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: November 2016

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I fear that this is the year the Internet dictated what I would read. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have read more new releases this year than ever before. (As quickly as the library could get them to me; I VERY rarely buy books, especially new.)

My lists this year have been very heavily influenced by Modern Mrs. Darcy and her podcast as well as a book-chatting community I am part of on Facebook.

It’s not necessarily bad. It’s just different. And I feel like I’m plowing through a lot of new releases and not reading the mountain of books already published that are on my TBR list. It’s fun to keep up with what’s new; but what’s new is not always the best. Just an interesting conundrum.

That said, here’s what I read in November: three new releases (two BRAND new and one from June) and one book my husband loves.

threebodyproblem

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – So, I’ve made it clear that my husband and I are pretty different in terms of interests: he’s a mathematician and I am a writer. He became obsessed with this trilogy this summer that starts with The Three-Body Problem. He wanted to read something by a Chinese author, and this series has been wildly popular in China. It was translated and released in the U.S. in late 2014 (and the third one this September). I knew from how he and his friends talked about it that the book was VERY math-and-sciencey. But he also was raving about the book. And I knew I’d have an easier time than most with the Chinese names (I studied Chinese for 7 years).

All that to say, I should have heeded the warnings that this one would be too mathy for me. The story is very interesting, but it’s VERY saturated with physics and other science stuff. Trying to read it while I had a brand-new baby was also not the best plan! I trudged through, and I don’t think I’ll attempt to read the second one, despite the fact that my husband insists it’s less technical. I think it’s a good book if you are into the sciences. It was just really NOT for me.

heartless

Heartless by Marissa Meyer – After loving the Lunar Chronicles so, so much, I will definitely read anything Marissa Meyer writes. This is an Alice in Wonderland retelling. I hadn’t really read anything about this book other than that, and I guess I was expecting it to be more of a modern retelling, like the Lunar Chronicles. (OK, those aren’t modern, they’re futuristic, but it feels like a modern age.) Heartless is framed in the original Alice setting: Victorian era, with talking animals, a vanishing Cheshire Cat, and dreams that become reality.

I felt iffy about it at first, but as the story went on grew enchanted with the main character, Catherine. Her story is fun, romantic, and heartbreaking. If you like a taste of fantasy or fairy-tale retellings, I think you will love this one.

brindedcat

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley – This is the eighth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Bradley. I am still amazed at his ability to write about a 12-year-old British girl in the 1950s when he is a modern-day man in Canada! I was glad to have Flavia returned to her home and sisters at Buckshaw in England for this new mystery. It was a good one, with a cliffhanger at the end. I don’t consider myself much of a mystery series reader, but I will stick with this one til the end!

allthemissinggirls

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – This thriller has received a good bit of hype since its June release. What really stands out is the format: the narration is in reverse order, from Day 15 to Day 1. The main character and narrator, Nicolette, has returned to her small hometown to help sell her dad’s house; he is in a care facility with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or dementia (it’s unclear). But Nic is immediately plunged into the past as history repeats itself: her young neighbor goes missing, just like Nic’s best friend did 10 years prior.

As the days go backward, your mind will be fumbling for answers and trying to remember what happens in the future. It is an intriguing format and an interesting story with a multifaceted main character.

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What did you read in November? I have been working my way through a big old stack of library holds and I’ve already finished two books in December! (More 2016 releases … I can’t seem to help myself.)

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

What I Read: February 2016

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Just four books in this short month (how did I do 10 last month? No clue!). Jane Eyre is pretty dense, though, so we’ll chalk it up to the classic.

themartian

The Martian by Andy Weir – You’ve probably already read The Martian, but I hadn’t until recently, even though it’s a book my husband loved and devoured. I rated it four stars on GoodReads, but for me it might be closer to a three star … but I was afraid Mr. V would come after me with a steak knife. (Not really. I promise.)

It’s a very well-written and researched book, exploring the what if of an astronaut stuck on Mars by himself. Is it possible he could survive? Obviously written by someone who understands science, Weir presents evidence that it’s possible and gives us an entertaining main character in Mark. Many reviews say there is a lack of character development, but I thought Mark was interesting and hilarious, while maybe a little shallow. My biggest surprise was that this book is really very funny. For me, it was hard to get through all the scientific explanations and potato planting – science was never my subject. But altogether, I am glad I finally dove in and read this book.

secretkeeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Kate Morton’s newest novel, The Lake House, but I’d never read anything by her. In The Secret Keeper, Morton unravels a family mystery in rural England, flashing back and forth between the present-day and World War II. Laurel returns home as her mother’s health declines, and she wants to know the truth about a traumatic childhood incident that changed her. Slowly and surely, she finds bits and pieces of evidence – and meanwhile, we find out the whole story through her mother’s point-of-view. It’s a pageturner, well-written with great characters, and now I will definitely track down some of Morton’s other books to dig into.

StarsAbove

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer – I’m sure most of you are well aware of my obsession with the Lunar Chronicles by Meyer by now. They are so very good, and the last book in the series came out in November. But here, Meyer continued to delight her readers with a short story collection detailing some of the characters’ back stories and even a future event.

Short stories are never going to be my thing; I love the depth of novels. But since we already knew these characters, it worked. It was like a DVD Easter egg finding out bits and pieces about my beloved “friends.” I wouldn’t buy this one, but if you’ve read the Lunar Chronicles definitely check it out from the library.

janeeyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre is a book I should have read in college; it was definitely assigned in my intro class for my English major, and I equally definitely only read a few bits and pieces from it. (Sorry, Dr. Hewett-Smith and my parents.) I tried to read everything in school, I swear, but there was a TON of reading to do!

Reading Jane Eyre made me almost wish I were back in school and could write an essay about it; I think I would explore the image of angels throughout the novels, or maybe the two families Jane finds herself as a part of. It’s a complex book with an intriguing female character; unlike some of the other heroines I’ve read about in 19th-century literature, Jane speaks her mind, has opinions, and follows through on her beliefs, even when it’s difficult. She isn’t just there to see how men react to her. Her first-person narration is believable and detailed without losing the reader.

I’m glad I read Jane Eyre, finally. I’m really glad I don’t have to write any more English essays.

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That’s what I read in February. How about you?

Added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

4 Books and 2 Series I Recommend All the Time

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There are books that I love, my five-star books. Some of my all-time favorites are Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, Echoes by Maeve Binchy, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But you know, those aren’t the books I recommend to people. Maybe because in college I had some friends read Saint Maybe with me and they hated it and it broke my heart. I hold those stories too close and I am afraid for other people to be disappointed. Or they are just not mass-appeal sort of stories.

But there are books I recommend, over and over again, to people. So if you’re looking for a great new read, here are some I recommend to you, too!

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – My best friend, the English professor, recommended this book that she teaches a couple years ago. I was hesitant because it is science fiction, and that is not usually my thing (although it’s growing on me slowly). I found, though, that this novel wasn’t really about the sci-fi issues but about sex, religion, and linguistics. Life is found on another planet, and a group travels there to connect with the alien species, learning their language and culture. It’s absolutely fascinating. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book when I finished it; it’s not exactly happy and uplifting. But it’s stuck with me, causing me to think over the story and topics again and again, and I often recommend it to my friends who have any interest in sci-fi (especially the Catholic pals).

Cinder (and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer – There’s a reason this young adult sci-fi series, full of fairy-tale retellings, has been so wildly popular. The characters are vivid, lovable, and funny. The romance factor is there, but clean. The stories are fast-paced and classic good versus evil. I’ve recommended it broadly to friends, family, and even my husband. I will admit that Scarlet, the second book in the series, is my least favorite and may make you wonder if you want to keep reading. But the answer is YES. Keep reading. Cress and Winter are well worth the ride, and you need to read Scarlet for the complete story.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I don’t think I’ve ever read a more beautifully crafted novel than Owen Meany, Irving’s 1989 novel with pretty much the most gorgeous first line ever, next to Charlotte’s Web: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Every action, every line in Owen Meany is there for a reason; the ending will take your breath away after you journey through childhood and into the young-adult lives of Owen and narrator John. It is a long read, but in my opinion, pretty much perfect.

Wortham Family Books by Leisha Kelly

Wortham Family Books (Julia’s Hope, Emma’s Gift, Katie’s Dream) + The Country Road Chronicles by Leisha Kelly – This is all one series; I’m not sure why it’s split into two series names. But if you like Christian or inspirational fiction at all, you should read all these books! They are set during the Depression, as Samuel and Julia leave Pennsylvania on foot for Illinois, going toward the promise of work and a home with their two children. The novels chronicle the new life Samuel and Julia make. The neighbors, who have 10 children, are a source of crazy throughout the books. I truly adored reading all these books, and I was heartbroken when Leisha Kelly died in a car accident (with her 16-year-old son) in 2011. So these are her only books (other than one published in 2010 that I am just seeing and will have to read) – and a delight and treasure in the world of inspirational fiction.

birdbybird

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – If you are a writer and for some reason have never read Bird by Bird, you need to remedy that immediately. I insist. I still get great amusement that Lamott’s book was first given to me by the then-editor of the Religious Herald newspaper, the Virginia Southern Baptist publication where I interned one summer. Because Lamott is not shy about her use of, ahem, strong vocabulary. But her voice is stellar, and I love the simple advice she gives to writers. I know many have the same enthusiasm I have for this, but if you haven’t read it for some reason, get your hands on a copy!

thepassage

The Passage by Justin Cronin – I would be the first to tell you that I don’t do horror. The only Steven King book I’ve read is 11/22/63, because I don’t like being scared and I am afraid of his other books. (And there was plenty of gruesome in that one, too, but enough good time-travel story to balance it out.) My husband stormed through The Passage, though, and then insisted I read it, too. The librarian at his school described it to him as “a vampire novel, but not teenage vampires kissing.” This is much less a vampire novel and more about a science experiment gone wrong in a not-distant future. Cronin’s detailed explanation of life inside a small colony and the band of people who venture outside it is breathtaking and vibrant. There is a small chunk of 50-100 pages that might make you want to quit; it’s necessary information for the rest of the novel. But the last, oh, 600 pages will fly by. I think this is a pretty mass-appealing read about human nature, science, and fear.

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I asked on my Facebook page about books my friends there find themselves recommending a lot, and here are the answers I got.

The only one of those books I’ve read is Tam Lin, so I guess I have a list for me, too!

What about you? Are there books you recommend often?

My Favorite Books of 2015

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I’ve had an interesting year in books. I read a lot I didn’t love; I abandoned quite a few books (four I can think of just in November and December!). Because of my “book club” with my best friend, I read more classics than I’ve read since college. I read a lot of books by authors I love. I read fantasy for pretty much the first time. I read the whole Bible.

Obviously the Bible doesn’t qualify for this list, because … it’s the Bible. I am so glad I finally read it cover to cover, but I can’t compare it to other books!

Here are the books I really loved reading in 2015.

Favorite Nonfiction of 2015

Nonfiction

  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – Probably my very favorite book of 2015. I read Gawande’s book Better years ago when it was released, and remembered him as an exquisite writer. I was not disappointed by Being Mortal. So well-researched, interesting, and important.  (Full review.)
  • It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell – Food blogger Mitchell chronicles growing up with food issues, quirky parents, and finding her way to a reasonable relationship with food. This book hit home for me, and I love Mitchell’s authentic voice (here and on her blog). (Full review.)
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – When this book wasn’t making me have a mental breakdown, I enjoyed reading it. In any way, I found it striking and well worth the read. (Full review.)
  • Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga – Wierenga’s narrative of her young-adult life is rife with grief, caretaking, and eating disorders. Through all this, her faith struggle is relatable and poignant. (Full review.)
  • Real Church by Larry Crabb – At a time when we were really struggling with decisions about our church home, Crabb helped me through my emotions about church and ideals. I put this book into our interim pastor’s hand and although I don’t totally agree with it, I think it could be recommended reading for every Christian. (Full review.)
  • Honorable mentions: Anchored by Kayla Aimee, A Grief Observed by CS Lewis, When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson

Favorite Fiction of 2015

Fiction

  • Winter by Marissa Meyer – I was so happy with this conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. Meyer is brilliant, and I will read anything else she writes. (Full review.)
  • Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – This was my 2015 feel-good but not in an overly sappy way YA book. Matson could have made this really cliché and awful, but the book reads so well and I was invested in the characters. A great winter break read if you’re looking for one still (and even better for summer reading – I think it was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide for 2015). (Full review.)
  • Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay – I rated Dear Mr. Knightley higher on GoodReads at the time (I read these almost one after another), but Lizzy & Jane is the book I find myself recommending and recalling often. I love that it’s a sister story with strained relationships that they really try to conquer for the sake of family. I loved the food, too, of course, which is probably what put this one over the edge for me! I cannot resist reading about yummy food. (Full review.)
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I was captivated by this story, especially in the second half, and understand why it’s such an enduring tale. (Full review.)
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – I’d seen this book on many must-read lists, but didn’t tackle it until this year. It’s definitely worth the time investment: a chronicle of the life of twins Marion and Shiva, as they grow up without parents in a hospital in Ethiopia. (Full review.)
  • Honorable mentions: All the classics I read this year (The Woman in White, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Cold Comfort Farm, Wives and Daughters), plus The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate diCamillo, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

So what were some of your favorite reads of the year?