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: January/February 2017

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Well, y’all. The beginning of February was nuts, so I never got my January book post up here! C’est la vie. Now we have a double whammy for January and February. (February is over. How did that happen???)

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay – I really want to like this novel (a lot like I did The Bronte Plot [my review here]). There’s nothing wrong with it, and Reay writes so beautifully. I just felt like there were two books packed into one. DO NOT READ THE COVER COPY OR SYNOPSES. It gives away the entire first half of the book, and I hate that! I liked this one better than The Bronte Plot, but definitely less than Lizzy & Jane and Dear Mr. Knightley. I LOVE that Reay weaves faith into her novels without being heavy-handed, and I have faith she will write more novels I adore in the future.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is a book everyone was talking about during the second half of 2016. I snapped it up on sale for my Kindle and read it almost right away in January. It didn’t read quickly for me, but the pictures Gyasi drew are vibrant in my mind. The book follows two women from modern-day Ghana: one marries a British merchant who is part of the slave trade in her country; one becomes a slave. The novel features one story from each family line per generation, up to the modern age. It’s striking and beautiful and ghastly and definitely worth reading.

Giddy Up, Eunice by Sophie Hudson – Sophie continues to be hilarious and wonderful. I loved this book, a study of pairs of women in Scripture and mentoring relationships. Her message that mentoring relationships don’t need to be formal in the church but they sure are needed really hit home with me. And I love the stories about Hudson’s mother-in-law, Martha. She is truly a hoot.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – Another collection of interconnected stories, this one follows Eva Thorvald from her infancy to young womanhood, as told by those around her. Her father, her cousin, acquaintances, friends, enemies – all tell us a tiny bit about Eva, a girl and woman with a passion and talent for food. There was one part of this book where I thought I might quit; Eva’s cousin, Braque, has quite a filthy mouth and her chapter was hard for me to get through. But the rest was more “palatable.” It didn’t blow me away, but I LOVED how it wrapped up.

So … I read one more book in January. But it was as a result of the fact that Anne Bogel recommended it to me on her podcast, What Should I Read Next? I KNOW. I am such an Anne fangirl and this was SO EXCITING. So I’m going to keep that book a secret until after the podcast airs (should be the next few weeks), but I will say that I read it in 24 hours and it was totally a 5-star book for me.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – I’d heard this one recommend from several sources. America seems to be obsessed with hygge, the Danish word that can’t really be interpreted but seems to mean finding comfort and warmth with family during the winter. In this memoir, Russell shares about the year she and her husband moved to Denmark. Her husband fulfills a childhood dream of living abroad and working at Lego; Russell gives up her fast-paced work for a freelance lifestyle. Russell is British, and I will confess some of the British lingo mystified me. Russell reports on medicine, children, work, food, and other areas that make up life in Denmark. All of her experts report themselves to be extremely happy. I read some criticism that yes, but none of her experts were minorities or others to whom Denmark might show its harsher side. Despite talking about how expensive Denmark is, Russell and her husband seem to have enough money for daily pastries and to buy expensive home decor constantly. This was a pretty solid 3/5 star book for me. I didn’t love it, in some places things seemed glossed over, but it is readable and interesting.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan – The 50s and 60s were an era of jingles and contests for all kinds of brands: in this book, we find contests sponsored by everything from Bic pens to laundry detergents to Almond Joy bars. And Evelyn Ryan, a housewife and mother of 10, works hard at these contests to keep her family afloat while her husband drinks away a good deal of his paycheck.

Told by Terry, one of those 10 children, this true story is unique and heart-warming. It was fun to find out that one of the fellow contest winners whom Evelyn befriends (Emma) was my uncle’s aunt. Such a neat tie-in! The never-ending lists of contest entries can get to be a bit much, but I understand why they’re there. Has anyone seen the movie? I’m interested to see it now.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher – Many of my favorite books are long, family-centered dramas. Last summer I read Winter Solstice by Pilcher (review here), and knew I wanted to read more of her work. I think The Shell Seekers is her most famous and successful novel. Sixty-something Penelope Keeling lives in the country in England. She has three adult children, a giant garden, and a fascinating history. Her father was a famous artist, her mother young and French. Through the novel, we see through the eyes of Penelope and all of her children. The family struggles as they battle over her mother’s prized possessions: artwork done by her father, whose paintings are now selling at high prices.

This novel is 30 years old, but the story is timeless. Penelope’s wartime remembrances are enchanting and heartbreaking. I can almost guarantee you will like it, no matter who you are.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding – Thirteen years after her last appearance, Bridget Jones comes back as a widow in her early fifties. Unfortunately, in her head she still seems to be a twentysomething with no idea what’s going on. She wants to be a screenwriter, but mostly she’s on Twitter.

I remain baffled how any grown woman can eat like Bridget does and not weigh 400 pounds. (Maybe she doesn’t eat on the days she doesn’t write?) I am a little concerned that Bridget doesn’t seem to have evolved as a character: she is still flighty, self-absorbed, and generally confused about life. And yet, the book was still a fun read. I just hope I have life slightly more figured out at 51 than Bridget does.

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So from my Read the Shelves Challenge, I’ve finished two and abandoned one book that just wasn’t resonating with me right now. I had checked out a big stack from the library but made myself return almost all of them so that I will actually read the books from my list!

How is your 2017 reading so far? 

This post will be added 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?

janeeyresecretkeeper

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.

interruptedchoosejoybook

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: August 2016

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cursedchild

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne – I’m happy to discuss this in more detail if anyone wants to, but I also don’t want to spoil it for anyone. All in all .. it was a play, not a novel, and it’s hard to develop characters in a play without seeing it being acted out. Also, I want to think that Harry is happy and has a nice, quiet life after book 7, so I was kind of prejudiced against this from the start. 😉

wintersolstice

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher – I have heard a lot about Pilcher’s Shell Sheekers, but I ran across this one at a thrift store and decided to pick it up. I am so glad I did, because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in awhile. My only regret is looking on GoodReads at the synopsis, which ruins a main event. So don’t look at it! Just dive in. A great cast of characters find themselves together at Christmastime. That’s about it – the whole plot. But it’s really an excellent read that made me almost feel cold despite being 6+ months pregnant when I was reading. Set in England and Scotland, it reminded me a little of Maeve Binchy, one of my very favorite authors.

annewindypoplars

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery – Compared to the original six Anne books, which I read in July, this one fell pretty flat for me. It’s told about half in Anne’s letters to Gilbert and half in narrative. Anne is teaching for the three years that Gilbert is at medical school, this book falling in between Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. I was hoping to get more of Gilbert and Anne’s relationship, but instead we mostly see Anne’s developing relationships with the characters around her in Summerside. There seem to be a lot of old, crotchety ladies – maybe Montgomery’s writing sweet spot, but none of them are Rachel Lynde. So while I liked visiting Anne, this is definitely my least favorite I’ve read in the series. I’m looking forward to reading Anne of Ingleside still, though.

trulymadlyguilty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – I’ve yet to hear of anyone who was enamored with Moriarty’s newest release, myself included. There is no doubt it’s readable, but unlike the other books of hers I’ve read (reviews: The Last Anniversary, The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot), I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic or likable. I did think the last quarter of the book helped redeem some of them, but it was too little too late.

I’m really learning that if there is not a likable character or at least one I can root for, I cannot deal with a book. I know that’s not the case for everyone. I’m wondering if it’s some aspect of my INFP personality or just me as a reader.

cityofmirrors

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin – I almost always reread all the books in a series before the final book comes out. But y’all, I could not bring myself to reread 1300 pages, especially since I was not enthralled with the middle book of the trilogy, The Twelve. Unfortunately that meant it had been more than three and a half years since I read the other two books, and I had a hard time remembering what was going on in the story when I started.

I thought Laura did a good job summing up my feelings on The City of Mirrors in a recent episode of the Sorta Awesome podcast: It was really long; there was a lot of fighting; and it seemed disjointed at times. But it really did an excellent job wrapping up all the plot lines and themes of the series. It’s a series about science, faith, human nature, and desperation. In all honesty, I think when I recommend it I will say to just read The Passage. But I’m not upset I finished the series, either, even though it was a slow read for me.

oneinamillionboy

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood – I’ve heard a ton of buzz about this book, and it was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. I was so glad it lived up to its hype! A great tale about the relationship between a 104-year-old woman and the young Boy Scout who is helping her with her yardwork. I won’t say anything else, because I like to go into a book with no knowledge if possible. But it is an easy read, heartwarming, and delightful.

sugarqueen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen – I don’t know what it is about Allen’s books, but I just devour them. I don’t think it’s taken me longer than two days to read one, ever. This was no exception. It’s the story of Josey, a twentysomething who lives with her (rich and) demanding mother, is in love with the mailman, and suddenly has a woman living in her closet. Through the urgings of the closet-dweller, Josey comes to terms with her life and starts to emerge from her shell. It’s a “sweet” story all around, and I am addicted to Allen’s magical realism and Southern charm.

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I was kind of astonished to see in August I read two books published in July, one from May, and one from April. I am not usually that on top of new reads. What have you been reading lately? 

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