What I Read: April/May 2017

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Hi, bookish friends. Life has been nutso. We are moving this coming weekend to another space on campus (a house!), the kids are home for the summer, and, well, I have a 7-month-old baby who is crawling, pulling up, and being a baby. I wanted to stop in and share some quick reviews for what I read the last two months, though!

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy – I have to admit, I read this initially because I thought it was the same author as The God of Small Things. Nope, that is Arundhati Roy. You can call me Stupid American.

It’s one I came across on Overdrive, looked interesting, and when I checked I saw it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Sleeping on Jupiter is the intertwined stories of three older women and a young documentary filmmaker. Their paths cross as they ride the train to Jarmuli in India, an ocean town with a famous temple. The three friends have come on a long-anticipated vacation; the young woman, Nomi, has come back to make a movie and research her own past.

It was a heavy read. I appreciated the excellent writing, but I felt like it tackled a lot of hard-hitting topics all at once and just left me deeply sad.

Can’t Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones – My love for Jenny B. Jones is well-documented here, and I am surprised I waited as long as I did to read this extra book in the Katie Parker series, given how much I LOVED the original trilogy. I did enjoy delving back into Katie’s world and seeing her as a grown woman; I just felt like this one was less believable, more romance and less personal growth. Jenny is still funny, her characters vivid, but something in it didn’t quite work for me.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – The buzz about this book was so interesting I felt like I had to try and read it! What I found was that it is more of a screenplay instead of a novel: a cast of lively ghosts narrate the action going on in the graveyard (bardo is a Tibetan word for the space in between death and afterlife). We go back and forth between action in the graveyard and what happened before, leading up to and through Willie (Lincoln’s son) dying and the mourning. Those parts are told in series of quotes from different sources. (I heard someone say some of these were made up. I am not sure. The New York Times calls them “facts and semi-facts.”)

On one hand, I really like to read something that is different. And this sure is. The pages of quotes that all deal with the same event from different eyes are so interesting, pointing out that you can pretty much make history whatever you want depending on what sources you find. The action in the graveyard is so creative. The ghosts take forms of their stories – some are big or small, performing certain motions, or joined together. And nearly two months later, I can picture all of what happened very vividly in my head, which is not my norm for reading.

On the other hand, though, I felt like it was inventive just to be different. It seemed more screenplay than actual novel. And I thought Saunders included some crass stuff just for shock value. So do I recommend it? It totally depends on the person. I think those who have studied history would be especially interested in this.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – I picked this book up at a consignment sale and decided to read it before I passed it on to my kids. It’s a middle grade novel, and I think a little beyond what my daughter would enjoy at the moment (she’s 8 1/2 and doesn’t love books that are difficult for her). I loved the story of Calpurnia, who is 11 in the year 1899. She loves science and begins studying the land and species around her plantation home with her grandfather. It’s a great story of a girl who doesn’t feel like she fits into the right mold; Callie Vee doesn’t want to learn cooking, piano, or cleaning – she wants to dig in the mud. A great view into the turn of the twentieth century.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker – I think Jen Hatmaker’s mix of truth-telling with flat-out funny is a breath of fresh air in “religious” writing. I love her heart, and I enjoyed listening to this on audio. (Except the recipes. It’s impossible to enjoy recipes read aloud.)

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman – I’m not sure I have the right words for this book. I love Backman as a writer; here, he nails a precocious 7-year-old instead of an elderly humbug. But the element in this story of relating fairy tales Elsa’s grandma used to tell her with the real people she lives around lost me a little bit. I kind of wish the entire fairy tale had been told at the beginning and then Backman had dealt with the rest of the novel. It felt a little disjointed to me. I still don’t think I completely got where he was going there, although that might be a cultural/language issue.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – This is the third book Anne Bogel recommended to me when I was on her podcast, What Should I Read Next? It didn’t come out until April, though, and I managed to get it from the library in late May. I’ve been bogged down in Middlemarch for most of May, but I took a break to read AIP, and I am so glad I did! It’s a collection of stories taking place in Lucy Barton‘s small Midwestern hometown. Lucy is mentioned in many of the stories but only appears for one. Strout spins such beautiful tales, and these stories utterly captured me. I give it 4.5 stars, only because I didn’t feel like this will be an all-time favorite or be life-changing, but I did race through it in two sittings. It is great writing, and an excellent read.

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What have you been reading lately? Anything you would recommend?

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

My Favorite Reads of 2016

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In 2016, I’ve read 79 books (and will almost definitely finish the 80th before this week is out, I am about halfway through Hillbilly Elegy. Which, by the way, I think would have made this list if I’d read it before now. An excellent read!). I tried to narrow this list to 10, but I couldn’t bear to cut another book. So here are my top 11 books I read in 2016.

oneinamillionboywintersolsticeanne-series

Fiction

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood – This tale of a young boy obsessed with world records and the elderly woman he befriends is unique, sweet, and memorable. (Full review.)

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher – One of those books that made me want to read EVERYTHING by the author. Also, I’m kind of sad I didn’t read it around Christmas. A sad tragedy brings a motley cast of characters together for Christmas in Scotland. Adored it! (Full review.)

Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery – What a treat to read these treasures for the first time as an adult! I loved living in Anne’s world for a while. (And the world of her children, too!) (Full review.)

Station_Eleven_CoverI'll Be YoursA Man Called Ove

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Something about this post-apocalyptic novel is so intense, haunting, and lovely at the same time. Probably my #1 read of the year and one I would recommend to everyone. (Full review.)

I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones – I am a total sucker for Jenny B. Jones, especially her hilarious yet adorable YA romances. Raced through this one. (Full review.)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman – I love it when a book lives up to its hype. This one totally did. Backman’s book is funny, sad, poignant, memorable, and all-around lovely. How does a man in his 30s write older curmudgeons so well?

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I read part of Jane Eyre in college, but it must not have been much because there was nothing I remembered in this volume. A classic for a reason, Eyre is a fascinating heroine and I think I could reread this and get all kinds of different things from it. (Full review.)

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – I keep finding myself recommending this Kate Morton historical mystery to others. A great book to dive into, Morton opens with a family drama that continually flashes back to World War II era. One I stayed up late to finish. (Full review.)

Nonfiction

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – Full review coming, as this was a December read for me. Senior’s study on modern parenting focuses on the parent, not the child. Reinforced my strongly held notion that we should only do at most one activity per child, and challenged me in some other areas. Just a really interesting read.

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Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker – This was definitely a faith-stretching year for me. We left our church and found a new one that is a completely different space. Jen Hatmaker helped me  through that somewhat with this book and armed me with the knowledge that I wanted a Christianity that looked outside the walls of the church. I have not arrived, but I’m growing. Whatever your feelings on Hatmaker at present, I think this is great, stretching read for those who no longer feel OK with casual faith. (Full review.)

Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver – I was on the launch team for this book, compiled by my good friend Mary from her late friend’s blog and writings. But my five-star review was not related to that; this is an excellent book, a book pushing the reader to truly live in faith and outside circumstances. Sara’s story is hard and heartbreaking, but her intense faith and optimism is inspiring. (Full review.)

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It was hard to cut out a few other favorites, but I think those are truly my top reads of the year. I’m excited that I will finish at least 80 books this year (plus I reread the seven Harry Potter novels – that counts, it’s just hard to count on GoodReads). What was your best read of 2016? What do you think I should read in 2017? I’m anxious to hear your answers!

What I Read: October 2016

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Oh hey, remember me? I am still here. I had this baby of mine on October 17th, and it turns out having four kids is a whole lot of work. 😉 I haven’t done much except hold her. But you’ll forgive me, right? She’s pretty darn cute.

Meet our Hannah Katherine. She was born 10/17/16 at 3 p.m. on the nose, and was 8 pounds 5 ounces.

Hannah Hannah headband 4 kids

And so even though it’s November 14th 17th, I want to share about my October reads!

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – I read Patchett’s Bel Canto in 2014 (review here), and it’s been one I have reflected on often. I like books that are character studies, and she does that well. In Commonwealth, Patchett tells the tale of two families, joined and broken by marriages and divorces. The story reflects on a childhood tragedy, the children’s times together, and follows them through to mid-life. The characters are vivid and not easy to forget, and I find Patchett utterly readable. I’d like to tackle State of Wonder next, but I’ve heard the ending can be very off-putting. Should I read it?

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Before the Fall was released in May, and has been a bestseller and Amazon book of the month. It’s touted as a thriller, but it doesn’t read like one, in my opinion. There is a mystery: a plane crashes, and there are two survivors: an unknown artist friend and a little boy. The mystery unfolds as the artist and police try to figure out what happened on the flight. Was it an accident? Is the artist hiding something?

It’s a quick-paced novel with interesting characters, and I enjoyed the quick read. I found the ending very disappointing, though, after the build-up of the novel. (And many others have said the same.)

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My Antonia by Willa Cather – I’ve slacked off a little bit on the one-classic-a-month route lately – an exhausted pregnancy and a crazy summer for my reading buddy will do that for you. But I did finish My Antonia, finally, in October. It’s a short read, one that tells the tale of a young boy who moves in with his grandparents in Nebraska after his parents die. At the same time, a family of Bohemians move nearby, including Antonia, a girl a few years his senior and utterly fascinating to young Jim. Cather describes Jim’s upbringing and young adulthood, always intertwining with Antonia’s story. It’s a beautiful narrative, although a little slow for the modern reader, maybe. I’d like to listen to the audio version now to truly soak in Cather’s writing.

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Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman – Backman’s 2016 novel gives us another grumpy, older protagonist in the vein of A Man Called Ove: Britt-Marie is a compulsive cleaner who bullies her way into a job in the tiny town of Borg, Sweden after she is confronted with her husband’s infidelity (which she knew about) and he leaves her for the other woman. Fiercely insistent on her ways, meal times, and structure, Britt-Marie is astounded by the people of Borg, and finds herself entwined in not only the town and people, but the youth soccer league. Backman writes older people so well, and he has got the curmudgeon nailed. This one didn’t speak to me quite like Ove did, but it’s still a good read. You can’t help but smile at the transformation of Britt-Marie.

What have you been reading lately? 

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What I Read: April 2016

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wutheringheights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – This month’s installment in the “classic of the month” club I have with my best friend was the first one I’ve already read all the way through. I hadn’t read it since college, though, and my second read was just as if not more enjoyable. WH is sensationalist, very plot-driven, making it un-put-downable in the finest way. Catherine and Heathcliff are plain nuts, and their story has entranced generations.

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Another book checked off my Spring Reading List, but trust me, this wasn’t a book I just checked off. I’ve heard such great things about it, and they were all true. It is laugh-out-loud funny, made me cry, has beautiful characters and a great portrait of marriage, and I was disappointed there wasn’t another 200 pages to read just because I didn’t want it to end!

Three Wishes by Bergren

Three Wishes by Lisa T. Bergren – God bless Lisa for making a new River of Time series. The first River of Time collection about Italy is totally fascinating, romantic, and fun to read; Three Wishes, beginning the new series taking place in Southern California when it’s still Mexico, has all these qualities as well. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my feeling about Gabi and Marcello, but Bergren came through, delivering totally different but just as wonderful characters. (I read this in just a couple hours.)

Second Chance Summer

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson – I loved Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, so when I ran across this at the library I grabbed it up. I read at least the last half in one sitting, and it definitely made me ugly cry. (Which if you read the premise, it’s easy to tell what will happen there.) I love Matson’s writing.

I'll Be Yours

I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones – Yes, I may have been on a little YA kick in April. (Blame “morning” sickness?) Jones’s latest release exhibits once again that she is an expert at family relations. Sure, this is a romance, but it deals even more with the main character Harper’s past, adoption, current family division, and healing. I am crazy about her books (although prefer the Katie Parker ones to the Charmed Life series), and if you like YA at all, you should grab them.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington – This coming-of-age novel is a first book for Tarkington, who grew up in Central Virginia (like yours truly!) and now teaches in a private school in Tennessee (hey, that sounds familiar). (And no, I didn’t realize those things before I read it. Strange.) The story is about Richard/Rocky and his relationship with his small town and his older brother, Paul. The characters are memorable and the story is interesting, but I felt like the climax came way too close to the end. It probably could have used another 50 pages. This isn’t my normal read, but I’m glad I read it. (I am guessing it appeals more to those who grew up in this time frame, the late 70s/early 80s.)

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Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker – Amazon tells me I bought this for my Kindle in January 2015. I don’t know why I waited to read it until now except that God brought it to my attention exactly when I would need it. Hatmaker outlines what happened when God woke her up to the world’s needs and the legalism in her life, how she and her husband started a new church, and what the church’s basis is. It’s just as much a treatise about biblical Christianity and how it’s not always mirrored in our churches. Again, it was the right book at the right time for me. I finished it last night, which is technically May, but I read the bulk of it in April so I’m including it here.

So what did you read in April? Any plans for May? My classic this month is going to be Vanity Fair, so that may take me a good chunk of time. I’m also going to read The Raven King if my LIBRARY EVER GETS IT IN BECAUSE IT CAME OUT A WEEK AGO NOT THAT I AM ANXIOUS.

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

10 Books on My Spring TBR

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I recently ran across a list tied to this version of Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish (not the OhAmanda Top Ten Tuesday that she retired many years ago!). And since there are few things I like as much as talking about books, I thought I would hop in and share with you in regards to this week’s topic: 10 books on our Spring TBR (to-be-read) lists.

My list tends to be very flexible and based on what comes in at the library, but here’s what I think I will read before June.

SpringReadingList

The Lake House by Kate Morton – I am currently reading this one after finishing The Secret Keeper last month. I’ve had a harder time getting into it, but now I am halfway through and pretty interested in the mystery. I’ve heard a lot about how Morton really ties this one in a neat bow – not sure how I feel about that.

Jazz by Toni Morrison – Jazz is a 1992 Morrison novel set in 1926. This is the next book in mine and my best friend’s little classics book club. It will be fun to read something a little more modern! It’s been a LONG time since I read any Morrison – probably 10 years – and I am looking forward to it.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – The much, MUCH anticipated final book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle quartet. I never thought I would love a fantasy series with fortune-tellers so much, but Stiefvater has totally captured me. I plan to read it as close to its April 26 release date as possible. (Going to try to wait for the library. But no promises.)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – I’ve heard almost nothing bad about this Swedish book that’s hit the NYT bestseller list. I have it on reserve from the library and hope to read it soon! I am a little tempted to do the audiobook, though; I know I will not pronounce the names right in my head and that bothers me. (The main character is Ah-vuh, I think, if Anne Bogel is to be trusted.) (Which of course I trust her!)

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines – I bought this wildly (heh) acclaimed memoir for cheap on Kindle a few months ago, and I need to buckle down and read it. I have a hard time making myself read nonfiction, but I am pretty sure I will love this.

Ella: Everland Ever After by Caroline Lee – This author is a friend of my husband’s from high school, and we hit it off when we met at his 15-year-reunion this summer. She usually writes novels that are probably too steamy for me, but I appreciated that this novella has a “0/5” heat factor. It’s a fairy-tale retelling too, and I am all over that! I probably would have already read this if my old-school Kindle would work properly, but I can’t get it to add new stuff without connecting it to my computer. #firstworldproblems

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – Even after reading the synopsis, I’m not 100% sure what this novel is about; but Amy from Mom Advice really loved it and it has a great rating on Amazon, so I am willing to try it out.

This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang – Zhang’s first novel, Falling Into Place, was very striking and interesting; I’m looking forward to reading this one, out March 22.

My Cooking Year by Ruth Reichl – I stormed through Reichl’s memoirs several years ago, and they are still some of my favorites. She is a poignant writer, and I love nothing more than a food memoir. In My Cooking Year, Reichl recounts the year after Gourmet magazine was suddenly shut down and includes 136 recipes. I am so looking forward to reading this and trying out some of her recipes.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I am slightly ashamed to tell you that I’ve never read the Anne series, although I think I might have browsed pieces of it as a kid. I’ve been feeling like I need some comfort reading, something to dive into lately. I could reread Mitford or Harry Potter, but I have always wanted to read these books, and I think now is the time.

So there is my Spring reading list for this year. Should keep me busy for at least a month or two, right? 😉

What’s at the top of your TBR right now?