What I Read: November and December 2017

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I’ve fallen a little behind here in blogging land, haven’t I? We had a wild holiday season (as is usually the case when you have many small children), and my grandma died on New Year’s Eve, so I packed up and went to Ohio for her funeral.

This week we’ve just been trying to get back in the swing of school and regular activities – just in time for the kids to be off for Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday. Someday things might seem normal, right?

Here are the books I finished in November and December.

November

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert – There were some interesting tips and topics in this book, but nothing earth-shattering for me. I definitely need to be Observing my 9-year-old daughter a little more, and I’m really trying to ask her about her friends and their relationship without automatically giving advice.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson – I kind of loved-but-hated Someone Else’s Love Story by Jackson when I read it in July this year. But there was nothing for me to hate in The Almost Sisters, and it will definitely be in my top 10 reads of 2017. (Which I am going to do. I swear. Even though it’s already January 11.)

Leia is the graphic novel artist heroine of this tale, and in the first few pages finds she’s been left a souvenir of a one-night stand at a comic-book convention: she’s pregnant with Batman’s baby. Before she can even tell her family, life implodes, and she heads to south Alabama with her niece in tow to help her ailing grandmother.

Just when you think you know what’s going on, something else falls out of the sky. Do yourself a favor – never read the book blurbs. Just plunge in and enjoy the ride, especially on this great novel. It addresses family, issues of race and the South, and just felt especially relevant right now. But not without Jackson’s signature fun style and humor. She reminds me a little of a racier Jenny B. Jones.

As of today (1/11/18), this book is still on sale for $1.99 for Kindle. Such a great deal and well worth it!

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown – I love and am always inspired by Brown’s work in vulnerability and shame. Given my attitude the last week, I probably need to pick this up and read it again. One by one, Brown outlines the characteristics of a Wholehearted life that she’s found through much research and study. It was a quicker read for me than Daring Greatly (review here), but that might be because I was dashing to finish it for a book club.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer – I initially rated this five stars, but I’ve backed down to a four, mostly because it’s not as memorable to be as I would like a 5-star book to be. I love Marissa Meyer, and her writing gets me every time. This was fast-paced and fun, a world she built where Superheroes are the government and Nova is part of a villain league. Haunted by her past, Nova will do anything to get revenge … including infiltrating the enemy. This is the first in a two-book series, and I desperately want to know what happens! But I guess I’ll have to wait another year.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater – Stiefvater is another author I love, and I was so excited to read this new book from her. When I tried to read it in hardcover, though, it felt off to me. I lost interest and returned it to the library without getting past page 75. But a friend in a book group suggested it on audio, and I was delighted to find it available on Hoopla, which is my favorite app for audiobooks. (My library subscribes to it, so it’s free!) The book takes place among a Mexican family living in Colorado, so the narrator’s Spanish accent and pronunciation of the names and places was helpful for me. (I didn’t have to think so hard every time I came across the name Joaquin.) And although the story has a lot of set up, once it’s there it really gains interest. I didn’t adore it like I did The Raven Boys (review here), but it was a good listen if you’re looking for an audiobook.

December

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Here’s the thing about this book. It’s very well-written, and the setting (Australia post World War I) was very interesting. But I would not recommend it to anyone unless they especially enjoy having their heart wrenched and dragged through the dirt. I don’t sob at many books, but I certainly did – more than once – at this one. And I felt like the book was written explicitly to destroy the reader’s emotions. (Kinda like This Is Us?)

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – I’d been working on this Pulitzer Prize-winner since late October, and finally finished near the beginning of December. I found it to be very intriguing, quite different from any other classics I’ve read. I know nothing about Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana the political figure in this book is modeled after; heck, I know basically nothing about politics.

They study this book in AP English at the school where we live, so I expect to have many interesting conversations about it with the students and faculty!

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig – Ludwig’s debut novel could be called The Curious Case of Why Ginny Wants to Get Back to Her Birth Mother. Ginny is an autistic 13-year-old, living with her third set of “Forever Parents” but obsessed with getting back to her birth mother, even five years after she was removed from her. Her concern for her Baby Doll, left behind, baffles all of the adults around her. I felt like Ludwig did an excellent job helping us delve into the mind of Ginny and how she functioned. For me, a major Highly Sensitive Peron, I got very nervous about the book, though. There is high potential for super-sad disaster, and after reading The Light Between Oceans I was a little scared to keep reading. It made me nervous right up to the end, but I won’t forget Ginny soon. I listened to this on audio, and the narrator did an excellent job with it, too.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg – Often at Christmas, I just want to read something light and Christmasy, and this definitely fit the bill. It’s kind of cheesy and predictable and absolutely lovely. Really a fun read and just what I needed after All the King’s Men.

I spent the rest of December re-reading Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, and loved it all over again! (Review here.)

That’s more books than I thought I read! The two audiobooks certainly helped. What did you read over Christmas?

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

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.

forgettingtime

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.

justbetween

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?

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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?

What I Read in January 2016

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Please take a deep breath and proceed with caution. I’m going to be as brief as I can about the TEN books I read in January. Hellooooo, winter hibernation!

lifechangingmagic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – I’m about a year behind on this book, but got it from the library Overdrive just in time for the new year. While Kondo is wayyyy woo-woo for even me (I’m fairly certain my possessions don’t think or need thanked), the basics are excellent and I’m starting to put them into practice.

gardenspells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – This is the prequel to First Frost. I should have read it first, but I didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, though. We were just back from Christmas travel, and I read this in one day, tired but happy to be back in the land of the Waverly family. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and Allen does it perfectly.

scorpioraces

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – While I continue to eagerly anticipate the final book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series (April! The anguish!), I am pretty much plowing through everything else she’s written. Which is a lot, considering she is just my age.

The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy work published in 2012. On the Island of Thisby (in the UK), Puck Connolly fights for the family she has left in the only way she can think of: racing in the legendary Scorpio Races. Did I mention that this island is known for having carnivorous water horses wash ashore every fall? That the people then try to tame enough to race?

Sean Kendrick, meanwhile, has won the last three races with his capall uisce (water horse), Corr. Only it’s not his horse; it belongs to the farm where he’s all but enslaved due to his orphan status. He longs of freedom from it and the owner’s son, the aptly nicknamed Mutt.

I found Stiefvater’s voice just as intriguing as in the Raven Cycle books. Here again, she takes a legend and runs with it and makes it her own. I did feel like the first half of the book dragged a little and I wasn’t as invested in it. Really, I wanted the romance, which she writes so wonderfully. This book is chaste, yet the electricity between Puck and Sean is kind of amazing.

So in all, I really liked but didn’t love it. Still, I will read anything Stiefvater has written. Even if it’s way outside what I normally read. Because she is awesome.

choosejoybook

Choose Joy by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver – While I didn’t “know” Sara Frankl while she was alive, I certainly had heard of her and her struggles through (in)courage and some friends. I was so thankful to finally read her words, put together my her (and my) friend, Mary Carver. Choose Joy is a compilation of Sara’s blogging interspersed with explanation from Mary. Over the course of her chronic pain and debilitating illness, Sara kept her eyes on God. I think Sara understood God more than most, drawing near to Him in and through her pain.

Her words gave me much to dwell on in my own faith-journey, and I am sure I will come back to them often. Choose Joy was a beautiful, quick read that I won’t be quick to forget. (This book was sent to me by the publisher.)

shadowsodthehidden

Shadows of the Hidden by Anne Riley – I think after the heavy of Choose Joy, I needed something lighter. I dug into Shadows of the Hidden quickly. At first I was sure I was going to abandon it, but (as another Amazon reviewer said) “it sneaks up on you.” I am just not a big fantasy reader, and the framework for this novel was a little creepy and weird. But as you get to know the main character, Natalie, and the quirky Liam, the novel becomes quickly engrossing. It was a big change from my norm, and a fun YA read.

statprobability

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Based on the two books of Smith’s I’ve read, I will say her books are kind of like watching a chick flick. They read very quickly – for me, one or two sittings. There’s romance. They are fun. Nothing deep or sticking, but entertaining. In this one, two teens connect why flying from the U.S. to England for various endeavors.

beggarking

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy – Recounting a trying time in his life, professional storyteller ben Izzy parallels his story to some of the tales he’s told or heard. The short autobiography is a reflection on learning about one’s own story, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This has been on my physical bookshelf for years; I am hitting myself for not reading it until now.

theguestroom

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian – I have to preface this by saying that I adore Chris Bohjalian. He is not afraid to tackle any tough subject. He interacts with his readers on Twitter and Instagram, consistently and kindly. But man, his books are a wild ride. This one approaches the topic of sex slavery: a wealthy man throws a bachelor’s party for his brother, and everything goes wrong. This book should have a warning label for graphic sexual scenes and language. But the story itself, told alternately from the best man and one of the sex slaves, is solid and horrifying. It’s not a beach read. It will make you think. It will make you shudder. I recommend considering your emotional state before you read this (or any) Bohjalian novel. (I still have nightmares about The Night Strangers.)

columbinedavecullen

Columbine by Dave Cullen – As I look at this and The Guest Room, it’s becoming fairly apparent why my depression has been slightly out-of-control the last couple weeks. I think I am pretty affected by what I read. Only happy books for awhile!

Columbine is Cullen’s 2009 work detailing how things really happened before and after the 1999 school shooting that left 13 dead in Colorado. Going back and forth between the years leading up to the massacre and the aftermath of the investigations, lawsuits, and healing, Cullen reveals police cover-ups, journalism missteps, and how the public clung to what they wanted to. He unveils the journals and videos left behind by the shooters, showing how they didn’t snap, but planned this for over a year, with their real plan being a much larger-scale killing.

Laura recommended this on the Sorta Awesome podcast. I probably never would have read it otherwise. But I was a 16-year-old junior in high school when this happened, and so I was very affected by the situation and its aftermath. I prayed and I read She Said Yes and I was scared to go to my school. So to read this truth was very difficult but also fascinating.

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – In Yoon’s debut novel, protagonist Madeline lives in a bubble. Her house is air-locked, anyone who comes in has to go through decontamination, and she takes all her classes online through Skype. Diagnosed with a disease that means she’s allergic to everything, she hasn’t left home since she was a baby. Newly 18, Madeline is mostly content. But then Olly moves in next door. They develop a strange friendship, and suddenly Madeline wants everything she can’t have. This is a really sweet, shocking, and wild story, very reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars. The best part is the illustrations, charts, “Spoiler Book Reviews,” definitions, and other creative illustrations throughout the book, contributed by David Yoon, Nicola’s husband.

I just listened to Nicola Yoon interviewed on the First Draft podcast, and it was really interesting, whether you’ve read the book or not. Yoon talks about her background in finance, her Jamaican childhood, and being a voracious reader.

So what did you read in January? Do you cozy up and devour books in the winter, like I do?

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