What I’m Reading Now (5/21/18)

May 21, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 14

We’re in the middle of a massive multi-day rain storm (schools were even canceled on Friday because of flash flooding)…the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my life! I’m just hoping the many very tall pine trees in our yard stay firmly rooted in the ground and don’t end up toppling into our house. 

The good news is…my 2018 Summer Reading List went live last week! I’ve got books in 4 categories: Something Fun, Something Intense / Fast-Paced, Something With a Bit of Substance, and Something Different. And, this year I chose a #1 pick for each category and have a printable cheatsheet you can take to the bookstore or library! Bookmark this post because I’ll be adding new books to the list all summer!

Hosted by The Book Date.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Giveaway 
In case you missed it on Instagram this weekend, I’m teaming up with Tupelo Style (@tupelostyle) and Richmond Real Estate Mom (@richmondrealestatemom) for a giveaway of The Female Persuasion (one of my favorite books of the year so far!) OR the cute earrings in this picture! Tupelo Style is an online consignment shop specializing in high-end clothing (adults and kids)…they’ll sell your stuff you’re ready to purge and you can pick up some great deals on their Instagram account! I recently bought a cool bracelet for just $10.

Giveaway ends at midnight EST tonight (Monday May 19). To enter, like both Sarah’s Book Shelves and Tupelo Style and tag 2 friends!

WIN A COPY OF THE FEMALE PERSUASION: It’s super dreary today (so much rain that schools were closed…grr), but doesn’t this ensemble just brighten things up?! I love me a fun, coral dress for summer and THE FEMALE PERSUASION is the perfect accessory (because books are what people mean when they talk about accessories, right?!). Check out my 2018 Summer Reading Guide for more perfect summer “accessories” for your beach bags (LINK IN PROFILE)! Photo Cred: @sarahwhitmorephotography _ I want to share a new online consignment shop called @tupelostyle! They’ll sell the stuff you’re ready to purge and you can pick up some great deals on high quality consigned items on their Instagram account. I recently bought a cool gold bracelet with gray stones for just $10 from them! If you love the outfit pictured and want to purchase, head over to @tupelostyle. And, for more details about how @tupelostyle works, check out a blog post from @richmondrealestatemom (link in her profile). _ GIVEAWAY (2 chances to win): To win a brand new copy of THE FEMALE PERSUASION (which is one of my favorite books of the year so far and a featured book on my 2018 Summer Reading Guide, link in profile) OR the cute earrings in this picture… – follow both @sarahsbookshelves and @tupelostyle – Tag 2 friends in the comments section on @tupelostyle. Giveaway ends on Monday (5/21) at midnight EST. * * * * * #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes #resaleshop #designerconsignment #instacloset

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I finished reading…

We Are Gathered

 

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman (June 5, 2018)
I thought this would be a light, fun read and a good candidate for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide. It was not at all what I expected and wasn’t right for the Summer Reading Guide, but I liked it! Mini review to come.

I’m currently reading…

Favorite Sister

 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (May 15, 2018)
I’m about 25% through this novel about a fictional reality TV show similar to Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. And, I’m really liking it despite DNFing Knoll’s first novel (Luckiest Girl Alive). It’s chock full of behind-the-scenes reality TV secrets and passive-aggressive sister dynamics. We’ll see how things progress…

Upcoming reading plans…

Tin Man

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (May 15, 2018)
This novel about a friendship comes highly recommended by Susie at Novel Visits (she said it’s for fans of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, my favorite book of last year!) and my library hold just came in!

was reading…

One Year Ago: Apparently, I didn’t post anything!

Two Years Ago: I was reading a powerful, underrated gem.

How was your reading week?

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2018 Summer Reading List

May 17, 2018 Book Lists 39

2018 Summer Reading List

 

Summer reading means something a bit different to everyone. Some of you like to put their brains completely on vacation with fun, easy reads. Some of you like an action-packed page turner. Some of you want something with a bit more substance. And some of you might like to head off the beaten path.

Personally, I like books you can fly through, books you don’t have to work too hard on, and books you can get easily immersed in. I avoid books that demand to be read in perfect peace and quiet (last time I checked, the beach and pool generally have screaming kids around!).

I’ve read every book that appears on this list and, as always, will continue to add new selections throughout the summer. And, stay tuned for My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2018 (i.e. books that will be published later this summer, many of which I haven’t read yet) on Thursday, May 24.

The Summer Reading Guide has a couple new elements this year:

  • Printable Cheatsheet – the Summer Reading Guide in quick recommendations in PDF format for easy printing (great for taking to the bookstore or library!). Download for free below!
  • #1 Picks for Each Category – I highlighted my very favorite book in each category in the Guide (Something Fun, Something Intense / Fast-Paced, Something With A Bit More Substance, and Something Different). Stay tuned because these picks could change as I add more books to the list throughout the summer!

IT’S COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT THE CHEATSHEET IS PRINTING OUT BLURRY.

WHEN YOU SIGN UP BELOW, BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR AN EMAIL FROM SARAHSBOOKSHELVES@GMAIL.COM WITH A NON-BLURRY VERSION OF THE CHEATSHEET!

Previous Summer Reading Lists: 2013201420152016, 2017

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

2018 Summer Reading List

Something Fun

My #1 Pick

Woman Last Seen in Her ThirtiesWoman Last Seen in Her Thirties by Camille Pagan
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released February 27, 2018)
254 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When when 50-something year old Maggie’s husband abruptly leaves her, she is forced to rediscover her identity and rebuild her life.

My Thoughts: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties is an easy and fun, but not silly read with small threads of darkness running underneath. There’s salty humor and real talk about aging, marriage, divorce, finding your identity, and piecing your life back together after an upheaval. I absolutely related to Maggie’s realization that she had lost her identity after having children and her struggle to regain it again. Pagan reminds me of a lighter, more sarcastic version of Anna Quindlen and I recommend this one particularly to the mothers out there.

Alternative Remedies for LossAlternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 8, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Olivia’s Dad brings his new girlfriend on a family trip to India only months after her Mom’s death from cancer, Olivia has to figure out how to navigate her grief and get her life back on track.

My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Alternative Remedies for Loss is both those things! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife. Full review.

Bachelor NationBachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
Nonfiction (Released March 6, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Kaufman, a L.A. Times reporter who covered The Bachelor franchise until ABC shut down her access because they weren’t pleased with what she was writing about the show, exposes the inner workings of The Bachelor franchise.

My Thoughts: In Bachelor NationKaufman investigates The Bachelor‘s cultural place in America, how producers get contestants to give them good TV, how and why contestants think they fall in love over such a short period of time, and what happens to the couples after the show ends. Beware if you want to preserve the fairytale because you’ll for sure be watching the show differently after reading it. Full Review.

Dear Fahrenheit 451Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released September 26, 2017)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Spence, a public librarian, shares her “love letters and break-up notes” to her favorite books, as well as musings and rants about various aspects of her reading life…plus, a whole section of book recommendation lists.

My Thoughts: Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob (which was a similar book, but got too esoteric and intellectually snobby for my taste)! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned. Big-time bookworms with a sense of humor, this one’s for you!

How To Walk Away How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.

My Thoughts: How to Walk Away is another book about a very serious topic that’s handled in a light-hearted way…and it reads like brain candy. How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). Full review.

Look Alive Out ThereLook Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley
Nonfiction – Essays (Released April 3, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A collection of essays about Crosley’s mostly New York City life, with her “trademark hilarity, wit, and charm.”

My Thoughts: I generally have trouble with essay collections billed as humorous. Humor is hard. I often feel like the author is trying too hard with the jokes. But, Crosley’s humor is more subtle…the kind that has me chuckling rather than LOLing (a promise of so many of these types of essay collections), which is much more up my alley. Look Alive Out There is light and fun, but also smart and sharp. Crosley captures the ridiculousness and weirdness and occasional hilariousness of living in New York City and doesn’t hold back with the social commentary. Full Review.

The Heirs by Susan RiegerThe Heirs by Susan Rieger
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 23, 2017)
254 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Rupert Falkes passes away from cancer, the rest of his wealthy Manhattan family (his wife and five sons) struggles with their identity amid accusations that he fathered two children out of wedlock.

My Thoughts: Don’t make the same mistake I did by assuming The Heirs is another version of The Nest! It’s not “wealthy people behaving badly”…it is the story of one wealthy Manhattan family, their relationships with each other, and their own internal struggles. The writing about NYC society reminded me of Jay McInerney (a little pretentious with lots of needlessly big words), but the story reminded me of early Beatriz Williams (i.e. A Hundred Summers). If you read Rieger’s debut (The Divorce Papers), this one is very different.

Something Intense / Fast-Paced

My #1 Pick

Social CreatureSocial Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
Fiction – Literary (Released June 5, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Louise, a nobody trying to make it in NYC, meets Lavinia, an outrageous party girl/socialite, they embark on an intense friendship during which Lavinia ends up dead (this is not a spoiler…it’s revealed almost immediately and in the publishers’ blurb!).

My Thoughts: Social Creature is completely ridiculous and messed up, but also addictive and intriguing. This book made me say “holy sh*t” multiple times. This is one demented story and maybe the most messed up book I’ve read since The Roanoke Girls. If you like dark and twisted, Social Creature is for you (but try to go in as blind as possible)! But, fair warning, this book is not for everyone. PS – stick it out to around the halfway point, things really take off from there.

Grist Mill RoadGrist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Two and a half decades after Patrick, Hannah, and Matthew were involved in a childhood crime in their hometown of Roseborn, NY, they meet again in New York City and have to grapple with what happened years ago.

My Thoughts: Yates’ debut novel, Black Chalk, was one of my favorite books of 2014 and I had high expectations for his sophomore effort. Though Grist Mill Road wasn’t perfect and I didn’t love it as much as Black Chalk, I couldn’t put it down. It’s part coming of age story (reminiscent of My Sunshine Away) and part psychological thriller, while managing to remain literary (well…until the overly thriller-y ending). Grist Mill Road is a solid choice if you like dark, twisty, literary thrillers about extremely complicated friendships (a la If We Were Villains). Full Review.

Sunburn by Laura LippmanSunburn by Laura Lippman
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Release Date: February 20, 2018)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Polly and Adam meet at a bar in tiny Belleville, Delaware in the 1990’s each is merely passing through. As they become more enamored with each other, they discover both are keeping secrets.

My Thoughts: Recommended by Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Recommendation Sourcesand Megan Abbott (one of my few trusted thriller authors), Sunburn is an unconventional love story where essentially everyone is messing with everyone else. There’s not a single character who is 100% likable or trustworthy (take note if dislikable characters bother you!). Sunburn kept me quickly turning the pages even while sick with the flu! Full Review.

Tangerine by Christine ManganTangerine by Christine Mangan
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Alice Shipley can’t figure out whether to be relieved or unsettled when her college roommate (Lucy Mason), who she hasn’t spoken to in over a year after a deeply disturbing incident, shows up on her doorstep in Tangier, Morocco, where she’s living with her new husband (John).

My Thoughts: Told in dual perspectives, Mangan’s debut novel is the story of a fraught, obsessive friendship and all the wreckage it leaves behindTangerine is a very specific type of book that I generally adore (and I did in this case!), but that probably isn’t for everyone. It’s kind of a page turner, but not in the traditional sense. It’s taut with emotional and psychological tension and reminded me of Tender (my review), Sunburn (my review), and Based on a True Story (Spoiler Discussion). And, the Moroccan setting makes the story even more enigmatic. P.S. – Don’t be fooled by this cover because Tangerine does not read like historical fiction at all despite the 1950’s time period. Full Review.

The Wife by Alafair BurkeThe Wife by Alafair Burke
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released January 23, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After Angela is plucked out of the Hamptons by her marriage to NYU professor and media personality Jason Powell, two women accuse Jason of misconduct and Angela has to figure out how to protect the most important thing in her life.

My Thoughts: The Wife is part domestic thriller / part legal thriller and is the first domestic thriller I haven’t DNF’d in ages! I read it in a day and a half at the beach and it’s absolutely perfect for that setting. The ending was mostly surprising, yet not outlandish, which is a must for me to like a thriller. I recommend skipping the Prologue, as I thought it gave away too much. Bonus: it deals with a timely topic.

Unraveling OliverUnraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released August 22, 2017)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When successful children’s book author Oliver Ryan beats his wife into a coma, their friends and acquaintances try to piece together how he could have done it.

My Thoughts: After reading the first line of Unraveling Oliver (“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”), you think you know what you’re getting. You think you’re getting a thriller. You think you know Oliver. You think you’ll unequivocally hate Oliver. But, you don’t know anything. I promise, you’ll be surprised. It’s a story told from different perspectives, a character study that peels back many layers, and all the pieces came together like a symphony.

Something With A Bit More Substance

My #1 Pick

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Fiction – Literary (Released February 6, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.

My Thoughts: An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and is one of my favorite novels of 2018 so far! It’s about so many things (marriage, race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery), but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). Jones handles them in a way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.” And, the last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. Full Review.

All the Castles BurnedAll the Castles Burned by Michael Nye
Fiction – Literary (Released February 13, 2018)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Owen Webb, a scholarship student at the prestigious Rockcastle School (a private day school for boys) embarks on an obsessive, dangerous friendship with Carson Bly, the son of a wealthy and absent father.

My Thoughts: All the Castles Burned is a classic coming of age story with some dysfunctional family drama, some “outsider enters the realm of the wealthy” dynamics, a foreboding friendship, a father/son angle, a touch of romance, and basketball. You can feel the tension simmering and you know things will explode at some point. I’d recommend this one for fans of Shadow of the Lions (my review) and Unraveling Oliver…and campus novels in general! Full Review.

Educated Tara WestoverEducated by Tara Westover
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released February 20, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Westover tells her story of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in public education and her journey to break the mold by getting her PhD at Cambridge University.

My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass CastleHillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my reviewEducated should be next on your list! Full Review.

Female PersuasionThe Female Persuasionby Meg Wolitzer
Fiction – Literary (Released April 3, 2018)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Greer is a shy college student still in love with her high school boyfriend when she meets Faith Frank, an icon of the women’s movement, who changes the trajectory of Greer’s life.

My Thoughts: Meg Wolitzer is one of my very favorite authors, so I’m not entirely surprised that The Female Persuasion is one of my few 5 star books of this year! The Female Persuasion is ultimately a story in which the characters are the stars: Greer, her boyfriend (Cory), her best friend (Zee), and Faith Frank. I was completely enmeshed in these people’s lives and the issues (gender, feminism) this book addresses fit organically around the characters’ stories without overwhelming them (like An American Marriage and The Mothers). Don’t be scared of the 464 pages…I flew through this one in just a few days! Full Review.

Visible EmpireVisible Empire by Hannah Pittard
Historical Fiction (Released June 5, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Following the 1962 plane crash at Orly Airport that killed over 100 Atlanta art patrons (a massive chunk of the city’s social elite), Atlanta citizens connected to the crash must figure out who to recover amid the Civil Rights Movement.

My Thoughts: In Visible Empire, Pittard uses the true story of the Orly plane crash as the big event that ties lots of disparate people and perspectives together (and the opening chapters recounting the crash are riveting) to create a portrait of Atlanta in the 1960’s. Pittard gives us a sort of gossipy take on the impact of the crash on Atlanta’s elite and those who come in contact with them. I felt like this would be the book that Dominick Dunne (former Vanity Fair columnist and author of “fictional” novels about real life crimes involving the wealthy) would have written about the crash…and it reminded me of a less epic A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (R.I.P.).

Something Different

My #1 Pick

Tell Me More by Kelly CorriganTell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 9, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Corrigan’s memoir is organized around the “12 hardest things she’s learning to say,” including “No,” “I don’t know,” and “I Was Wrong.”

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored (it’s my favorite 2018 nonfiction so far!) this memoir that spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” way. She covers many big life issues (marriage, motherhood, illness, religion, friendship, grief, and loss) in a relatable and irreverently funny way. Corrigan is a welcome addition to my “women who get women” club (current members include Anna Quindlen, Ann Patchett, and Cheryl Strayed) and I’d highly recommend Tell Me More to anyone who loved Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Full Review.

Laura and EmmaLaura & Emma by Kate Greathead
Fiction – Literary (Released March 13, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Laura, the somewhat quirky daughter of a blue-blood Upper East Side family, becomes pregnant after a one-night stand and wrestles with how to raise her daughter.

My Thoughts: The key to loving Laura & Emma is loving Laura’s voice and the writing style (which I did)…because there isn’t a ton of action to propel the story. Laura is offbeat, but likable and funny in an awkward way (she reminded me of a less damaged version of Eleanor Oliphant). The story is told in vignettes both momentous and mundane, which might turn some people off, but these hung together quite well to form a cohesive story (e.g. similar to Goodbye, Vitamin). P.S. – there’s an kooky, entertaining grandmother…always a plus in my reading! Full Review.

Heating and CoolingHeating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October 10, 2017)
112 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: In a series of tiny chapters (some only a single paragraph), Fennelly shares anecdotes from her life.

My Thoughts: This memoir is told in a totally unique format…actually a number of different formats (short essays, single paragraphs or sentences, a poem, etc) collected into one volume. It’s clever and witty and random, but delightfully random. It’s a 100% “real life” book. She touches on marriage, parenthood, her writing career, her Catholic upbringing (Catholics beware – she sort of skewers them), and everyday life. It’s the perfect choice for a time when you’re distracted or don’t have much reading time…and would make a perfect “bathroom book” (i.e. the book that sits on the back of the toilet to be picked up by whoever sits down).

Red NoticeRed Notice by Bill Browder
Nonfiction – Business (Released February 3, 2015)
380 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story Browder’s experience as one of the first foreign investors in Russia after the fall of Communism and widespread privatization.

My Thoughts: You might think the premise of Red Notice sounds boring. Let me assure you…it’s not. It’s a financial thriller (if there is such a thing) that reads like fiction and kept me quickly turning the pages…while giving a fascinating picture of Russian culture in the Post-Communism era. During the course of his investing, Browder made a ton of money, partnered with billionaire Edmond Safra, angered some oligarchs via his anti-corruption battles, showed some serious guts, and ended up in a knockdown, drag-out battle with Putin and the Russian regime. Think a cross between Michael Lewis, Dominick Dunne, and the TV show Billions.

Tiger WoodsTiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
Nonfiction – Sports (Released March 27, 2018)
512 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The new biography of the ex-World #1 golfer, including his fall from grace.

My Thoughts: You’ve probably heard much of the scoop in this book before (especially if you’re a golf fan), but mostly in little snippets over the course of his whole career. Benedict and Keteyian put all this together to paint a complete picture of Tiger as a person and an athlete. I found myself psycho-analyzing him right along with the authors. It’s a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of an elite athlete in the limelight who has been trained as a machine…and sorely under-trained as a whole person. PS – Bill Simmons, one of my favorite sports writers/podcasters, loved this book and read it in a few sittings.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
Fiction – Short Stories (Released April 24, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s (author of PrepAmerican Wife, and Eligible) first short story collection.

My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing, but this collection is unquestionably 5 stars for me! The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection! Full Review.

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April and May 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

May 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 15

April and May 2018 Books to Read

 

My reading was all over the place in April (because I was reading way ahead for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide), so you’re getting a double dose of books this month!

In addition to my April and May 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of another April book, Circe by Madeline Miller (coming a week from today).

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

April and May 2018 Books to Read

Alternative Remedies for LossAlternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 8, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Bloomsbury USA)

Plot Summary: When Olivia’s Dad brings his new girlfriend on a family trip to India only months after her Mom’s death from cancer, Olivia has to figure out how to navigate her grief and get her life back on track.

My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Joanna Cantor’s debut novel is both! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. During the Prologue, I was wavering about whether or not to continue reading, then something completely unexpected and interesting happened that caused me to keep going…and I’m so glad I did. This element isn’t a huge focus of the plot, but it was the pivotal moment that got me engrossed in the book. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife.

When you knew what you wanted, everything became simpler, more streamlined.

book of the month may 2018How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.

My Thoughts: I’ve been on a streak lately with books about very serious topics that are handled in a light-hearted way…and that read like brain candy. Add How to Walk Away to that list (Alternative Remedies for Loss, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties). How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Admittedly, this is not the kind of book I normally enjoy (I usually like them extra dark and twisted), but all the unicorns and rainbows worked for me here. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). However, I could’ve done without the Epilogue. I have no idea why all these things I normally hate in books worked for me here, but they did and I no longer have to sheepishly admit I have nothing when people ask me for a “feel-good” book recommendation.

Needing to find reasons to live had forced me to build a life worth living. I would never say the accident was a good thing. I would never, ever claim that everything happens for a reason. Like all tragedies, it was senseless.

But I knew one thing for sure: The greater our capacity for sorrow becomes, the greater our capacity for joy.

So I went on, “That’s the thing you don’t know – that you can’t know until life has genuinely beaten the crap out of you: I am better for it all. I am better for being broken.”

Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.

My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). She understandably has different views about many everyday things (e.g., camping, marriage, etc) that were shaped by her experience. The writing is simple and hard-hitting, which is my kind of writing and fit this story well, but the alternating timelines pulled me out of the story a bit. I’d admittedly not learned much about the various refugee crises around the world and this book started to change that.

It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
Fiction – Short Stories (Released April 24, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s (author of Prep, American Wife, and Eligible) first short story collection.

My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing. I’ve only really loved two short story collections in my entire life (Beneath the Bonfire and Why They Run the Way They Do). I can now make that three because I adored this collection…it’s unquestionably 5 stars for me! The three collections I’ve loved all have one thing in common: the stories have something idiosyncratic in them, but are otherwise about mundane life. The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection!

Oh, our private habits, our private selves – how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.

April and May 2018 Books to Skip

I was very quick to DNF books over the past few months because I was trying to get through as many candidates for my Summer Reading Guide as possible. So, all my April and May skips are DNFs…

Campaign WidowsCampaign Widows by Aimee Agresti (May 22, 2018)
DNF at 6%

Honestly, I tried this so long ago and quit so early that I have zero memory of anything I did read or why I DNF’d it. Sorry!

 

 

Love and RuinLove and Ruin by Paula McLain (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 27%

I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, but felt like I was slogging through Love and Ruin. Maybe it was because she went back to Hemingway a second time? I was reading it at the beach and that’s not the place you want to try to slog through a book!

 


That Kind of MotherThat Kind of Mother
 by Rumaan Alam (May 8, 2018)
DNF at 48%

I thought I’d love this novel about a woman who adopts the child of her nanny after she dies during childbirth because two of my top recommendation sources (Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast and Tyler Goodson, Manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA) rated it 5 stars. Unfortunately, something felt off. I had trouble connecting with Rebecca (the main character), the observations about motherhood were kind of all over the map (maybe because it’s written by a man??), and I just couldn’t get fully immersed in it.

 

High SeasonThe High Season by Judy Blendell (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 20%

This novel was heavy on high society and museum board politics, which I found annoying and boring. Kind of like the mommy politics in Big Little Lies (my review) drove me crazy.

 

 

Italian PartyThe Italian Party by Christina Lynch (April 10, 2018)
DNF at 6%.
Ditto Campaign Widows.

 

 

 

What are the best April or May 2018 book you’ve read so far?

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What I’m Reading Now (5/14/18)

May 14, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 27

I hope all the mothers out there had a great Mother’s Day weekend! I spent part of mine on a night away with some old friends and I arrived to find two of them reading Circe! Needless to say, it sparked some discussion…

The summer weather has arrived in Virginia and it’s a welcome change from my old town, where it didn’t really feel like summer had truly arrived until mid June. And, with the summer weather comes my annual Summer Reading List…I’ll be posting it this Thursday, so y’all have plenty of time to peruse it before Memorial Day weekend! And, there are a couple new twists this year!

The first round of personalized book recommendations for our $7/month patrons went out today! If you’d like to get a monthly personalized book recommendation, support the blog on Patreon (more details here). 

Tools of Titans Tip
I’m slowly working my way through Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, a collection of highlights from interviews he’s done with various stars of their fields. It’s chock full of awesome tidbits, so I thought I’d share the most helpful tip I pick up each week. I’ve now moved onto the “Wise” section, which is hit and miss so far.

On Busyness:
This is something I desperately need to take to heart…

“This frantic, self-congratulatory busyness is a distinctly upscale affliction. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the ICU, taking care of their senescent parents, or holding down three minimum-wage jobs they have to commute to by bus who need to tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they are addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

– From Tim Kreider, Essayist and Cartoonist

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Warning: Unpopular opinion ahead…⠀ _⠀ ⠀ ⭐⭐⭐ 💫 // So many of my best recommendation sources rated this book 5 stars…so, I went into it with super high hopes. But, I thought it was just okay. LINK TO MY REVIEW (WHICH ALSO INCLUDES EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER) IN PROFILE.⠀ _⠀ ⠀ I loved the premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…and it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (which I adored). BUT, the adulthood interaction of The Gunners felt off…all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” Tickling? Indian wrestling? Did anyone else think this was odd?!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ This plus the incessant revealing of secrets (it felt like a game of whack-a-mole) made the overall story feel a bit contrived. ⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Has anyone else read The Gunners? What did you think? Am I on this island alone?!⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes

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I finished reading…

How to Walk Away, Circe

 

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15, 2018)
This May Book of the Month selection was everything I normally hate in my fiction (romance, overly sappy, some unbelievable plot elements)…but it strangely worked for me in this case! Mini review coming tomorrow.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Circe by Madeline Miller (April 10, 2018)
I’m firmly in the minority on this one. Did not like it one bit. I felt like it was a battle to get through. Full review to come.

I’m currently reading…

We Are Gathered

 

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman (June 5, 2018)
Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot’s All the Books podcast recommended this debut novel about a wedding told from the perspectives of the various guests. I’m only 15% in and it’s definitely not what I was expecting so far. I’m not sure yet whether that’s a good or a bad thing. We’ll see how things pan out…

Upcoming reading plans…

Favorite Sister

 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (May 15, 2018)
I originally thought I’d skip this novel about a reality show that seems very similar to Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise because I DNF’d Knoll’s debut, Luckiest Girl Alive. But, I am a total reality TV junkie and two bloggers I trust (Catherine at Gilmore Guide and Tina at TBR, etc. have said good things about Knoll’s latest).

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading one of my favorite sports novels (P.S. it’s a fantastic summer read!)

Two Years Ago: I’d just finished a quiet novel that made me want to immediately read more of that author’s work.

How was your reading week?

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Two Books Everyone Else Rated 5 Stars: Educated by Tara Westover and The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

May 10, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 15

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of both of these books because many people have rated them 5 stars. And, I really liked one and liked the other decently well. But, neither was a 5 star read for me. I liked Educated a lot and can’t point to any specific flaws in it, but it just didn’t have the extra oomph to push it from 4 to 5 stars. However, I did have some specific issues with The Gunners, which kept it at 3.5 stars for me.

Educated by Tara WestoverEducated by Tara Westover
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released February 20, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Random House)

Plot Summary: Westover tells her story of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in public education and her journey to break the mold by getting her PhD at Cambridge University.

My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. Her journey to follow her passion for knowledge (both academic knowledge and common sense) and her battle with her family to be able to pursue an education is both heart-breaking and inspirational. I could feel Tara’s emotional tug-of-war over her own beliefs and the blood ties of her family…it was heart-wrenching. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass Castle, Hillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my reviewEducated should be next on your list!

Again I thought about the family. There was a puzzle in it, something unresolved. What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations—to friends, to society, to themselves?

The Gunners by Rebecca KauffmanThe Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
261 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Counterpoint Press)

Plot Summary: A coed group of childhood friends (called “The Gunners”) gathers for the one of the members’ (Sally’s) funeral and tries to unravel what went wrong with their friendship group ages ago and what caused Sally to end her life.

My Thoughts: Many of my very best recommendation sources 5 star-loved The Gunners, so I was sure it would be 5 stars for me as well. Well…I liked it, but I did have some issues with it and I never considered rating it 5 stars (it’s getting 3.5 stars). I loved the story’s premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (my review), but Shotgun Lovesongs executed it better. The story meanders a bit in the beginning, but the story moves once the revelations begin. But, so many secrets are revealed that it felt like a game of whack-a-mole. And, I loved the characters, but the way they interacted in adulthood felt off…like the author was trying too hard. The adults tickle each other, Indian-wrestle, and tell scary stories (just like when they were kids), but all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” This coupled with the over-the-top whack-a-mole revealing of secrets made the story feel a bit contrived overall. For a different opinion, check out reviews at Novel Visits and Running N Reading.

“Sally taught me something about people that I never wanted to know.” Alice said, “What was that?” “That people can disappear,” Lynn said. “Right before your eyes. That you’ll never understand it and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.”

Have you read either of these popular books? What did you think?

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Why I Generally Don’t Like Thrillers…and 6 Types of Thrillers That DO Work For Me

May 8, 2018 Discussions 25

Why I Don't Like Thrillers

 

Y’all have heard me complain about my prickly relationship with thrillers for years now. And, based on all that complaining, you’d think I’d just avoid the genre entirely. But, I don’t. Because, when I do find a thriller that works for me, it’s one of my favorite reading experiences! And, then I keep trying and failing to replicate that experience.

Ever since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train were such mega-hits, publishers have been churning out psychological thrillers at a feverish pace, chasing that lightening in a bottle success. My personal opinion is that this has put a ton of mediocre to terrible thrillers out there. There are the ones that rely on some outlandish gimmick to surprise the reader, the ones that are completely predictable, and ones that involve the supernatural or paranormal…all of which drive me crazy.

So, I’ve been trying to choose my thrillers wisely and really consider what makes a thriller work for me. From what I can tell, I prefer thrillers…

With A Surprising, Yet Not Outlandish Ending or Twist

This is the #1 thing a thriller must have for it to work for me. After I finish, I want to be able to look back on the story and say, “I did not see that ending/twist coming, but it totally makes sense in hindsight.” And, it’s unfortunately really hard to ride that perfect line between surprise and inevitability.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night (my review), The Wife (the Alafair Burke version), Gone Girl

That Delve Deep Into a Topic

Certain thrillers are defined by a topic they delve deep into and I like how the topics differentiate these thrillers from everything else out there…and help you learn something in the process.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night – narcissism (my review), The Guest Room – sex trafficking (my review), The Sleepwalker – parasomnia (my review), You Will Know Me – elite women’s gymnastics (my review)

That Feel Like or Are Something Else

Some books are technically considered another genre entirely, but read like a page turner. Again, this helps these thrillers stand out from the very crowded pack.

Successful Examples: Dark Matter – Sci-Fi (my review), Bull Mountain – Grit Lit (my review)

With a Bit of Romance

Normally, I can’t stand cheesy romance in my fiction. But, the romance I find in thrillers is usually of the darker, more twisted (rather than cheesy) variety…and I can totally handle that.

Successful Examples: Quicksand (my review), The Roanoke Girls (my review), Dead Letters (my review)

That are International

I’ve had good luck over the past few years with translated thrillers. Most were run-away bestsellers in their home countries and then made their way to the U.S. market. There’s something about an international thriller (European in these cases) that has a completely different feel than U.S. thrillers. There’s more subtle emotional tension rather than a reliance on suspense driven by action.

Successful Examples: Based on a True Story (spoiler discussion), Fear (my review), After the Crash (my review)

That Feel Literary

I’m not sure how to define this except to say that I know it when I see it. Often, thrillers rely on plot-based action, but I love it when a thriller also has strong character development and great writing. 

Successful Examples: Since We Fell (my review), Social Creature

How do you feel about thrillers? Are you a fan or not? What types of thrillers work for you and what thriller elements bother you?

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What I’m Reading Now (5/7/18)

May 7, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 21

I celebrated my 40th birthday this past weekend…though my actual birthday isn’t until later this week. I know many people view 40 as a big milestone…or tragedy…depending on how you look at it. But, I haven’t really thought much about it and haven’t done any sort of big taking-of-stock. I’m just keeping on for now…

I’m putting together personalized book recommendations for our $7/month patrons this week (you can now support the blog on Patreon and get some fun rewards as a thank you for your support!), so sign up on Patreon if you’d like to be included in the first batch of personalized recommendations! And, check out my post for more details about this whole Patreon thing.

Tools of Titans Tip
I’m slowly working my way through Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, a collection of highlights from interviews he’s done with various stars of their fields. It’s chock full of awesome tidbits, so I thought I’d share the most helpful tip I pick up each week. I’ve now moved onto the “Wise” section, which is hit and miss so far.

On Sleep:
Amen, Amen, Amen. Nothing makes me more out of sorts than lack of sleep.

“Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue – but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.’”

– From Maria Popova, Founder of Brainpickings.org

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My new bookshelves are finally getting some accessories…including some cool bookends! I kind of wish I could sit in a giant wheel and read all day these clowns…⠀ _⠀ ⠀ I actually have a shelf solely dedicated to @bookofthemonth selections! Here’s just a smidge of it…⠀ – My favorite book of 2017 and possibly my favorite of the past few years as well.⠀ – A book I almost didn’t read because I didn’t like the sound of the premise, but ended up loving.⠀ – And, a fun, easy read that was on last year’s Summer Reading Guide (my 2018 Guide is coming out in mid-May!).⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Tell me about your favorite bookends! ⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #bookblogger #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #amreading #bookgram #bookofthemonth #shelfie #bookends #bookshelves @ahoffmanwriter @doree @johnboyne @hogarthbooks @simonandschuster @littlebrown ⠀

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I finished reading…

Girl Who Smiled Beads, Tiger Woods

 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya (April 24, 2018)
An emotionally tough, yet powerful read…and a great memoir for book clubs. Mini Review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict (March 27, 2018, Audiobook)
You might think you know a lot about Tiger Woods based on how heavily he’s been covered in the media and you’ve probably heard much of the scoop in this book in little snippets throughout his career, but Benedict puts it all together to paint a complete picture of Tiger as an athlete and a person. It’s a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of an elite athlete in the limelight who has been trained to be a machine, not a whole person. P.S. – Bill Simmons, one of my favorite sportswriters, finished this book in two sittings.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

How To Walk Away

 

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15, 2018)
This novel about a girl who suffers a tragic accident the night she gets engaged was the May Book of the Month selection I was most interested in…and it’s not my kind of book at all (feel-good, romantic, a little sappy). But, I’m about 70% through and have been loving it so far…these elements that usually turn me off are working for me in this case. I’ve heard chatter about the ending, so I’ll be interested to see what I think of that.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Circe

 

Circe by Madeline Miller (April 10, 2018)
This re-imagining of the story of Circe, a figure from Greek mythology, is not my usual fare at all, but it’s gotten so many rave reviews from people I trust that I chose it as my April Book of the Month pick.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just read one of my favorite books of the first half of 2017…a translation!

Two Years Ago: I reading one of my favorite brain candy novels!

How was your reading week?

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April 2018 Monthly Round-Up

May 3, 2018 Monthly Round-Ups 17

April 2018 Monthly Round-Up

 

April brought some great reading…much of which consisted of trying to fit in as many candidates for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide as possible! Hunting for Summer Reading Guide candidates also brought some DNFs since I was being extra picky, but I’m okay with that.

This month, I also had one of my very favorite reading experiences that I don’t get to indulge in very often…a full 3 days of beach reading! This is super rare in my current, kid-filled stage of life and I appreciate it immensely.

I read 7 books this month…and none of those were audiobooks. That’s mostly because I’ve been listening to the new Tiger Woods biography, which is over 15 hours long…about 3 times the length of my normal audiobooks. Hopefully, I’ll be finishing it up soon.

Winners

Losers

None! I was super diligent about DNFing what I didn’t like this month!

DNF’s

Best-Selling Book (via my affiliate links)

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (my review) – by a landslide!

Announcements

  • Mother’s Day is just over a week away…I’ve got some books that would make awesome gifts for your Mom!
  • Personalized Book Recommendations and the Superstars Facebook Group are now available to anyone who supports Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!
  • The 2018 Summer Reading Guide is coming in mid-May…with a couple new features!

April Quality and Recommendation Sources

Reading Quality 

April 2018

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 70% (way above my 43% success rate from 2017)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 100%

2018 Year-to-Date (through April)

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 54% (still above my 43% success rate from 2017)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 85%

Successful Recommendation Sources

If you’re interested in tracking these types of stats, my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker does all the heavy lifting for you! Enter your book details and it automatically compiles everything into Summary Charts in real time! Go here for more details.

May Releases I’m Excited About

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (May 1)
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel (May 1)

Alternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor (May 8)
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15)

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (May 15)

Most Popular Posts

Posts Actually Published in April
Book of the Month April 2018 Selections: What Book Should You Choose?
12 Books That Would Make Great Gifts for Moms
Q1 2018 Update: My Go-To and No-Go Book Recommendation Sources

Overall Posts
Book Club Recommendations
Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion (#WTFthatending)
Am I the Only One Who Didn’t Love Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

How was your reading month?

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Book of the Month May 2018 Selections: What Book Should You Choose?

May 1, 2018 Book Recommendations 23

book of the month May 2018

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, but I’m also a paying customer.

 

Welcome to my monthly feature “Book of the Month Selections: What Book Should You Choose?”! Every month, I provide commentary on the books that are chosen as that month’s Book of the Month selections that will hopefully help you choose your pick, and tell you which book(s) I’m going to choose. AND, I provide you with the most up to date version of my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Judges with free, downloadable template (below).

I’m not over the moon about this month’s selections, but am hesitantly interested in two of them. As a follow-up to last month’s selections, I’m over halfway through The Girl Who Smiled Beads (one of my April choices) and it’s powerful as predicted. 

Choose the best Book of the Month selection for you every time!

Check out my fun new tool to help you pick the best Book of the Month selection for your taste: my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Judges and free, downloadable template to help you find your go-to BOTM judge!

Book of the Month April 2018 Selections

book of the month May 2018 SelectionsSmall Country by Gael Faye (Release Date: June 5, 2018)
224 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.37 on 2,101 ratings
Selected By: Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

A prize-winning bestseller in its native France, a vivid and evocative coming-of-age tale, set against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide and the civil war in Burundi, of a young boy’s childhood innocence shattered by the brutal tides of history.

In 1992, Gabriel, ten years old, lives in Burundi in a comfortable expatriate neighborhood with his French father, his Rwandan mother and his little sister, Ana. In this joyful idyll, Gabriel spends the better part of his time with his mischievous band of friends, in a tiny cul-de-sac they have turned into their kingdom. But their peaceful existence will suddenly shatter when this small African country is brutally battered by history.

My Thoughts:
Faye grew up in Burundi and fled with his family to France when the Rwandan genocide broke out. Small Country is his debut novel and it sounds like this novel could be somewhat autobiographical. It’s already caused a sensation in France, becoming a bestseller and winning multiple literary awards. Goodreads reviews (most of which were in French, so I’m pulling from the English ones) said it’s beautiful, moving, powerful, emotional, and heart-wrenching. One reviewer said it was the best debut novel she’d read in years. Some also said the writing got a little overly poetic at times. Sounds like this one is emotionally tough to read, but the payoff is big if you can handle it. Fun fact: Faye is also a rapper and songwriter. PS – I’m in the middle of The Girl Who Smiled Beads (an April Book of the Month selection) right now and it also deals with being a refugee from the Rwandan genocide, but from a nonfiction perspective.

book of the month may 2018How To Walk Away by Katherine Center (Release Date: May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.38 on 459 ratings
Selected By: Taylor Jenkins Reid (Author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and more)

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.

My Thoughts:
By the author of Happiness for BeginnersHow To Walk Away is that rare heart-warming novel (which, to be honest, is not usually my jam). Jan B. (a blog reader and Goodreads reviewer whose taste I generally agree with) says, “the focus of this heartwarming novel is how Margaret copes with the hand she’s been dealt” and she recommends it for readers who “enjoy humorous character-driven feel-good novels.” Renee at It’s Book Talk (one of my favorite book bloggers, though she’s currently on hiatus) said it was a page-turner and had an interesting cast of supporting characters; however, she thought the ending went off the rails. Other Goodreads reviewers called it a palate cleanser and emphasized that it’s not a depressing book at all despite the tragic premise…many called it inspirational. It’s also been blurbed by Emily Giffin and Jenny Lawson, but I’m always a little skeptical of author blurbs. I peeked at the first few pages and liked the writing style and was drawn into the story…I’m looking forward to continuing  with it soon!

book of the month may 2018The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (Release Date: May 1, 2018)
336 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.92 on 262 ratings
Selected By: Guest Judge Jaime King (Actress)

An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. […]

When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted from his crib. […]

Though none of the other members in the group are close to the reserved Winnie, three of them will go to increasingly risky lengths to help her find her son. And as the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.

My Thoughts:
The Perfect Mother is this month’s obligatory psychological thriller (it’s also a debut) and it’s going to be a movie starring Scandal‘s Kerry Washington. Goodreads reviewers called it addictive, unputdownable, and a “popcorn” read. They mentioned it has multiple perspectives (apparently LOTS of perspectives in this case), which gets a bit confusing at times. Some said the ending came as a complete surprise, while others said they saw it coming. It’s a May Library Reads pick (which I usually have good luck with) and was blurbed by B.A. Paris (author of Behind Closed Doors) and Kimberly McCreight (author of Reconstructing Amelia). Andrea at Born and Read in Chicago (a blogger I follow) said it was a fluffy domestic thriller and reminded her of The Couple Next Door. She also said it had an “interesting take on the hard work that is motherhood: with equal parts satire and seriousness.” Here’s her full review.

Mars RoomThe Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Released: May 1, 2018)
352 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.61 on 178 ratings
Selected By: Siobhan Jones (Book of the Month Editorial Director)

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

My Thoughts:
I’ve gotten completely conflicting opinions about The Mars Room from two of my most trusted recommendation sources (go figure!). Susie at Novel Visits thought it was “way overhyped” and said it “felt like a mishmash of stories with no real core” because “Kushner spent a lot of time on the background/crimes/life of other inmates, a tutor at the prison, and male inmates in another prisons.” On the other hand, Tyler Goodson called it “masterful and unforgettable” and said it was one of the best books of 2018 for sure. Goodreads reviews tend to mirror Susie and Tyler…either 4 or 5 stars or 2 stars without much in between. Some said it was disjointed, aloof, and lacked connection, while others said it was candid and raw. Not surprisingly, The Mars Room comes with considerable commentary on social justice and the prison system.

Still Lives Still Lives by Maria Hummel (Release Date: June 5, 2018)
288 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.28 on 36 ratings
Selected By: Book of the Month Readers Committee member Sarah Bedwell

A young editor at a Los Angeles art museum finds herself pulled into the disturbing and dangerous world of a famous artist who goes missing on the opening night of her exhibition. […]

Suspicion falls upon the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

Set against a culture that too often fetishizes violence against women, Still Lives is a page-turning exodus into the art world’s hall of mirrors, and one woman’s journey into the belly of an industry flooded with money and secrets.

My Thoughts:
Still Lives is a literary crime novel set in the Los Angeles art world. It’s recommended for readers of Donna Tartt, Emma Cline, and Tana French…authors you don’t see together too often on read-alike lists, which is intriguing. Goodreads reviewers said it’s a bit slow in the first half, but picks up to be a thrilling page turner. They said it’s smart and has a pleasantly surprising ending. However, they also said there are too many characters to keep track of. I’m intrigued by this one, but would like to hear from some trusted recommendation sources before picking it up.

What Book of the Month Club May 2018 selection(s) will I choose?

If I didn’t already have an ARC of How To Walk Away, I’d choose that one since it’s been recommended by two trusted sources. However, I’m going to skip this month since I already have the ARC.

I’m also interested in Still Lives, but would like to hear from some trusted recommendation sources before jumping on it.

Make your Book of the Month selections by Sunday, May 6th.

What book will you choose this month?

This Month’s Special Deals

MOTHER’S DAY DEAL: Give a gift and get a free month for yourself! And, check out their Best Books for Mom list for some ideas. 

NEW MEMBER DEAL: Anyone who purchases a new BOTM subscription will get their first month free! Use code YESPLZ.

ANNUAL PAYMENT DEAL: BOTM is now a monthly subscription service. However, given that some members preferred paying upfront, they are now offering a 12-month option. Members who sign up for 12 months will pay $149.99/year. That’s $12.50/book, instead of the standard price of $14.99/month.

How to Join Book of the Month…

Book of the Month is a subscription service for people who like to try new books from a curated selection and like to read in hardcover format. Through Book of the Month, you can get a hardcover book for generally significantly less than you’d pay in a bookstore or through Amazon. And, you get to try something new that has been vetted by one of Book of the Month’s well-read judges!

Sign up for any of the subscription plans below and you get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). Book of the Month will then mail your chosen book to your house with a cute note. You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want.

Sign up for a Book of the Month membership (NEW pricing below)!

New members will sign up for a membership that renews monthly:

A book of your choice for $14.99 / month
Add extra books to your shipment for $9.99 each
Skip any month you want
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What I’m Reading Now (4/30/18) – A Short Version

April 30, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 25

Sorry for the extra short version today! My husband and I took a weekend away last weekend and I’m trying to quickly get a post typed while waiting for our late Sunday night flight to take off! It was a beach trip, so I got TONs of reading done!

Recently, I launched the Sarah’s Book Shelves Patreon page, where you can support the blog financially and get some special rewards (including personalized book recommendations and access to our private Facebook Group) as a thank you for your support! A huge thank you to those of you who have already become patrons!

Hosted by The Book Date.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

I finished reading…

Visible Empire, The Gunners, The Wife Alafair Burke

 

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (June 5, 2018)
Despite the very mixed reviews on Goodreads and the somewhat low average Goodreads rating, I really liked this one! It’s not as much about the 1962 Orly plane crash that killed many prominent Atlanta arts patrons…the crash is more of the event that ties together a portrait of Atlanta during that time from many disparate perspectives.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman (March 20, 2018)
I liked this novel, but it wasn’t a 5 star read for me like I thought it would be (based on other rave reviews). It reminded me a bit of Shotgun Lovesongs (though I liked that book better), but it felt a little contrived.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Wife by Alafair Burke (January 23, 2018)
Most of y’all know I’m very finicky about thrillers. Especially domestic ones. But, I really liked this domestic/legal thriller! I read it in a day and a half on the beach and it was the perfect book for that reading environment.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Girl Who Smiled Beads

 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya (April 24, 2018)
This memoir by a girl who escaped from the Rwandan genocide was my April Book of the Month pick and is getting rave reviews. I’m only 15% in, but it’s pulled me in and I suspect will be an emotionally tough, yet powerful read.

Upcoming reading plans…

I have no idea! I have a bunch of library holds that could come in soon and some May releases still to get to.

 

How was your reading week?

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