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.

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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: May 2016 (Three New Releases)

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For some reason, May is usually a month where I read a ton. Well, this year that wasn’t so. Mostly because I am just slogging through Vanity Fair, which is 750 pages long and just not a quick read. I will conquer it! Here are the books I gave myself “VF Breaks” with this month.

I read three very new books (all of which were on my Spring Reading List).

 


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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – I have some very mixed feelings about this final installment in the Raven Cycle books. I adore Maggie Stiefvater, and I had looked forward to reading this book for an entire year, after I finished the other three in rapid succession. I wonder if part of the issue was that it had just been too long since I read the others; I could have used a good reread to get me ready for this one, but I didn’t do that. (Too many new books! So little time!)

Much of this was so well-thought-out and interesting, but for me the issues with the “bad guys” fell very flat, and I just didn’t love the ending or what should have been the climax of the romantic tension of four books. (Trying not to spoil here! If you want to chat more about this one, I would love it. Email me or send me a Facebook message.) So in all, for me it was a solid 3-star book, but I didn’t LOOOOVE it like I’d hoped I would.

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This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang – Unfortunately, this was another book I’d hoped to love but really didn’t. I appreciate Zhang continues to tackle hard subjects about growing up, as she did in Falling into Place (my review here). Where the World Ends just didn’t connect with me quite in the same way. In it, we are presented with the alternating viewpoints (and also the present vs. the past narrative) of Micah and Janie, one-time next-door neighbors and friends who pretend their friendship doesn’t exist at school. Micah is trying to unroll the tragedy that’s blocked out parts of his memory – and meanwhile we hear the story that led up to it from Janie’s point-of-view and journal entries.

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The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – After hearing this book so highly praised by Amy from Mom Advice and Jessica Turner, I was really excited to jump into The Forgetting Time, Guskin’s debut novel. It is absolutely a page-turner — the first book in months I’ve read waiting for my daughter’s bus instead of listening to a podcast, because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I definitely read it all in under 24 hours. Reflecting back, I felt like there wasn’t a ton of character development, but that’s not really the point of the book. The unique subject matter of past lives and the way the story is unveiled makes for a great, quick read.

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Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones – This is Jenny B. Jones’s only adult novel, and I finally asked my library to order it just so I could read it (and many others could enjoy it, too!). It was published in 2009, and I still remember my friend Mary’s rave review about it. And how could I not love something Jenny wrote? Everything I said about I’ll Be Yours last month pretty much applies here: Jenny writes gorgeous romance with real, solid, complex characters with issues other than the romantic plot. Our main character, Maggie, has returned to her hometown to help her dad with her niece, whose mom is nowhere to be found. While on this “sabbatical,” Maggie is faced with her feelings about family, God, her mother’s death, and old acquaintances from high school who know her as someone completely different. Another one I read in just a few hours, cover to cover.

In the last two months, I’ve also read the first three Harry Potter books (for the billionth or at least fifth time), and I’m excited my awesome friend Jessica at Quirky Bookworm is doing a #harrypotterthon2016 – a read-a-thon on a two month place for all the HP books, so I can fangirl along with friends.

So yep. All that and a lot of Vanity Fair. What have you been reading lately?

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

What I Read: April 2016

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

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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.