will stay with me for a long time.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.

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Ruth Reichl is a renowned food writer and was a long-time critic for the New York Times. This memoir recounts her time as a food critic and her various experiences eating her way through New York City. The most entertaining parts are how she created actual characters with backstories and disguises in order to visit these restaurants without being recognized as the New York Times food critic and receiving special treatment. Parts of this are laugh-out-loud funny, and Reichl’s skills as a master storyteller are on show here. Such a fun read.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

36840397I don’t have the words. Part of what moved me so much about this book is that it was so emotionally resonant to my own family history, even though I grew up as a very conservative Christian rather than Muslim. I particularly enjoy/connect to stories that show how different family members experienced the same event in different ways. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well, and in that way, I think it is something we can all relate to. I think this book is a great choice for anyone who loved Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.

Honorable Mentions go to: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan, I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

You can always follow me on Goodreads for updates on what I am currently reading. Let me know if you have read or end up reading any of these!

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What I’m Into: January 2018

January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because we’re over the excitement of Christmas, but it’s still winter. Or maybe it’s because so many of us are trying so hard to make some changes and start fresh, and getting started on a new habit is always the hardest part. Regardless of why, I’m glad to be finished with January and moving towards spring, which comes early in the south. Here’s what January looked like for me.

What I’m Reading:

I read 9 books in January and got 2/3 of the way through two others, so I’m feeling good about hitting my reading goal of 125 in 2018, though I know it’s still early days. Follow me on Goodreads for updates.

 

The Spy by Paulo Coelho was actually my first Coelho book. It’s fairly short and tells the story of  Mata Hari, a woman who made her debut as a dancer in Paris in the early 1900’s and charmed her way into the upper eschelons of society where she was privy to secrets. She formed relationships with many powerful men and was eventually arrested in 1917 and accused of being a spy. This is a fictional account of the actual historical person.

Coincidentally, I also read The Alice Network this month which tells the story of two women, one of whom is also a spy during WWI and is part of a network of female spies. They actually reference Mata Hari in the book as another famous female spy. I’m very into drawing connections between things I read, watch, and experience in real life, so I really enjoyed it.  I liked this book quite a bit more than I expected to and found it to be a quick read even though it’s on the long side.

I read some fantastic nonfiction this month including, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa. I listened to the audio version of One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul which is a book of humorous and poignant essays about a lot of different topics dealing with race, gender, and identity. I think listening to it was the way to go because you really get to hear the author’s sense of humor. Plus the short parts at the ends of each chapter that are read by “her father” are hilarious. I also read Kelly Corrigan’s new book, Tell Me More. I really love Kelly Corrigan. Her writing reminds me of Cheryl Strayed in some ways and I thought this book was great. Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway has some great nuggets woven in, but overall I don’t think it was one of her best.

I read Sara Gruen’s newest book, At the Water’s Edge and didn’t think it was anything special. It was like Water for Elephants except substitute the circus for Scotland and and the elephant to searching for the Loch Ness Monster.

The Unseen World, however was really interesting. I’m still not entirely sure what I thought about it, but it was intriguing on several levels. It tells the story of Ada Sibelius who is raised unconventionally by her father who is a brilliant scientist who keeps Ada isolated from the experiences that most other children have growing up. When her father begins to experience the early stages of dementia, Ada is forced to join the rest of the world for the first time. Meanwhile she tries to uncover her father’s secrets before they are lost forever inside of his mind. I can’t decide if I feel like this book had one too many twists or not, but overall I really liked it.

I also read Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin for my book club. It’s roughly based on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but told entirely from the perspectives of females involved. It’s a multi-generational story of female voices that is meant to be an indictment of slut shame culture. I’m not sure if it succeeds in doing that, but it was a relatively fun and easy read.

What I’m Watching:

I finally starting watching The Crown after having it recommended to me over and over again. I’m halfway through Season 2 and I love it even though I pretty much hate Phillip. I am just one episode behind on This Is Us  and continue to think it is brilliant even though it always makes me cry. Jonathan and I have been watching The Good Place since it’s been back on. I am really impressed with the ways that show continues to be clever and creative and to take the story in new directions. I also binge-watched the first season of Riverdale which as scratched the itch I sometimes feel for Pretty Little Liars now that that’s over. The only problem is that I don’t have access to Season 2 yet so I have to wait for it to come to Netflix. Which I know is not a real problem, but still.

What I’m Writing:

I finally got back to my blog this month and posted a Favorite Books of 2017 post, my Year in Review post, my What I Plan to Read in 2018 post, and one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, We Must Risk Delight: Or How to Combat the Devil One Tattoo at a Time.

What I’ve Been Doing:

My world is dominated by my many jobs (I run an international student program during the day, but also do a ton of after school tutoring and some freelance writing) Just after New Year’s, Jonathan left for 6 days to do some serious writing as he prepares to turn in his thesis. I have to admit, I didn’t mind having the house to myself for 6 days, though I was definitely glad to see him when he got back.

I got my new tattoo and we went to Charlotte to visit our dear friends and their (now 4 month old!) baby, Shepherd.  We also had a magical Snow Day off of school that week. It wasn’t magical because of the snow because we didn’t actually get any, even though places as close as an hour away got several inches. It was just magical because we got a surprise day off.

Shepherd

The following weekend, I took a group of 16 international students up to Asheville for the weekend. Most of them had never been and we enjoyed the artsy downtown area before heading up to a lodge on a lake that we had rented out. We went with my boss, my work wife (Rachel), and another teacher. It was such a great time. I wish I could share pictures of the kids, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing too much about my school or my students online. Just trust me when I say they are adorable.

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The other thing that dominated this month (and our lives in general) was conversations about what we will do when Jonathan graduates in May. There are a million questions with no good answers and this has frankly been a very stressful period of time. It sort of feels like hurtling towards a giant crater of unknown. My favorite.

What I’ve Been Loving:

Barre classes. Seriously. I never would have thought I would get into barre, because those classes are HARD and make me feel like I’m dying, but I keep going back. I started trying out barre back in September because my friend Meredith was getting certified to teach and have been going fairly consistently ever since. I try to get there 2-3 times a week. Every time, I don’t know why I put myself through the torture, but I also come out of it feeling like I worked really hard. This hasn’t necessarily translated into any great physical change since barre will do a lot more toning than it will overall fat burning, but I feel stronger and more graceful. I also mix it up by doing zumba about once a week, which I am terrible at, but really enjoy.

My bullet journal. Yes, it takes time to make it look like this. Time that could probably be better spent elsewhere. BUT it keeps me organized, helps me with the 3,000 things I have to do every day for different jobs and clients and friends and family members, and gives me a way to remember how I’ve spent my time. I also like that I can change up the layout every week if I want depending on what I have going on.

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My boots. If you know me in real life, you probably know that I am shoe girl. Like hardcore. I just love shoes. I’m not even going to try to defend it. This month I’ve particularly loved my boot collection. I think I wore a pair of boots every single day of January. I firmly believe there is a boot to fit every outfit and every occasion. Which is how I justify every new pair of boots I buy. And then there are boots like these, which are so extra, they are their own occasion.  But tell me, how can you have these on your feet and not feel happy?

Boots

My Letterfolk board. Jonathan surprised me with this as a birthday present. I admit, it can also be a bit of a time suck thinking of what to write and putting each of those little letters in place. But also…it’s fun! I usually post mine to Instagram. Like a cool kid.

If you want to read more posts like this, head over to Leigh Kramer’s blog and check out her link up. In the meantime, what have you loved this month? Anything recommendations for me?

 

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.

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Oathbringer
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 I’m Into: Jan – Feb 2017 Edition

Happy March! I don’t know where you live, but it was 83 degrees here on the last day of February, but it will get down to 32 overnight tonight. The world confuses me.

What I’m Reading

My reading for 2017 is off to a great start! I’ve read 31 books so far this year spanning genres like history, memoir, feminist essays, historical fiction, humor, food memoir, young adult fiction, Danish lifestyle, fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and literary mysteries. Don’t worry, I’ll only go into detail on a few.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. This book had been on my reading list forever and when I finally read it this month I couldn’t believe I had put it off for so long. I already love food memoirs, but Reichl is a truly spectacular writer, weaving the stories of her life so vividly around specific recipes that Reichl, her family, and her friends felt like old friends.

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I know it’s early to say this, but I think this will prove to be one of the most important books I read I all year.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. This book was very “meh” to me, which surprised me because I’d heard good things about it and heard that the movie (of the same name) was very good. While this is a (probably typical) story of an Irish immigrant to Brooklyn post WWII, I found the main character to be very distant with very little emotion that I could connect to.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is another book that I have heard rave reviews about. I had a similar reaction to this as I did to Brooklyn. I think there were intentional reasons why the characters were a little distant (perhaps to avoid the sort of torture-porn, emotionally exploitative elements that can come with brutal periods of history) but I still had trouble connecting. I liked the inventive element of making the railroad an actual train.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. Now I want to be Danish. Also the cover is just so pretty.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. My second Donna Tartt. Like The Goldfinch I thought this had merit, but was inexplicably long.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. So, this book is based on such an interesting true story, and I can’t wait to see the movie, but I think the actual book was a little boring. It was oddly paced and jumped around from character to character which made it difficult to follow at some points. It felt like the author couldn’t find a good balance between technical information and human interest details. Nevertheless, a pretty cool story about some women I wish had been acknowledged and appreciated more during their lives.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. I actually really loved these thoughtful essays from a writer most known for her comedy. (Except for the one about porn. In case you’re judging me).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I found this very interesting and insightful into the poor white, blue collar American communities that are some of the largest supporters of our current president.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Listen to it on audio)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. Killing it, Louise.

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. Trying to fill the hole left by Crazy Rich Asians. Not quite there, but still had some of the fun elements that I love in Kevin Kwan’s books.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. Just. Keeps. Getting. Better.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Probably the most atmospheric book I’ve read this year. I love when a book makes you feel transported.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading. And feel free to ask if you’re curious about any of the books I mentioned here!

What I’m Watching:

We finished watching the first season of The Good Place this month and I admit that I did not see the twist coming! At least not quite like that. We also watched the latest season of The Mindy Project which we had never finished. I am now halfway through season 5 of Scandal, an on-again, off-again show for me. Hubby and I watched a few movies together over the past few months, but the only one I can remember right now is The Family Fang which was weird, but I loved it. I am also current with Jane the Virgin (WTH by the way) and This is Us which I couldn’t possibly love more.

What I’m Eating:

I used an Amazon gift card I received for my birthday to buy a few new cookbooks to inspire me. So far, my greatest new discovery has been the Thai Beef Stew featured in Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker. We also make sweet potato fries at least once a week (like out of actual cut up sweet potatoes that we bake in the oven) which makes eating healthy more fun.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I feel a little spoiled by all the fun things we’ve been able to do so far this year. We rang in the new year in Costa Rica this year. We flew down to San Jose on December 31st in order to be there for my brother-in-law’s wedding on January 7. My amazing brother-in-law (who is one of my favorite people in the world) married a Costa Rican babe that he met while living in South Africa. Now that they are married they are preparing to move to Germany. Confused yet?

Anyway, this was probably the most exciting New Year’s Eve we’ve ever spent as we were picked up from the airport in San Jose and then taken to a New Year’s Eve party that was in full-swing at my new sister-in-law’s house. I don’t know how to explain this party except to say that Costa Rican families LOVE to dance and that drunk people shouldn’t be blindfolded and given sticks to swing at piñatas.

We spent the first week of 2017 in Costa Rica which means we basically peaked in the first week of the year. We visited a volcano and spent a few days at the beach and finished our week at Patrick and Sofia’s sweet and beautiful wedding. And then we had to go home to real life. Boo.

Theoretically, my life should have slowed down a bit starting in January, because I completed one part time job at the end of December, but in fact, January turned out to be one of the most challenging months this year. I had a few very unexpected professional disappointments followed by some high-stress situations (discussing my hopes for my contract next year with the headmaster, planning and executing Chinese New Year celebrations for the whole school). By the end of January I was ready to go on break again. Fortunately, my school had a Winter Break in early February and it just so happened to line up with a conference Jonathan was already planning to go to in Washington D.C. I got to tag along for a long weekend in DC where I got to hang out with Rachel, an old high school friend, and spend my days wandering through museums and historic sights.

In a completely random and unplanned coincidence, my parents ended up being in DC at the exact same time that I was, so I also got to spend a few hours with them. The night before we left to come back home, Jonathan and I joined Rachel and her friends at a Valentine’s ball at the Italian embassy where I got the chance to re-wear my dress from Patrick and Sofia’s wedding (which we all know never happens). It was a ball. (Get it? Get it?)

A few days after returning from this trip, I got to chaperone a group of high school sophomores from my school on a college tour to Wofford College where one of my best friends from growing up in Louisiana works in the admissions office. Having brilliant and talented friends doing there thing all over the wide world is pretty much the coolest. Especially when our paths intersect.

Hope your 2017 has started off with a bang. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to!

The Year of 100 Books: Reading Superlatives for 2016

Somehow, without quite intending to, I will finish 2016 having read exactly 100 books. (I say this with confidence now having 3.25 days left in the year and 1.5 books to go, but I’m hoping claiming 100 a little early won’t jinx it). Since I read a wide diversity of books, it’s impossible for me to simply choose just a few to write about, so instead I like to do book superlatives, because then I don’t have to pick favorites and I also get to create categories to fit the books I really want to write about. It’s a win-win!

Before I jump in, I wanted to address two  comments I frequently receive from people about my reading. First: “You must read really fast!” I’m actually a fairly slow reader due to the fact that for me to really process what I’m reading, I have to move my lips like I am mouthing each word, which basically means I read in my head at the same pace it would take me to read aloud. Of course, it depends on how dense the book is, but on average I’d say a 300 page book will take me 6-7 hours of reading time. I’m also not always reading literary fiction or works of research. This year in particular, I’ve read quite a few books that had little or no literary or educational merit and were just for fun.

The second comment I see often is, “I would love to read that much, but I never have time. How do you find the time?” I have a few answers to this. Practically speaking, I am a twenty-nine year old woman with a self-sufficient husband and no kids. While I often work 60 hours/week, I still have fewer demands on my free time than many other people do. Audiobooks have played a huge role in my reading life this year.  I sometimes listen to a book on audio while also reading the hard copy and switch back and forth between the two. I listen to audiobooks while I’m getting ready in the morning, while I’m driving to work or running errands, and while I’m cooking dinner. I get at least 2-3 hours of reading in every day just by doing that. I also bring a book with me everywhere I go and take advantage of the small moments I get throughout the day. Five or ten minutes here and there really do add up.

If you’d like to see the full list of what I read this year, feel free to check out all of the titles on my Goodreads Reading Challenge. You can also read my superlatives from 2015 here. Now on with the show!

Grumpiest Old Man Book

18774964A Man Called Ove by Friedrik Backman. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man with plenty of opinions about all of the youngsters these days. All he wants is to be left to die in peace, but the young family who moves in next door isn’t about to let him. This book is heartwarming, but also made me excited to be a cranky old person some day.51Q3z3emk2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Runner Up: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Though this one has a 104 year old grumpy old woman (plus a quirky little boy), it still fits the category and was one of my favorite reads this year.

Most Thrilling Thriller

23125266I went through a thriller phase this summer and into the fall, but I found myself let down by most of the ones I read. I think this is because thrillers set you up to expect some great twist and most of the ones I read either didn’t surprise me or just didn’t make a ton of sense. My top pick was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh which managed to be unexpected without being a wild dramatic twist. Big trigger warnings for domestic violence though.

More recently, I really enjoyed Before the Fall by Noah Hawley which also steered away from the last minute plot twist in favor of a reasonably paced reveal of what happened. But don’t read this on a plane.

Most Likely to Make you Want to Cook All the Foods

3090282A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg which is both a memoir and a book full of recipes, reminding us of how food shapes our ordinary lives.

Runner up would be Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler which I didn’t ultimately give a great review because I really disliked the main character, but it paints an incredibly vivid picture of life on the Manhattan restaurant scene.

Most Disappointing Book

51rq4omr5l-_sx329_bo1204203200_I really hate to say this because this wasn’t a bad book at all, I just had very high expectations. I’m talking about Tana French’s latest Dublin Murder Squad mystery The Trespasser. I absolutely loved her previous five books (especially The Likenessand had extremely high expectations for this one. It wasn’t a bad book, but it did drag for me a bit in a way her previous ones hadn’t, and I didn’t feel as connected to the detective as I have in her previous books.

Most Fun Book

41nRjQg+quL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_22674105

Crazy Rich Asians and the sequel China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Both books are pure, voyeuristic pleasure peeking in on the lives of the filthy rich of Singapore and Hong Kong. These books also made me want to move back to Asia ASAP.

Book I Now Wish I Could Get Back the Hours of My Life I Spent Reading

27190202We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. Rich White People Problems book except with completely flat characters and no development whatsoever and weird creepy incest-y relationships.

I also did not care for Jennifer Weiner’s newest book Who Do You Love although I usually find her books to be reliable feel-good reads.

Best Historical Fiction

515p3OrN1KL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah which is about two sisters living in occupied France during WWII, each fighting in her own way. (One of the best books of the year for me).

51tXTlzZcNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Runner up: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Another WWII novel, this one focusing on the lives of Japanese Americans forced into internment camps in the US during the war told through the eyes of a Chinese American boy.

Best Contemporary Fiction

51MDWaEfUiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Just wow. I loved this book so much. I don’t even know what to say about it. Just read it.

Book I Can’t Shut Up About

51C9yK9VzzL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I mean, I really couldn’t shut up about this. I was bringing up the topic of end of life care and the inevitability of death like it was my job. This book manages to deal with a morbid subject with grace and compassion and truth. I think it’s a must-read.

Best New Series

This wasn’t a new series to the world, just a new series to me. Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries came highly recommended and they have not disappointed me. I will say that the first few were good but not amazing to me, but the further you get in the series, the better they are. These are the types of mysteries that are focused on character development, delving into the psychology of the characters and probing human nature. I will be finishing book 9 of 12 in the few days. (PS- You do sort of need to read them in order because sometimes they refer back to previous cases).

Most Challenging

20342617Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy broke me and challenged me not to turn a blind eye to the injustices being enacted every day in my country through our prison system. After hearing Bryan speak last month I am even more determined that we all have a responsibility to work towards justice in our communities.

Furthest Out of My Comfort Zone

9969571Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I have little to no interest in video games or in 80’s pop culture references and yet this book completely charmed me. As a bonus, the audio book is narrated by Wil Wheaton.

Most Exotic Setting

This is a three-way tie between Enchanted Islands (Allison Amend) which is based on a real-life couple who were sent to be spies in the Galapagos islands pre-WWII (but only about 1/3 of the book takes place there), The House at the Edge of Night  (Catherine Banner) which is a dreamy, multi-generational, Gabriel Garcia Marquez-esque book set on a small Italian island, and The Light Between Oceans (M. L. Stedman) which is mainly set on a mostly uninhabited island (more of a rock really) off the western coast of Australia.

Best Series Ender

51DDbkFPljL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_41ssiybe2ll-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. This is the final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and it is magnificently intense. Runner up goes to Winter, the conclusion of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Both of these books run around 800 pages long so it’s a good thing they were worth it!

Most Important

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter from Coates to his young son explaining what it means to be black in America. This is a book that everyone should read.

Funniest Book

16141924Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you are familiar with Gaffigan’s stand-up, the book is very similar. I really enjoy his sense of humor.

Book That Made Me Cry

25899336When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Yet another book I read this year about mortality, the reality of death, and the brevity of life. Reading the words of this thirty-something neurosurgeon who must grapple with his own terminal diagnosis and what’s really important in life. I dare you not to cry reading this man’s words and knowing he does not live to finish the book.

 

Best Rich White People Problems Book

25781157
Because this is a genre I actually enjoy now and again, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the ultimate indulgence. Four adult siblings who are within months or receiving a tidy inheritance, only to find that the “nest” has been plundered to cover the indiscretions of the eldest brother.

Best Prose

13152194I was honestly blown away by Tiny Beautiful Things which is a compilation of essays Cheryl Strayed wrote in her Dear Sugar advice column at the Rumpus. I don’t always agree with her advice, but I was moved by her genuine compassion and authenticity which shone through in these letters. They are stunning.

Most Educational

51PfhTR2k-L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I learned so much in this book recounting Kingsolver and her family’s year of dedication to eating only foods they grew themselves or sourced locally. For example, did you know that the ability to mate naturally has been bred out of American turkeys and the turkeys you eat at Thanksgiving are all the result of artificial insemination? Told you it was educational.

Most Unique

61sewvnupl-_sx324_bo1204203200_A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I’m not even exactly sure how to explain this book except to say that it was both intensely realistic, dealing very explicitly with things like mental illness and suicide, and also somewhat surreal. Which I think was the point. It’s difficult for me to tell you what this book is about and it’s probably better to just read a synopsis, but I will say that while this book had some disturbing parts and some strange magical realism towards the end, I still really liked it.

Best YA Book

515e3HFpceL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Most Surprising

25852870Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is part of the Jane Austen project, a collective that invited several modern authors to modernize classic Jane Austen novels. I normally really hate re-tellings of classics. Especially modernizations. But this one (based very closely on Pride and Prejudice) just worked for me. Bingley is a famous bachelor after being on a nationally televised show called Eligible (like the Bachelor), Lydia and Kitty are obnoxiously into CrossFit and Elizabeth and Darcy have hot hate sex. Also, the whole thing is set in Cincinnati of all places and mentions lots of places I go when I’m visiting my in-laws there.

Celebrity I Now Want to Be Friends With

51YEfYZUHLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Padma Lakshmi after reading her book Love, Loss, and What We Ate. I never really knew anything about her before, but after reading this book I think she’s pretty impressive and much smarter than people probably realize. She’s also led a really interesting life–born in India before immigrating to America with her mother, working as a model in Europe in her early twenties, meeting and marrying Salman Rushdie, and later going on to become a television cook and a judge on Top Chef.

Best Heroine

So, this book will really only work for you if you are a Jane Eyre fan or a fan of the gothic novel in general. This is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, but it is heavily inspired by it. Except in this novel, our heroine, Jane Steele, is an accidental serial murderer. I also love the cover design for this book.25938397

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for reading. Believe me, I did my very best to pare this list down to the ones I most wanted to talk about, and I still had to leave a few good ones out. I don’t have a specific reading goal for 2017 and I actually hope to do more writing, which would probably cut down on my reading time, but you can always follow my progress on Goodreads!

What were the best books you read this year?

 

 

 

What I’m Into: August & September 2016

For the first time since I started doing my monthly round-ups, I missed a month. All I have to say is, I work about 60 hours/week right now and while I genuinely love my job(s), I have almost no time and certainly no energy for anything that requires brain space. So there you have it.

What I’m Reading:

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest. by J. Ryan Stradal. More of a set of linked short stories than a novel, each chapter centers around a particular recipe and cumulatively tell the story of Lena Torvald, a brilliant young chef, through the stories of those whose lives intersect with hers. Some characters/chapters I loved. Others I hated. The overall form was new and fun.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache #2. Small town murder in a charming Quebec town full of eccentric characters. Louise Penny’s strength is creating a world full of 3-dimensional characters. Admittedly, this is not what everyone is looking for when it comes to a mystery, but they lend themselves to interesting observations about human nature.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. I have a soft spot for rich-people-problem books, but this one was really awful. There was no character development or movement. Just blah.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. This book reminded me of All of Us and Everything which I read in July. Three eccentric adult sisters with a Shakespeare-loving father come to terms with themselves and with each other. Interestingly, this book is narrated in the first erson plural (“We”) and somehow still works.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl Strayed’s collection of columns from her time writing the Dear Sugar advice column is a gem. Even if I don’t agree with all of her advice, it’s hard to deny that Strayed has a gift for speaking truth with tremendous empathy.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This difficult, beautiful book is something we all should read as we seek to understand the reality of the black experience in America

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Pure delight. The sequel to the entirely wonderful Crazy Rich Asians picks up two years after the end of Crazy Rich Asians.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. People seem to have strong reactions to this book – either they love it or hate it. I loved it. This is a rich white people problem book that hits the right notes.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Of all of the thrillers I read this summer, this one was my favorite although probably also the darkest and most violent.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron. Nora Ephron’s funny little life reflections are a great distraction.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback on this from fans of Gone Girl. I enjoyed it, but I had also figured out who was responsible for the crime fairly early on. I’m still enjoying the unreliable narrator trope even though it has (arguably) been overdone in recent releases.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. The set-up for this was so great, but it was lacking in execution. While this made me want to move to Europe ASAP, it was also very far-fetched and the timeline was somewhat confusing.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. More small-town Quebec murders, though certainly the book where we learn the most about Chief Inspector Gamache.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven  by Chris Cleave. I really enjoyed this. Part WWII saga, part love triangle, this book encompassed my favorite things about WWII era literature and films with a bright dash of humor mixed with the somber realism.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. Four-year-old Noah knows things he’s never been told and asks every night to go back to his “other Mommy” even though he lives with his birth mother. Is it possible that Noah is remembering a past life? This book was fascinating, although the pacing was a little odd to me because it seemed to climax about 75% of the way through and there was still another quarter of the book to go.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. I adore Moriarty’s other books (though I haven’t read the most recent one), but this one wasn’t my favorite. I still enjoyed it, but compared to the others it felt a bit long and I connected less with the character. 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This book has wrecked me. Everyone should read it. It was difficult for me to make myself continue in some parts because of how upsetting some of this (true!) information is, but as a privileged middle-class white woman, it was something I needed to read.

The Girls by Emma Cline. I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book besides the good reviews I’d seen and a slight fascination with cults, but in the end, this wasn’t my cup of tea. It was well-written, but I just didn’t really connect with the main character so I wasn’t especially sympathetic to her actions.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Light, fairly fluffy, easy read. I enjoyed it, but it won’t stick with me.

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I’ve picked up Scandal again (I’m at the end of Season 4) and Jonathan and I have started watching our old stand-by’s, New Girl, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. We also started watching The Good Place, mostly because I love Kristen Bell and it has some delightful Pushing Up Daisies vibes.  I’m waiting for the perfect time to start This Is Us because I know I’m going to love it with all of my guts, but also that it is going to emotionally exhaust maybe. Maybe this week when Jonathan’s at night class and I’m home on my own.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve eaten terribly for most of the last two months just out of sheer busyness. But when I haven’t eaten terribly, it’s been because of Prep Dish. Prep Dish is a meal planning service that gives you four meals plus a salad, a breakfast, and a snack or dessert. It tells you exactly what groceries to buy and then tells you how to prep everything in one 2-3 hour session so that you have meals ready-to-go all week long. It’s still a bit of work up-front to grocery shop and prep, but it really does make life wonderful to know that your meals are already planned and ready to go. And most of the meals I’ve had have been great. The service costs $14/month and they give you a paleo option and a gluten free option. I figure I’ll at least do it for a couple of months and then maybe just start recycling old weeks. This is totally not sponsored by the way. Here’s what we ate last week:

menu

What I’ve Been Up To:

Besides working all the jobs, we’ve had some good times in August and September. I think. I mean, it’s honestly kind of tough to remember back that far. I do remember that we went to Charleston at the beginning of August. And then school started and both Jonathan and I started teaching.

I do remember that the weekend after Charleston we got to hang out with our very dear friends, Tim and Asharae and Tim’s brother Richard who was visiting with his wife Lindsay, a friend I hadn’t seen in years. And of course we got to see Brandon and Christy, our other close friends who live in Charlotte. Yay, friends!

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For Labor Day weekend, I went to Raleigh by myself and saw my bestie boo Christina and her husband Andy, my friends Mary and Justin and their doll-baby Evelyn, and went to a 1st birthday party for my friends Jerusha and Nathaniel’s daughter, Edith.

A few weekends ago, Brandon and Christy came down our way and we all went to the Greek Festival together where we mostly ate delicious Greek food and watched some entertaining Greek dancing.

At work, I hosted a tailgate event for our international students and their host families that went over pretty well. We also all participated in spirit week with dress up days like Pajama Day and Superhero Day. On Friday, the entire high school went bowling and I had a great time watching some of my students try bowling for the first time.  I really do love these kids. Which is fortunate since they are pretty much my whole world right now!