What I’m Reading Now (9/24/18)

September 24, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 11

Well, I thought we’d escaped Hurricane Florence last week, but we got an out-of-nowhere (well, it was actually caused by Hurricane Florence, but no one was expecting it!) tornado blitz on Monday afternoon. The kids and I spent 2 hours in our basement storage room as funnel cloud after funnel cloud was spotted around town. There was some pretty severe damage, but thankfully nothing hit us directly. And, we do not live in tornado country, so this was pretty incredible.

I’m hoping my reading has gotten back on track…I feel like it might have! I just need these next couple books to fall in line. I’m also overloaded with listening at the moment. Serial just dropped Season 3 (covering the Ohio justice system), I’m listening to the Dr. Death podcast, and an audiobook library hold just came in (Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs). There’s nothing like a library due date to get me to push an audiobook ahead of all the podcasts I listen to!

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!).

Favorite Instagram 
Follow me at sarahsbookshelves (click here to see full post)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

I have a finicky relationship with historical fiction. I used to LOVE it. But, I think I’ve gotten bored with it lately…and started to view the genre as perfect for my mother’s generation, but not edgy enough for me. ⠀ _⠀ ⠀ However, there are a few historical fiction novels that I’ve loved…and I finally figured out that they’re unconventional in specific ways. Check out my full blog post for the 6 Types of Unconventional Historical Fiction that work for me! (LINK IN PROFILE)⠀ _⠀ ⠀ How do you feel about historical fiction? Are there certain types that work better for you than others? ⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes #historicalfiction @melaniebenjamin_author @georgiahunter @tjenkinsreid @ahoffmanwriter @johnboyne @stephenking @delacortepress @vikingbooks @atriabooks @simonbooks @simonandschuster @hogarthbooks @scribnerbooks @bookofthemonth

A post shared by Sarah’s Book Shelves (@sarahsbookshelves) on

I finished reading…

what I'm reading now

 

November Road by Lou Berney (October 2, 2018)
Just so-so. The page-turning vibe I thought I was getting didn’t show up until the very end and I didn’t really care by then. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Amazon

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson (October 9, 2018)
Whew! Lots of thoughts about this book, but I was overall pleasantly surprised (think a bleaker Anna Quindlen)…despite it’s unfortunate title and cover. I’m trying to decide whether to do a full length or mini review. Regardless, some type of review will be coming soon!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Witch Elm

 

The Witch Elm by Tana French (October 9, 2018)
I’ve only read one Tana French (The Secret Place), but I’m in the mood for a good mystery (and my Instagram followers voted that this is what I should read next!). I’ve literally just started, so I don’t have any opinions yet.

Upcoming reading plans…

A Well-Behaved Woman

 

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler (October 16, 2018)
I absolutely loved Fowler’s last novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, so I’m super excited to see what she does with Alva Vanderbilt.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading an old school favorite author that I think I’ve now outgrown.

Two Years Ago: I was reading back to back 5 star memoirs!

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Why I Stopped Liking Historical Fiction…and 6 Types of UNCONVENTIONAL Historical Fiction I DO Like

September 20, 2018 Discussions 10

Unconventional Historical Fiction

 

I used to LOVE historical fiction. In fact, just a few years ago, it was one of my favorite genres. But, things have changed over the past couple years. For the past three years, historical fiction as a percentage of my overall reading has decreased every single year (2015: 12%, 2016: 10%, 2017: 5%). And, so far this year, I’ve read only 4 historical fiction novels. I think I’ve gotten bored with historical fiction…and started to view the genre as perfect for my mother’s generation, but not edgy enough for me.

But, it’s not all bad news. I have really loved a few historical fiction novels lately…and they were all atypical of the genre. I’ve figured out that I can enjoy historical fiction these days as long as it’s unconventional historical fiction.

What does unconventional historical fiction mean for me? I’m going to try to unpack that here.

Explore Modern/Still Relevant Themes

Though these books are set in the past, the themes they explore are still top of mind and being discussed today. The examples of this type of historical fiction that I’ve loved explore women’s roles and identities, racism, and sexuality.

Successful Examples: 

Feature Strong Female Characters

I could also call this my badass lady category! And, these ladies’ courage and accomplishments are all the more astounding given they occurred during a time when women weren’t necessarily encouraged to attempt feats of greatness.

Successful Examples: 

Set During A Specific Event I’m Interested In

There are certain events I’m kind of a sucker for. The JFK assassination is one…especially if it involves conspiracy theories. Various disasters are another.

Successful Examples: 

Contain Simmering Tension

You can feel the tension, but it’s a quiet, simmering tension. You know something bad is going to happen, you’re just not sure what it will be or how it will go down.

Successful Examples: 

Based on Real People

There’s something about fiction being based on real people that makes it all the more compelling. While reading these types of books, I’m questioning what details are real every single second. And, I always look forward to the “Afterward” where the author generally outlines what’s true and where he/she took liberties for the sake of the story.

Successful Examples:

Have a Soap Opera Quality

Pure, unadulterated juiciness. 

Successful Examples:

How do you feel about historical fiction? What types of historical fiction work for you? Which types don’t?

Support Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!
(and get personalized book recommendations and access to our private Facebook Group)

Support Us!

What I’m Reading Now (9/17/18)

September 17, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 15

We were bracing for big impacts from Hurricane Florence in Virginia this weekend, but thankfully we just ended up with some rain…not even any wind to speak of. I’m so glad we escaped most of the damage (less glad that the kids’ school was needlessly canceled on Friday), but feel horrible for those in North and South Carolina who didn’t. I have a particular soft spot in my heart for Wilmington, NC as I lived there for a summer during college, so I hate to see Wilmington residents going through all this.

On a happier note, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (author Q&A), which I know many of you read and loved, was selected at the 2018 One Book for Thomas County, GA (home of The Bookshelf in Thomasville and From the Front Porch podcast)! 

Finally, I made my second guest appearance on a podcast last week…this time I joined Gayle Weiswasser and Nicole Bonia on The Readerly Report to break down Celebrity Book Clubs! Listen here (it’s the 9/14/18 episode).

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!).

Favorite Instagram 
Follow me at sarahsbookshelves (click here to see full post)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

There’s something about the stage of life I’m in right now that really has me gravitating towards “women who get women.” _ I’m now experiencing marriage, motherhood, and a struggle to maintain my own identity through all of that. Seeing many things I’d been thinking and feeling put so eloquently on the page brought a tremendous sense of relief…and camaraderie that others struggle with the same things. This is one of my favorite joys of reading. _ All that being said, I don’t think these particular authors would have resonated with me before my thirties because I didn’t have the necessary experience under my belt to appreciate their wisdom. So, save these fantastic women authors for well after college… LINK IN PROFILE WITH FULL LIST _ What type of authors do you most identify with right now? What other “women who get women” authors do I need to read? * * * * * #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes @megwolitzer @camille_pagan @cherylstrayed @kellycorrigan @randomhouse @scribnerbooks @aaknopf @vintagebooks

A post shared by Sarah’s Book Shelves (@sarahsbookshelves) on

I finished reading…

Tell Me Lies

 

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (June 12, 2018)
Tell Me Lies explores sociopathic behavior and the girls that get mixed up in it from Lucy’s and Stephen’s alternating perspectives. It was a somewhat uncomfortable read, yet I was absolutely riveted. Part of me thinks this is the kind of book every high school girl should read as a cautionary tale, but it might also completely destroy her capacity to trust. And, I’m sure the many women who have experienced this type of relationship at some point in their lives will identify (but also be totally frustrated with) Lucy.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently Reading…

November Road

 

November Road by Lou Berney (October 2, 2018)
I’m almost three quarters of the way through my September Book of the Month pick…a historical fiction thriller centered around a cat and mouse chase connected to the JFK assassination. And, it’s just so-so. I expected it to have more of a page turning vibe than it does and I don’t really care what happens to these characters.
Affiliate Link: Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Bitter Orange

 

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (October 9, 2018)
DNF at 24%
Sigh…I loved Fuller’s previous two novels, Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons, but this one was sloooow. The writing was too descriptive and focused too much on architecture. I also couldn’t get a good sense of Frances (the main character)…she felt vague and the whole story felt hazy. There was supposed to be simmering tension similar to Tangerine, but I felt absolutely zero tension.

Upcoming reading plans…

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl

 

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson (October 9, 2018)
This Midwestern family novel focusing on three generations of women came to me unsolicited from the publisher. It’s the kind of premise that I’ve absolutely loved before, but could also be the type of book where nothing ever happens. We’ll where it lands!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was embarking on a bit of a reading slump…similar to this year!

Two Years Ago: I was reading a massively popular book that I didn’t love…and my review of it is still one of my best performing reviews of all time.

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

September 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

September 13, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 20

September 2018 Books to Read

 

Well, my September books didn’t turn out swimmingly. I really liked two of them (and they’re both super unique!), but DNF’d the other three. That’s a lot of DNF’s.

The good news is I have a stellar October line-up and hope to report back with lots of fantastic books for you!

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

Read These

Foe Foe by Iain Reid
Fiction – Literary / Science Fiction (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Gallery / Scout Press)

Plot Summary: Set in the near future, Junior is selected to participate in a partially government-run endeavor that requires him to leave his wife (Hen) on their isolated farm for a long time…but, the powers that be will make sure Hen is not alone in Junior’s absence.

My Thoughts: I’m don’t typically love Science Fiction, but I have been known to occasionally enjoy genre mash-ups that dip their toes into Sci-Fi (e.g. Dark Matter, The Beautiful Bureaucrat). Part literary fiction, part page turner, part Sci-Fi (and definitely creepy), Foe falls in this category. From the moment the book opened (and, really, well into the second half), I had no idea what was going on. It was clear that some omnipresent higher power had control over regular citizens and something wasn’t quite right with Junior’s wife, Hen. Outside of that, Foe had that “WTF is going on” vibe that permeated The Beautiful Bureaucrat. And, I was incredibly curious to find out. My overwhelming curiosity and very short chapters had me turning the pages quickly. The best thing about Foe for me was that, in addition to the unsettled feeling about what was going on, it examines a marriage (power dynamics, life choices, and isolation) and makes you consider big life questions (What is humanity? How do you feel about progress?). Foe is a unique book and a great choice if you’re looking to try out some Science Fiction without jumping headfirst into the deep end (plus, make sure you don’t mind creepy, but not in a scary way!).

Everything changes. Change is one of the only certainties in life. Human beings progress. We have to. We evolve. We move. We expand. What seems far-fetched and extreme becomes normal and the outdated pretty quickly. We move on to the next thing, the next development, the next frontier.

The WildlandsThe Wildlands by Abby Geni
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Counterpoint)

Plot Summary: After the McCloud children lose everything in a Category 5 tornado in their hometown of Mercy, Oklahoma (thus attracting considerable media attention), their brother (Tucker) runs away leaving the three McCloud sisters to fend for themselves. He returns three years later amid further tragedy and thrusts the family into the spotlight yet again.

My Thoughts: The publisher describedThe Wildlands as a literary thriller…and while I don’t think that’s quite accurate, it is a fast-paced story about children that have lost literally everything trying to find their way again. This story touches themes far and wide…humans’ place in the ecosystem, environmental terrorism, children surviving on their own, the media spotlight, Patti Hearst-esque Stockholm syndrome, and complicated sibling relationships. There was lots in this book that reminded me of other books I read, but it all came together in its own unique way…making it very hard to find a single read-alike for it. It has the love of animals and nature of Where the Crawdads Sing (my review), the focus on media attention following a tragedy of Before the Fall (my review), and the family manipulation of Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy (my review). There’s also some similarity to Christian Kiefer’s The Animals (my review). The place where I really did see the “literary thriller” come out was the ending, which was surprising and riveting, if not a tad improbable. A solid start to Fall book season! P.S. the publisher’s synopsis gives away way too much of the plot for my taste…I went in pretty blind and recommend you do too!

Maybe it all came back to the tornado. Maybe everything, in the end, came back to the tornado. Darlene wondered whether the storm transfigured her brother – shattering his temperament and reforming the shards into a new structure – or whether it had merely been a catalyst for a tendency already inside him. She would never be certain. Maybe the seeds of instability were present in his brain since birth, lying dormant, awaiting the right trigger to flourish. If it had not been the tornado, it would have been something else. Perhaps Tucker was always destined to chase wildness.

The DNF’s

Ordinary PeopleOrdinary People by Diana Evans (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 1%
Yep, 1%. Again…writing style. And huge blocks of text about some party that sounded pretentious and boring.

 

 

The Golden StateThe Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (September 4, 2018)
DNF at 3%
I immediately didn’t like the writing style…it was wordy, overly descriptive, and full of run-on sentences. I knew pretty quickly I wouldn’t be able to tolerate 300 pages of it.

 

 

Real LolitaThe Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 34%
This true story of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and the connection to the classic novel, Lolita sounded incredibly fascinating and right up my alley (true crime and books? yes!). Alas, the execution wasn’t there. The sections about Lolita read like a term paper and the sections about Sally Horner were hit and miss…with frequent tangents that I didn’t see the point of.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

Do you want a monthly personalized book recommendation from me and access to our private Facebook Group?
Support Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon for access to these special bonuses (more details here)!

Get Weekly Email Updates!

The “Women Who Get Women” Authors Club

September 11, 2018 Book Lists 16

 

Women Who Get Women

 

There’s something about the stage of life I’m in right now that really has me gravitating towards “women who get women.” I didn’t know I needed this kind of writing in my life until I stumbled across Anna Quindlen (well, stumbled isn’t quite accurate…my aunt actually kept telling me I needed to read her). I listened to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake on audio and kept screaming “yes, that’s exactly how it is” over and over in my head. After I finished the audiobook, I felt like I’d seen a therapist.

I’m now experiencing marriage, motherhood, and a struggle to maintain my own identity through all of that (a struggle that I never anticipated nor even really knew was all that common until I ended up in it). Seeing many things I’d been thinking and feeling put so eloquently on the page brought a tremendous sense of relief…and camaraderie that others struggle with the same things. This is one of my favorite joys of reading.

All that being said, I don’t think these particular authors would have resonated with me before my thirties because I didn’t have the necessary experience under my belt to appreciate their wisdom. So, save these fantastic women authors for well after college…

The “Women Who Get Women” Authors Club

Kelly Corrigan
Tell Me More (my review), Glitter and Glue (my review)
My introduction to Kelly Corrigan was through Tell Me More and she immediately reminded me of a funnier, more irreverent, and more emotional Anna Quindlen. She touches many important life issues: marriage, motherhood, illness, religion, friendship, grief, and loss. And, she said things that inspired me to be better and things that made me feel like I’m absolutely not alone in the moments where I’m not better.

We all kind of hate each other in this minute, me most of all because I taught them the word bitch and I yell so they yell and Edward misses another brawl so they’ll like him more today and he’s better anyway and whatever lust for combat my daughters have comes straight from me and I thought I was going to be a good mom like Michelle Constable or Tammy Stedman and I’m not and according to a parenting blog I saw, yelling is as bad as corporal punishment and particularly destructive to self-esteem so oh my God, what am I doing?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Gift from the Sea
My mom first gave me this book while I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t quite connect with it then, but I re-read it after having my second child and that changed completely. Lindbergh beautifully vocalized the many conflicted feelings I’d been having about motherhood, maintaining my identity, etc. It’s every bit as relevant now as it was in the 1950’s.

What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. Look at us. We run a tightrope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now! This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of.

Maggie O’Farrell
I Am, I Am, I Am
Through her essays about near-death experiences, O’Farrell imparts wisdom about life, especially for women. She touches motherhood, illness, fitting in, etc. She makes you keenly feel your own mortality. 

The people who teach us something retain a particularly vivid place in our memories. I’d been a parent for about ten minutes when I met the man, but he taught me, with a small gesture, one of the most important things about the job: kindness, intuition, touch, and that sometimes you don’t even need words.

Camille Pagan
Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties
Through Maggie’s story of realizing she had lost her identity after having children and her struggle to regain it again, Camille Pagan talks real talk about aging, marriage, divorce, finding your identity, and piecing your life back together after an upheaval. Pagan reminds me of a lighter, more sarcastic version (her salty humor is on point!) of Anna Quindlen and I recommend this one particularly to the mothers out there.

I had not taken particularly good care of myself over the years, and it wasn’t like I could get a free pass by wearing a pin that said, I look like this because I have been caring for everyone else.

Anna Quindlen
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (my review), Every Last One (my review), Living Out Loud
Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life (particularly female friendship, aging, motherhood, marriage, and solitude) that really puts things in perspective for me. She’s probably the President of this club in my book.

There comes that moment when we finally know what matters and, perhaps more important, what doesn’t, when we see that all the life lessons came not from what we had but from who we loved, and from the failures perhaps more than the successes.

Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Things, Brave Enough
Strayed is warm, relatable, and non-judgmental in her counsel and most people will find something in her writing that pertains to their own life past or present. Her advice generally boils down to the overarching theme of “be your true self.”

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

Meg Wolitzer
The Wife (my review)
The Wife explores the power dynamics of marriage. It’s about living life as a “babysitter for a successful man’s ego,” being married to a “gigantic baby,” and explores the role of “the wife” in society and the expectations and pressures that come along with that. It tackles the conundrum many women face of choosing to harness their talents or devote themselves to their families…or some balance between the two.

Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.

What type of authors do you most identify with right now? What other “women who get women” authors do I need to read?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

What I’m Reading Now (9/10/18)

September 10, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 18

The kids went back to school last week! Let me repeat, the kids went back to school last week! They were getting bored, restless, and less than well behaved the last few weeks of summer, so this has been a welcome change to our routine. My daughter started Kindergarten and boarded the bus without tears. And, my son started second grade and is thrilled to be back with his friends every day. And, I was more productive than I’ve been in a long, long time. My kids’ bus comes super early in the morning, so I have an extra hour and a half to get things done around the house or for the blog that I didn’t have last year.

On the reading front, I’m now able to return to my school year reading routine where I 100% know I’ll get in at least 45 minutes of reading every afternoon before the kids get home. I love knowing I’ll have this time. It also gets me in a relaxed headspace for the kids’ arrival home from school. And, I spent last week reading backlist and a library hold from earlier this year. Once I finish the library hold, I’ll start on October books…and, I’m glad I’m getting an early start because October has a jam-packed line-up!

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!).

Favorite Instagram 
Follow me at sarahsbookshelves

I asked my followers to guess which book in this picture fit the following categories…here are the answers!

1) My favorite: The Heart’s Invisible Furies
2) My least favorite: Circe
3) Most appearances as a celebrity book club pick (there are 2 for this category!): An American Marriage and Little Fires Everywhere
4) Most surprising: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
5) Most heart-breaking: The Girl Who Smiled Beads
6) The genre mash-up: After the Eclipse (memoir and true crime)
7) The prequel: The Rules of Magic

And, here is the follower who got all the answers right: @amysachs of Read a Latte (even pointed out to me that I’d forgotten to create a category for Startup!). PS – you should check out Amy’s blog, especially if you like thrillers!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

While I’m waiting for my September Book of the Month selection (November Road by Lou Berney) to arrive in my mailbox, I thought we’d play a little game with my previous BOTM picks! Whoever gets them all right will get shout-outs in my Monday blog post!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ In the comments section, guess which book fills each category:⠀ 1) My favorite: ⠀ 2) My least favorite: ⠀ 3) Most appearances as a celebrity book club pick (there are 2 for this category!):⠀ 4) Most surprising:⠀ 5) Most heart-breaking:⠀ 6) The genre mash-up:⠀ 7) The prequel: ⠀ – ⠀ OK, go!!⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookofthemonth #bookofthemonthclub #botm #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes @bookofthemonth

A post shared by Sarah’s Book Shelves (@sarahsbookshelves) on

I finished reading…

Loving Frank

 

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (August 7, 2007)
Thank you, Annie Jones, for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to read this! It was fascinating, compelling, and had me Googling away (to look at architecture, no less!) after I finished. Mini review coming soon on Instagram and in a backlist round-up later this year.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Tell Me Lies

 

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (June 12, 2018)
Whew! I’m 30% into this story about a toxic relationship and boy is it ever toxic! I sense some sociopathy and reading this actually makes me uncomfortable, yet still riveted. This could end up being the kind of book every high school girl should read as a cautionary tale, but also it would completely destroy her capacity to trust.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Bitter Orange

 

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (October 9, 2018)
I loved Fuller’s previous two novels, Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons. Her writing is gorgeous and her novels usually have a slow burn. Plus, Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast (one of my best recommendation sources) just gave this one 4 stars.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading quirky food fiction.

Two Years Ago: I was on vacation!

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

16 Character-Driven Novels I Couldn’t Put Down

September 6, 2018 Book Lists 27

Character-Driven Novels

 

These are not the novels that are driven forward by action…the yearn to know what will happen next. Rather, these are novels that I can’t put down because I just can’t stop reading about these characters. But, the end result is the same as an action-oriented page turner. I flew through the pages…no matter how many there were (and some of these are LONG books).

As I was putting this list together, I realized how many of my very favorite books were on it…leading me to realize that character-driven novels I can’t put down might be my favorite type of book out there. Part of the allure is that character-driven novels can easily feel slow and boring. It’s rare to find a character-driven novel that grabs you so hard you can’t put it down.

A couple other random observations about the books on this list:

  • 9 were on my Best Books of the Year lists (and another two will probably make this year’s list).
  • 4 gave me big enough reading hangovers to qualify them for the Alcohol sides of my Alcohol & Advil posts.
  • 10 have a spot on my real life bookshelves…which are (surprisingly) not very crowded and only my very favorites make it onto the shelves!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

16 Character-Driven Novels I Couldn’t Put Down

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (my review)
Spanning 30 years, the story of four male friends (Willem, J.B., Malcolm, and Jude) trying to make their way in New York City while dealing with the implications of Jude’s tragic childhood. 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
During a Little League baseball game, Owen Meany kills his best friend’s mom when his foul ball hits her in the head…and this is the story of their journey from there.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (my review)
An ill fated christening party is the catalyst that ruins the Keating and Cousins marriages…and creates a blended family trying to navigate their new world.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (my review)
The story of June Reid, who loses her entire family (her daughter and her fiancee, her boyfriend, and her ex-husband) in a horrible tragedy on the night before her daughter’s wedding.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (my review)
A sweet, calm, and uncomplicated novel about two older people (Louis and Addie) who stopped caring what everyone else thought and did what they needed to do to be happy.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (my review)
Four childhood best friends from the small town of Little Wing, Wisconsin reconnect at a wedding and try to find their places in the adult world.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Female Persuasionby Meg Wolitzer (my review)
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.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (my review)
A group of gay friends and their female friend (Fiona) navigate the AIDS crisis and deal with the death of one of their own in 1980’s Chicago…and decades later, Fiona sets out to Paris to find her estranged daughter and encounters the past in the process.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (my review)
After Cyril Avery was born out of wedlock to an Irish country teenager and given up for adoption to a wealthy, Dublin couple, he wrestles with his identity and how he fits into the country of Ireland over the course of his life.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (my review)
Jules Jacobson becomes best friends with five teenagers at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s, remaining friends despite completely different experiences in adulthood.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)
While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review)
Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (my review)
In a Detroit suburb, the five enigmatic Lisbon sisters commit suicide over the course of a year and the neighborhood boys who were obsessed with them try to understand why.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (my review)
On a flight to Helsinki to watch him receive a prestigious literary prize, Joan decides to leave her famous novelist husband, Joe, after a decades long marriage. 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (my review)
When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (my review)
The story of Zelda and author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s relationship as told from Zelda’s fictional perspective.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What character-driven novels have you not been able to put down?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

What I’m Reading Now (9/3/18) – A Double Shot

September 3, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 24

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I meant to get a Monday post up last week, but was traveling that weekend and ended up drinking wine with a friend on Sunday night instead of writing a blog post! Sometimes you’ve gotta just live life. So, you’re getting a double shot of books this week to make up for it…

My September books fell off a cliff with 3 DNF’s in one day! The good news is I now have time to fit in a backlist book and a library hold instead!

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!).

Favorite Instagram 
Follow me at sarahsbookshelves

Ever since we moved into a new house, I’ve been on a mission to create simple, little reading nooks all over the house and yard. Those reading enclaves you see on Pinterest are ridiculously amazing, but I’m not into decorating nearly enough to actually put one together. So, thank God you can totally get away with a comfy chair, a small table, and some good scenery! Here’s my latest addition…⠀ _⠀ ⠀ How do you create reading nooks where you live?⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes #summer2018 #summerreading #readeverywhere #readingnooks

A post shared by Sarah’s Book Shelves (@sarahsbookshelves) on

I finished reading…

what i'm reading now

 

The Wildlands by Abby Geni (September 4, 2018)
I really liked this one and it wasn’t what I expected! It’s got little bits of a number of other books I liked (Before the FallWhere the Crawdads Sing, The Animals, and This Dark Road to Mercy), but is something all its own. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Foe by Iain Reid (September 4, 2018)
Super creepy (but not in a scary way) and I flew through it. Mini review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower (April 7, 2015) – Audiobook
I love a good behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential book, especially the ones that don’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan (February 7, 2017)
I needed an easy read for my mini-vacation last weekend and had this one sitting on my Kindle from a $1.99 sale. I loved Pagan’s Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, so was pretty confident this would hit the spot! And it was perfect for my vacation…I read it in 2 days. It’s the story of an epic love triangle and doesn’t go in the direction you think it will!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Loving Frank

 

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (August 7, 2007)
This historical fiction based on the affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney had been on my TBR list for years and I probably would never have gotten to it, but Annie Jones talked about it on a recent episode of From the Front Porch podcast and it was a Kindle $1.99 deal soon after. The stars align! I’m about 35% through and am loving it so far. I’m still early in the book, but the affair has already progressed so far that I’m dying to know what will fill the remaining 65%. And, Annie said not to Google the real story, so I’m not!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

what i'm reading now

 

The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 34%
This true story of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and the connection to the classic novel, Lolita sounded incredibly fascinating and right up my alley (true crime and books? yes!). Alas, the execution wasn’t there. The sections about Lolita read like a term paper and the sections about Sally Horner were hit and miss…with frequent tangents that I didn’t see the point of.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (September 4, 2018)
DNF at 3%
I immediately didn’t like the writing style…it was wordy, overly descriptive, and full of run-on sentences. I knew pretty quickly I wouldn’t be able to tolerate 300 pages of it.

Ordinary People by Diana Evans (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 1%
Yep, 1%. Again…writing style. And huge blocks of text about some party that sounded pretentious and boring.

Upcoming reading plans…

Tell Me Lies

 

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (June 12, 2018)
This novel about a toxic relationship is my sister-in-law’s favorite book so far from her newly discovered reading hobby (read more about her story here), so I thought I’d give it a try and my library hold just came in!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading one of last year’s critical darlings that didn’t work for me.

Two Years Ago: I’d just finished Herman Koch’s latest novel!

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

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

August 31, 2018 Book Recommendations 21

Book of the Month September 2018 Selections

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 initially thought there wasn’t anything for me in this month’s selections…lots of thrillers, some magical realism, Greek mythology, and a murder / fashion Brain Candy. But, then I realized one of those thrillers was centered around the JFK assassination!

But, I’ve got to be honest, I do feel like the selections overall this year have been less enticing (at least to me) than in previous years…possibly because Book of the Month changed the way judges select the books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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 September 2018 Selections

Cross Her HeartCross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
352 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.06 on 1,078 ratings
Selected By: Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

My Thoughts:
This pick surprises me because, not even two years ago, Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes was also a Book of the Month selection. If you read my blog regularly, you know I HATED Behind Her Eyes (spoiler discussion), so I’m not going to be picking this one. Goodreads reviewers said the story alternates between three timelines, the chapters are short, it starts slow before hitting you in the face, and is a more traditional thriller than Behind Her Eyes (i.e. maybe a less outlandish ending?). They also mentioned it addresses social media, has flawed characters and some said the ending is predictable / a cop-out, while others said they were completely surprised by the ending. Multiple reviewers warned of graphic / disturbing content.

Silence of the GirlsThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
304 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.99 on 188 ratings
Selected By: Taylor Jenkins Reid (Author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and more)

Pat Barker turns her attention to the timeless legend of The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War.

My Thoughts:
The Silence of the Girls delves into Greek mythology, retelling The Iliad from the perspective of Briseis, a woman whose perspective is not included in the Iliad at all. It sounds similar to Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles. Susie at Novel Visits (one of my most trusted recommendation sources) is halfway through it now and likes it, but does not think it’s as compelling as Circe or The Song of Achilles. She does like that it’s told from a female perspective. Goodreads reviewers said some base knowledge of the Trojan War is helpful, it’s well written, the story possibly extends too far into the aftermath of the war, and it has page-turning YA vibe. Honestly, I glazed over even reading the reviews for this novel because I’m not at all into Greek mythology and didn’t like Circe even one little bit (my review).

Mermaid and Mrs. HancockThe Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower (Release Date: September 11, 2018)
496 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.86 on 2,529 ratings
Selected By: Brianna Goodman (Book of the Month Editorial Team)

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This chance meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, a journey on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost…

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

My Thoughts:
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is a debut historical fiction novel with a bit of magical realism, a bit of romance, and feminist themes. Set in 18th century London, the mermaid in the book is based on the Feejee Mermaid, “a mummified corpse of a monkey stitched to a fish’s tail that made sideshow rounds after it was purchased from Japanese sailors by a ship captain using capital from the ship’s expense account.” Goodreads reviewers said the story is told through multiple perspectives, has a strong sense of time and place (what some, not me, call “atmospheric”), memorable female characters, and gorgeous and witty writing (but the sample I saw was overly intricate, in the style of A Gentleman in Moscow). On the other hand, they mentioned it was slow and had a meandering plot. It was blurbed by Madeline Miller and Tyler Goodson (one of my trusted recommendation sources) rated it 4 stars.

November RoadNovember Road by Lou Berney (Release Date: October 2, 2018)
336 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.3 on 132 ratings
Selected By: 
AJ Finn (Author of The Woman in the Window)

Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.

My Thoughts:
November Road is historical fiction with a thriller-style plot. The publisher said it’s for fans of Dennis Lehane, Noah Hawley, Kate Atkinson, Amor Towles, and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (quite an eclectic group of authors for comparison!). Goodreads Reviewers said it’s well written, page turning cat and mouse story with a noir feel, has a mother/daughter storyline, is a road trip story, has a bit of romance. It sounds a bit like Laura Lippman’s Sunburn to me and I do love fiction that involves various conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination (e.g. 11/22/63 and The Bone Tree).

#FashionVictim#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar (Release Date: August 21, 2018)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.64 on 99 ratings
Selected By: Danielle Esplin (Author and BOTM Ambassador)

A darkly thrilling take on the fashion world, #FashionVictim is Heathers meets The Devil Wears Prada.

Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

My Thoughts:
The plot of this Brain Candy debut novel sounds totally ridiculous. I saw more “if such and such had a baby” comparisons about this book than about any other book I’ve ever seen: The Devil Wears Prada and Heathers, Mean Girls and Dexter, Clueless and Jawbreaker, American Psycho and The Devil Wears Prada with some Jane Doe, and Gossip Girl and Scream. Goodreads reviewers said it has dark, campy humor, is told from the POV of the killer and not the victims, and that Anya’s mental state is a focus. They also mentioned that social media lingo (OMG, WTF, etc) is annoyingly overused, that the writing style is similar to Social Creature (short, staccato sentences), that the story is somewhat eye-roll inducing, and it’s definitely full of murder.

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

I’m choosing November Road…because I’m a total sucker for JFK assassination conspiracy theory stories and, frankly, every other selection this month couldn’t be farther from my wheelhouse.

Make your Book of the Month selections by Thursday, September 6th.

What book will you choose this month?

This Month’s Special Deals

NEW MEMBER DEAL: Anyone who purchases a new BOTM subscription will get a credit for a free book! Use code FALLFEELS.

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
Free shipping, always

Support Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!
(and get personalized book recommendations and access to our private Facebook Group)

Support Us!

August 2018 Monthly Round-Up

August 30, 2018 Monthly Round-Ups 10

August 2018 Monthly Round-Up

 

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!).

My August reading was solid…but, just solid. No one book stood out far above the others, but almost everything I read was good! Sometimes I wonder if I’d prefer a single out of this world book among a sea of “meh” or if I’d rather have a string of solid, 4 star reads. What do you think? Tell me in the comments!

I read 8 books this month…which is about normal for me. I read more backlist than usual and also listened to two audiobooks! I also mood-read more in August than usual…which I guess fits right in with the lazy days of summer!

Winners

Losers

None! I DNF’d everything that wasn’t working for me this month!

DNF’s

Best-Selling Book (via my affiliate links)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (my review) – good, it should be!

Announcements

  • It’s time to start thinking about Fall books! I shared My Most Recommended Books of Fall 2018 last week. So far, I’ve read two books on this list and really liked them both!
  • And, Fall means school starting up again! I wish more books like these had been on my school curriculum!
  • Personalized Book Recommendations and the Superstars Facebook Group are available to anyone who supports Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!

August Quality and Recommendation Sources

Reading Quality

August 2018

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 89% (above my 43% success rate from 2017)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 100%

2018 Year-to-Date (through August)

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 61% (above my 43% success rate from 2017)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 86%

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.

Septemeber Releases I’m Excited About

The Wildlands by Abby Geni (September 4)
Foe by Iain Reid (September 4)
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (September 4)

The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (September 11)

Most Popular Posts

Posts Actually Published in August
Book of the Month August 2018 Selections: What Book Should You Choose?
My Favorite Nonfiction Audiobooks
August 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

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

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

It’s a light month for blogger shout-outs, mainly because I was awful at keeping track of posts I loved! Chalk it up to the lazy days of summer? I’ll do better next time, I promise!

How was your reading month?

Get Weekly Email Updates!