book chats

What’s On My Bookshelf Vol. 1

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A key to my rating system:

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

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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: “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?