reading

Top 20 Reads of 2019 (So Far)

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Books of 2018

This year I read 108 books plus half of two other books. My goal was 125, so I didn’t technically complete my Reading Challenge, but I feel OK about it. Here are the best books I read across different genres along with a very brief review/synopsis for each. Just so you are aware, there are some repeats of books I’ve mentioned before this year (especially in my best of the year so far post from August). If you want to check out everything I read this year, visit my Reading Challenge page on Goodreads.

Best General/Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is sort of a catch-all for things that don’t fit neatly into other categories. The literary fiction I read is usually written with attention to language and with more emphasis on character development than a fast-moving plot, though they can certainly have both.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. I don’t know how he does it, but Backman tackles MASSIVE issues in such a nuanced and emotionally intelligent way. This is a sequel to Beartown, so definitely read that first, but this is a deftly handled exploration about how a community responds to violence, about rape culture, the unifying and destructive power of rivalries, and the many small actions that can lead to serious consequences.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. 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

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 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.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. 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.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This book was a total surprise for me. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are just a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  The book tells the story of a Korean family who have immigrated to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea and their experience living in Japan over the course of a few generations through the wars and beyond. The way that Korean immigrants were looked down on and denied full entry into society even generations after immigrating had some uncomfortable parallels to things going on in my own country right now. Pachinko is a popular gambling game in Japan (kind of the equivalent of a slot machine) and several characters in the book are involved in the Pachinko business which is where the title comes from.

Best Thriller

I read 15 books that fit in this genre this year, and not a single one of them rocked my world. If I had to pick one to recommend I would say either The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. Or is it?) or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Anna Fox swears she saw a woman get stabbed in the house across the street, but no one can find any evidence. Also, Anna is on a lot of medication and drinks way too much. So there’s that).

 

Best Memoir

Everything Happens for a Reason and other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, 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.

Educated by Tara Westover. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family, Tara Westover had no access to formal education.  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.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell. Irish novelist O’Farrell explores the fragility and beauty of life through seventeen stories of her own encounters with death.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads byClementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. This is the story of one girl surviving the Rwandan genocide. This was one of the most poignant memoirs I have ever read, not only because the author survived something horrific, but because it focuses equally on the aftermath. It explores what it was like to be stateless as a refugee, but also what it was like to be safe and settled and still feel the need to put on a particular identity, to tell the kind of heroic story of survival that people want to hear.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. 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.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. If you like the BBC show, you will love the books which strike the same note, but do have some different stories and observations about Worth’s time working alongside a group of nuns as a midwife in some of London’s poorest communities during the 1950’s.

Best Nonfiction

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This is such an important book that I am still digesting. When I first finished it, I wished Brown would have given me some more action points. Like “How can I fix the damage I have done by being white.” But over time I started to realize that was part of the point. am not the fixer. I am not the one to swoop in and help black people. A huge part of my role in racial reconciliation is to acknowledge my privilege and my biases and to simply listen.

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. 12 beautiful essays about how to live and to love in the truest and most authentic ways possible.

Best Beach Read

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The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. Big, juicy rich white people problems book set on Nantucket. Enough said.

Best Fantasy

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic.

La Belle Savage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman. This gives great back story if you are a fan of His Dark Materials. Otherwise, this is not the one to start with.

Best Mystery

The Witch Elm by Tana French. I am a huge fan of Tana French although I was disappointed with her last book. The Trespasser. This is her first mystery outside of the Dublin Murder Squad series and I really enjoyed it. Toby is a carefree guy for whom everything has always come easily. After suffering a head injury, he moves to the countryside to recuperate in the old family home where his broken mind and body frustrate him. When a human skeleton is discovered on the property, Toby struggles to answer the detectives questions, whether because of the holes in his memory or because of secrets he never knew to begin with.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. I’ve read and loved all of the Cormoran Strike mysteries, but I will admit this was the first one that felt a bit too long for me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed trying to piece together the mystery and loved spending more time with Cormoran and Robin.

Best Audiobooks

My Plain JaneThe second book in the Lady Janies series, this is a retelling of Jane Eyre where Jane Eyre is a real person who inspired her friend Charlotte Bronte and also, she can see dead people. As much fun as My Lady Jane.

Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar. Best known for his role as Raj Kuthrapali on The Big Bang Theory, Nayyar tells funny, heartwarming stories about his childhood, immigrating to America, trying to make it as an actor and comedian, and how a guy like him ended up with a wife like former Miss India, Neha Kapur.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. New York Times food critic tells stories of literally dressing up in different disguises and assuming new identities in order to review top restaurants undetected. This is great on audio.

CalypsoNothing is funnier than David Sedaris reading David Sedaris. His delivery really sells it.

What did you love reading this year?

What I’m Into: October 2018

This month has been especially busy for us, but mostly full of nice things. We did some traveling and had a friend come for a visit. We don’t have much of anything planned for November at the moment, and I’m actually looking forward to a few weeks of a normal routine. I admit that as obnoxious as it is when people post about how wonderful fall is, they have a point and now that I am living somewhere without a fall, I am definitely missing it. People here have started to dress like it’s fall, but it’s still in the low 80’s every day. It does get into the 70’s in the mornings and evenings which does feel like a nice change, but it’s hardly cause for sweaters and coats.

What I’m Reading

I read 11 books this month. Sadly, I am still about 20 books behind on my goal for the year. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I will be pretty impressed if I can pull this off. All of the books I read this month are pictured below, but I will just mention a few standouts.

36301023My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read the trio’s first book,  My Lady Jane, last year. In this re-telling of Jane Eyre, Jane is not a fictional character created by Charlotte Bronte, but instead is a real life friend of hers whose Charlotte uses as the inspiration for her classic novel. Only this Jane can see dead people. It is every bit as silly and delightful as My Lady Jane and I definitely recommend you listen to the audiobook.

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. This book has been out for a long time and 10847I can’t believe I only just got around to it since it is about one of my secret fascinations – fundamentalist polygamist cults. The thing that stood out to me in listening to this compelling account of the history of fundamentalist Mormonism was how similar so much of the language is to what you would hear in a mainstream American evangelical church. For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard someone say, “I prayed about it and I felt the Lord leading me to do x, y, z.” Many of the stories in this book have that same language, but, you know, the thing the Lord is leading them to do is marry 13 year olds or slay the infidels. So there’s that. Seriously though, this book is fascinating and done in Krakauer’s typical thorough and engaging style.

34128219La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman. It was great fun to dive back into Pullman’s world and to get more of the back story on Lyra, the heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman’s storytelling was every bit as compelling in this book as it is in the original trilogy, though I do have to dock it a few points because I felt the last third of the book dragged on for too long.

 

 

35270717Unthinkable: What the World’s Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own by Helen Thomson. This book was fascinating. I’m not a scientist, so I appreciated how accessible this was for an unscientific audience. Thomson traveled the world meeting with people with rare psychological disorders and talking about those disorders both as they experienced them and in terms of what doctors and researchers had learned about the brain by studying the brains of these unique individuals. Her subjects include a man who believed he was dead for 3 years, a woman who constantly hears music that isn’t there, and a man who believes he turns into a tiger. In my opinion, Thomson was able to write about these people as real humans instead of distilling them down to their condition.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. This debut novel has gotten rave reviews with good 35068705reason. If you are looking for a fantasy novel you won’t be disappointed by, look no further. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic. And it’s the first in a series so there will be more to come!

What I’m Watching

We are trying to catch up on the current seasons of Better Call Saul and The Good Place. Meanwhile, I have been on an Elementary kick. I’ve seen random episodes of the show off and on over the years, but never really followed it, so now I am taking advantage of Netflix and watching old episodes.

We also went to see A Star is Born. There was much weeping. That really got me in the feels. And also, I already knew Lady Gaga was wildly talented, and I think she is so interesting, but her acting in this was top notch. And of course…Bradley Cooper. Just…sigh. When we left the theater I was blinking back my tears and said to Jonathan, “We will never speak of this again.” It’s beyond my emotional capacity to handle how many feelings this movie gave me. Go see it, everyone. But then don’t talk to me about it. Because I just can’t.

What I’m Writing

While I was out having adventures a lot this month, I didn’t do quite as good a job of documenting them. But I did write about our day trip to Macau and told some fun stories about odd things I’ve eaten recently and some funny ESL moments with my students. Please follow me on Keep Roaming On for more of my day-to-day adventures and stories from my travels. I have a ton of things half-written, but I guess I have been struggling with follow through this month.

What’s On My Mind

This is a new section of the monthly post and it’s basically a place for me to word vomit some things that have been filling my thoughts lately and haven’t made their way out in the form of a blog post.

  1. The amount of hatred in the world, but particularly in the US right now is terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart is heavy for the many victims of injustice and violence who are suffering right now. Lord, have mercy.
  2. It’s hard to make new friends as an adult. Like seriously hard. But it makes me really appreciate the close friends I have who have continued to make the effort to be friends even though I’m the one who decided to pick up and move across the world.
  3. When we were in the Philippines mid-October, the shops were playing Christmas music. This felt wrong on so many levels. Rocking out to “All I Want for Christmas is You” while sipping mojitos on an island beach was…incongruous to say the least. And then yesterday (October 31st) the stores in the area where I work started putting out their Christmas lights. And I thought the US was bad about starting Christmas too early…
  4. One of our cats back in the US has been missing for several weeks. I try not to think about it too much because it makes me so sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know this is not on the scale of anti-semitism and cancer, but on tough days it feels like the actual worst.
  5. Speaking of cancer, my cousin’s double mastectomy went well and they believe they got it all, but she will have to undergo a round of chemo just to be safe. She is a strong and beautiful woman who is already using her story to help other people. I’m kind of in awe of her.
  6. Having to meet your friends’ babies over FaceTime is both an amazing marvel of technology and also somewhat devastating. You cannot get that new baby smell or the feel their little fuzzy bodies through a phone screen. But thank goodness there’s a way for us to actually see each other live. We take it for granted, but if I had been living in Hong Kong even like 15 years ago this would have been impossible.

What I’ve Been Up To

On October 10th, my bestie had her first baby, a truly gorgeous little girl with hair to die for. (Yes, this is a different baby than the one that was born last month). Natalie Loren, you are loved all the way across the world!

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I’m dead. Completely dead. 

On October 14th, we flew to Cebu, Philippines where we stayed for 4 nights in a hotel with the biggest bed I have ever seen. It was literally five Lily-lengths wide. I know because I counted. It was amazing. We had some very chilled beach time and also went out to Kawasan Falls and to the top of Osmeña Peak. It was like being in The Jungle Book.

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We stayed for four nights and then flew back to Hong Kong where my lifelong friend Rachel met us the very next day. She had been working in Bangkok and flew up for a few days before heading back to the US. So we spent 3 days playing.

Last weekend I had to go to Macau again to activate my new visa, but because Jonathan and I were both tired and didn’t really want to spend the money on another trip to Macau, I went by myself. I rode the ferry over, walked through immigration and into the ferry terminal, then went up the escalator and walked back through immigration the other direction and got on the next ferry back to Hong Kong. The whole thing took a few hours, but I was in Macau all of 10 minutes. The government, man.

So that’s me. I feel like we haven’t chatted in forever. What’s been going on with you guys? Read anything great recently? Or just want to commiserate on the sorry state of the world? Leave a comment or send me a message. I’m still here.

 

 

 

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.

IMG_0015
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?

 

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?