It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/27/17)

March 27, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 5

After the stumbling block of two weeks ago, my reading is now back on track in a big way. I absolutely adored the book I read last week and have had back-to-back fantastic audiobooks. I never talk much about the audiobooks I listen to because I find that listening to them with the intent to review makes me enjoy them less, but I do occasionally mention them if they really wow me. So, you’re getting a couple of those this week.

My son’s and my March Madness brackets fell apart a bit yesterday. The only team we have left alive is Gonzaga. It was a good run while it lasted!

Hosted by The Book Date.

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I finished reading…

The Wanderers, The Strange in the Woods

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (March 14, 2017)
I absolutely loved this book…it’s one of my favorites so far this year. It’s been compared to Station Eleven and The Martian, but I think it’s closest to being a much more subtle and philosophical version of The Martian. Review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (March 7, 2017)
This is story of “the last true hermit” is the best audiobook I’ve listened to this year. It’s strange, yet captivating and is perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain (yes, I realize this is an odd pair of comparisons). It will make an appearance on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide for sure!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (March 28, 2017)
I’m about 25% through this literary thriller/coming of age novel and I like it, but it’s not blowing my mind at this point. I do feel invested in the characters, though, so am looking forward to seeing what happens to them.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (July 29, 2008)
I’d been hearing about this memoir from the Japanese literary sensation (author of 1Q84) for years, but a chapter in Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living was what really got me interested in it. It’s about long distance running (duh), writing, solitude, triathlons, and changing the way you live your life. I adore it.

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Upcoming reading plans…

I should probably get started on April releases, but this book I’ve had my eye on for months just came in from the library!

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
 by Kathleen Rooney (January 17, 2017)
I’m hoping this story about an 85 year-old woman who reflects on her life as she takes a walk around Manhattan in 1984 will be a new addition to my badass ladies reading category.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just finished The Nest and was starting a couple blah books.

Two Years Ago: I was reading potential books for my 2015 Summer Reading Guide.

How was your reading week?

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Five New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

March 21, 2017 Book Lists 23

New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

I’ve been on a short books kick recently and get really excited when I find tiny books that still pack a serious punch. The books on this list are all relatively new releases and are under 300 pages…short enough for you to read in a relatively plan-free weekend.

Five New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

A Separation, Katie MitamuraA Separation by Katie Kitamura
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
240 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Riverhead) 

A Separation has catastrophically been described as a “whodunit” (by Elle Magazine) and “the literary Gone Girl of 2017″ (by The Millions). It is NOT either of those things. It is, however, a gorgeously dark rumination on a troubled marriage. It’s most definitely a “style” book (i.e. don’t look for a fast-moving plot), but I immediately adored the narrator’s voice and tone. Kitamura, through the wife’s perspective, creates emotional tension that propels the story (much like Tender, one of my 2016 favorites). This book is not for everyone. But, try the first few pages…if the writing connects with you, then you should probably keep reading! 

What would be irrational would be to remain in this state of indecision, neither in nor out of the marriage, neither with nor free of this man. The sooner I was able to deliver myself from this situation the better, I could not remain beholden to two separate and antagonistic sets of expectation […]

All Grown Up, Jami AttenbergAll Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 

All Grown Up is a raw, compact story of a young woman (Andrea) trying to find her way in the world, but it’s taking longer than society says it should. Attenberg uses little snapshots of Andrea’s life to share her struggles with being single in New York City (a situation I could relate to from years ago) and provide “yes, that’s exactly how it is” commentary on how society treats single ladies in their thirties. Andrea’s floundering is frustrating, but also relatable and endearing. What really made All Grown Up for me was the unexpectedly funny writing. It’s snarky and filled with the type of dry, morbid humor that’s not for everyone, but is for me. All Grown Up tackles the quarter-life crisis theme in a brutally honest rather than grating way (I’m looking at you, The Futures) and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far!

People architect new lives all the time. I know this because I never see them again once they find these new lives. They have children or they move to new cities or even just to new neighborhoods or you hate their spouse or their spouse hates you or they start working the night shift or they start training for a marathon or they stop going to bars or they start going to therapy or they realize they don’t like you anymore or they die. It happens constantly. It’s just me. I haven’t built anything new. I’m the one getting left behind.

The Roanoke Girls, Amy EngelThe Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
276 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Crown) 

The Roanoke Girls features quite possibly the most dysfunctional (although, supremely F’d up is probably more accurate) family I’ve ever encountered in fiction. It’s the kind of book that I was slightly embarrassed to be reading, but was completely unable to put down. The extent to which Engel pushed the premise of this book is preposterous (think The Flowers in the Attic on steroids mixed with a bit of Sweet Home Alabama) and the characters’ decision-making is frustrating, but I was impressed with the writing and was even able to tolerate a bit of a love story (which is rare for me). It’s a fast, if not demented and twisted, read and would make a great vacation accessory.

I’ve been back in this house for less than an hour, and already I feel like I’m losing my mind, the Roanoke reality slithering into place. Where a tornado is a bit of wind or a missing woman is simply out having fun.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel LevyThe Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 14, 2017)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) 

I immediately fell for the writing in this searing memoir of self-examination by a current New Yorker staff writer (also a native of my current town). Levy takes a brutally raw and honest look at her life including love, massive loss, and bad decisions. Her style is rambling – covering topics from crafting her career as a professional writer to gardening to covering the Caster Semenya story (the South African runner who was gender-tested at the 2009 Berlin World Championships) to her views on marriage in general and gay marriage specifically (she’s a lesbian) to infidelity to Mike Huckabee to late-in-life pregnancy – but it flows seamlessly. It’s a risky thing to market a book as “for readers of Cheryl Strayed” and, while I’m not putting Levy on equal footing with the giant, the comparison is not unfounded.

People have been telling me since I was a little girl that I was too fervent, too forceful, too much. I thought I had harnessed the power of my own strength and greed and love in a life that could contain it. But it has exploded.

Woman Next Door, Yewande OmotosoThe Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Picador) 

The Woman Next Door was a fantastic surprise for me…and it’s likely to end up on my Underrated Gems of 2017 list. It’s like Grumpy Old Men crossed with Desperate Housewives set in South Africa and involving race. The story kicks off with snarky humor before taking a more contemplative turn. Two next door neighbors (Marion and Hortensia) can’t stand each other and are constantly plotting how to figuratively take the other one down, yet The Woman Next Door ends up being a story about friendship and regret and a lesson in how you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. Plus, the writing shines!

It wasn’t like Marion to give away such easy points but, while she was being generous, it was Hortensia’s aim to collect. Their rivalry was infamous enough for the other committee women to hang back and watch the show. It was known that the two women shared hedge and hatred and they pruned both with a vim that belied their ages.

What great books have you read in a weekend?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/20/17)

March 20, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

Hosted by The Book Date.

My late February / early March reading streak has finally hit a roadblock. And, a book by an author who has only ever received 5 stars from me did it. Couldn’t be more shocked.

It’s been a big basketball week in our house. This is the first year my son has cared about March Madness (or basketball at all)…but, he’s now obsessed. He did his own bracket in my husband’s office pool and helped me with my picks (he correctly picked the Villanova AND Louisville upsets and so far has me leading The Ladies Bracket with my high school buds for the first time ever!).

I’d also like to thank Julianne from Outlandish Lit for very thoughtfully helping me tweak my social media follow buttons. I’m old (in tech expertise terms) and don’t know much about coding, so I was so relieved to get some help from someone in the know. I now have links to my Pinterest and Instagram accounts on the blog, so follow me over there! Also, check out Julianne’s blog, Outlandish Lit, if you haven’t already!

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I finished reading…

The Rules Do Not Apply, The Hearts of Men 

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (March 14, 2017)
I really enjoyed this raw, brutally honest memoir. It’s been marketed as “for fans of Cheryl Strayed,” which is a pretty unattainable bar, but the comparison in this case is not entirely unfounded.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler (March 7, 2017)
I had high hopes for Butler’s third book after loving Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire. Sadly, I couldn’t connect to these characters and there were a lot of seemingly random elements that never came together into a coherent whole for me.

I’m currently reading…

The Wanderers, Meg Howrey

The Wanderers
 by Meg Howrey (March 14, 2017)
I’m about 25% through this novel about a group of astronauts training for the first mission to Mars. It’s been billed as “Station Eleven meets The Martian” (both books I loved) and, so far, is the most unique book I’ve read all year. I’m loving it even though I don’t have any special interest in space.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

The Arrangement, Sarah Dunn

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn (March 21, 2017)
I was looking for a fun read to include in my Summer Reading Guide, but only made it 10% through this story about a couple who tries an open marriage before getting annoyed with the characters and turned off by the hints of Liane Moriarty-esque Mommy politics.

Upcoming reading plans…

Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
 by Hannah Tinti (March 28, 2017)
This story about a father and a daughter, which has been billed as a literary thriller and a coming of age novel, has been getting some pre-publication buzz and sounds right up my alley.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: An online defensive driving course was seriously cutting into my reading time.

Two Years Ago: Not loving Hausfrau put me in the minority.

How was your reading week?

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Four Books I Just Added to My All-Time Favorites List

March 16, 2017 Book Lists 32

Four Books I Just Added to My All-time favorites list
Ever since I started Sarah’s Book Shelves, I’ve had a list of my All-Time Favorite Books sitting on my menu bar (under Book Lists). I haven’t added a single new book to this list since I started blogging. Or, removed one. But, in theory, I do believe that my All-Time Favorites list can and should evolve over time.

I’m the type of person that has to let a book sit with me for awhile before I truly know if it will be a lasting favorite. With some books, I love them when I read them, but they eventually fade from memory. With others, I continue to think about them and recommend them to others long after I’ve read them.

It’s this second category of books that has a shot at making my All-Time Favorites list…eventually (the most recently read book on this list is Tiny Beautiful Things 8 months ago). The books I just added to my All-Time Favorites list have a couple of things in common:

  • Gorgeous and/or “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing
  • Parts that bothered some people (The Dinner‘s slow start, My Sunshine Away‘s long Hurricane Katrina tangent, and The Wife‘s dreariness)…but totally worked for me
  • Books that I frequently recommend to others

Four Books I Just Added to My All-Time Favorites List


My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (my review)
My Sunshine Away is a book that floored me with its gorgeous writing, endeared me to its nameless narrator, had me anxiously wondering who raped Lindy Simpson, and took me home with its teenager in the late 1990’s setting. It was one of my favorite books of 2015 and I’ve been recommending it like crazy since.

The Dinner by Herman Koch (my review)
I read this book 2 years ago and its still one of the books I recommend most to people looking for a juicy book club selection. Koch’s sometimes cringe-worthy writing style reads as refreshing to me and this novel has the perfect balance of scathing social commentary, discussable issues, and a perfectly pace plot. 

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (my review)
Recently, I’ve had a fast growing love for short books that leave a huge impression. The Wife is the first book that comes to mind when I think about these types of books. And, it was the right book for me at the right time…addressing issues like the expectations of the role of the wife in society and balancing family and career in “yes, that’s exactly how it is” statement after “yes, that’s exactly how it is” statement.


Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I was hugely hesitant about reading this book. Advice columns? Ugh. But, I hadn’t experienced Cheryl Strayed’s advice columns. This is a book I wish I’d had next to my bedside table in high school (ok, fine, college too) and I believe is the book to read when your life isn’t going exactly like you’s hoped.

PS – I did remove a couple books (Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand) from my All-Time Favorites list. They were favorites of mine at the time (and still get a fair amount of love from me), but have, like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, faded a bit from memory over time.

What books are on your all-time favorites list and when was the last time you bestowed a book with all-time favorite status?

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My Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2017

March 14, 2017 Book Lists 24

Most Anticipated Books Spring 2017

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You may notice that my most anticipated books of Spring 2017 list leans toward the lighter side. I like to spend April and May trying to find spell-binding books to be included in my annual Summer Reading Guide, which means I’m seeking out books that aren’t overly difficult to read, yet still smart (aka brain candy). Here’s what’s caught my eye…


No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell (April 4, Ecco)
This debut novel had me at The Great Gatsby, plus Elle Magazine included it in its list of 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017.

The Great Gatsby brilliantly recast in the contemporary South: a powerful first novel about an extended African-American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream.

Somebody with a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill (April 4, Pantheon Books)
Though I’ve never read Gaitskill before, I heard great things about her novel, The Mare, and I tend to love authors pontificating on life (i.e. Pat Conroy, Ann Patchett).

[…] a searingly intelligent book of essays on matters literary, social, cultural, and personal.

Marlena by Julie Buntin (April 4, 2017, Henry Holt)
The Millions called this debut “an important story about addiction and poverty in middle America” in their 2017 Great Book Preview. But, the fact that Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter, one of my favorite books of 2016) called it “lacerating” sealed the deal for me.

An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (April 25, Random House)
My Name Is Lucy Barton (my review) was one of my favorite books of 2016, so I’m naturally going to read its companion piece!

Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

Startup by Doree Shafrir (April 25, Little Brown)
The Millions included this debut in its 2017 Great Book Preview and Kirkus called it a “page-turning pleasure that packs a punch” in its starred review.

A hilarious debut novel by a BuzzFeed culture writer about the difficulties of real life connection in the heart of New York City’s tech world.


The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris (May 2, Little Brown)
I’ve never read Ferris, though his last novel (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I like my short stories fairly dark, so this collection sounds right up my alley.

Full of the keenly observed, mordant wit that characterizes his beloved, award-winning novels, the stories in The Dinner Party are about people searching for answers in the aftermath of life’s emotional fissures–those abrupt, sometimes violent, moments that change lives forever.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (May 2, Algonquin Books)
This debut novel has already won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, and is one of the most anticipated debuts of th year. Plus, there’s a blurb from Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal (May 2, Picador)
I’ve had great luck with stories about immigrants trying to fit in in the United States (Shelter, Everything I Never Told You, and The Book of Unknown Americans) and with this particular publisher (Shelter, The Woman Next Door).

A humorous and tender multi-generational novel about immigrants and outsiders—those trying to find their place in American society and within their own families.

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki (May 9, Little Brown)
Lepucki’s (author of 2014’s California) latest novel has been called “darkly comic, twisty and tense”…music to my ears!

A sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships, set in the posh hills above Los Angeles, from the New York Times bestselling author of California.

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan (May 9, Bloomsbury USA)
I’ve recently been on the hunt for a satisfying thriller (I’m decidedly not satisfied by so many of them) and this one gets bonus points for this one being true crime.

The international sensation that sold half a million copies in France: a chilling work of true-crime literature about a friendship gone terrifyingly toxic and the very nature of reality.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (May 16, Flatiron Books)
This true crime memoir has been recommended for fans of In Cold Blood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Serial, and Making A Murderer. Talk about an all-star line-up! Also, Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (review), called it a “marvel.”

An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact Of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed―but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth.

Trophy Son by Douglas Brunt (May 30, St. Martin’s Press)
I really enjoyed Brunt’s novel about Wall Street excess, Ghosts of Manhattan (my review), and am a huge tennis fan. So, I’m intrigued by what Brunt will do with pro tennis excess!

Written with an insider knowledge of the tennis circuit, Trophy Son explores a young man striving to find balance in his life, navigating moral compromises, performance-enhancing drugs, and the elusive lure of wealth and celebrity.

*All book summaries (in block quotes) are from Goodreads.

What Spring 2017 books are you looking forward to?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/13/17)

March 13, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

Hosted by The Book Date.

I spent last week trying to settle down and get our household in order following a rough week. Thankfully, my heart rate is finally settling into a non-racing pace and my hot reading streak continues.

I’m continuing to rehab my injured back and was thrilled to finally be able to go for a couple very slow and short jogs last week. Baby steps, ya’ll. Weirdly, I discovered the treadmill is much harder on my back than running outdoors. If anyone has any actual insight into this, I’d love to hear it! And, my foam roller and Jasyoga “Lower Back Love” video have both continued to be my best friends (in addition to my Physical Therapist, of course).

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I finished reading…

The Woman Next Door, The Fall of Lisa Bellow

The Woman Next Door
 by Yewande Omotoso (February 7, 2017)

I was so pleasantly surprised by this novel! It started out with a dose of snarky humor and ended on a more introspective note. And, it was a more substantial book than I’d expected going in.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo (March 14, 2017)
I liked Perabo’s first full length novel, but not as much as I loved her short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do (my review). I’ll warn anyone thinking about reading it that the publisher’s blurb creates unrealistic expectations (shocker!) by calling it “suspenseful.” The suspense is more in the emotional sense rather than the page-turning sense…as the story focuses on the psychological impact of being the one left behind in an abduction on a middle school girl and her family.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (March 14, 2017)
I’m just over halfway through this memoir by a staff writer at The New Yorker (who also happens to originally be from my town). I love her voice and this woman has lived quite an interesting life.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

The Hearts of Men, Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler (March 7, 2017)
Prior to The Hearts of Men, Nickolas Butler had published two books in his career (Shotgun Lovesongs, Beneath the Bonfire) and I rated both 5 stars. He’s one of my rising stars to watch who could end up becoming an all-time favorite author. I’m hoping his latest novel about two boys that become friends at Boy Scout camp continues the 5 star streak.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I didn’t love a book that ended up becoming a critical darling.

Two Years Ago: I was reading one of my favorite books of 2015 and one I’m still recommending often.

How was your reading week?

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Sarah’s Book Shelves Turns 4…and How My Reading Habits Have Changed Since

March 10, 2017 Discussions 54

how my reading habits have changed

I’ve never paid much attention to my blog “anniversary” before, but there’s always a first time for everything! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for four years now. Some days I still feel like the new kid on the block (and I am compared to some bloggers).

I’ve been reflecting lately on how my reading taste and habits have changed since starting this blog and thought the anniversary of Sarah’s Book Shelves was an appropriate time to share how becoming immersed in the book world has broadened my horizons considerably…making my reading habits fairly unrecognizable compared to my pre-blogging days.

I never anticipated how much I would enjoy being a part of the book world, talking and writing about books, interacting with so many fellow reading nerds, recommending the right book to the right people at the right time, thinking creatively about where to take the blog next, and helping all of you solve your book and reading problems!

Thank you all for hanging with me all this time!

How my reading habits have changed since starting this blog

I read much more widely and diversely…
I’m now willing to give most any type of book a try. I’ve added short stories to my repertoire and have had some successful forays into dystopian (Station Eleven, my review) and science fiction (The Martian, Dark Matter). I’ve also ventured into more esoteric literary fiction that I never would have touched before starting this blog and become more aware of reading stories that are different from my own life.

I’m more focused on a book’s writing and intangibles…
A book’s style has become more important to me at the expense of plot. Nothing feels better than realizing a book’s style is for you within the first few pages. But, on the flip side, it’s harder to use publisher’s blurbs (which are generally focused on plot) to predict which books you will connect with.

I’m reading more new releases than ever before…
The buzz surrounding a hotly anticipated new release is intoxicating. And it’s fun to be in the know about all the shiny, new books (and to be able to recommend them to people). But, it also means I’m reading less backlist than I used to. I’m working on finding a balance that includes lots of new releases, but also leaves room for backlist books (putting those backlist books on hold at the library is helping!).

I’ve started quitting (aka DNFing) books that aren’t holding my attention…
I’m a “check-the-box” kind of girl, so prior to blogging I finished every single book I started. What a waste of time this was! I wish I could go back and start DNFing books years earlier. There are just too many great books out there to waste time on books that aren’t satisfying you in some way.

I now greatly appreciate short, tight books…
I used to love those massive chunksters that can double as doorstops (I even have a whole recommendation list devoted to them). I didn’t care if it took me a month to read one book. Now I feel like I’m missing out on so many other books by devoting that much time to just one. It has to really knock my socks off to be worth it. The last book that did that was A Little Life (my review). 

I now read with an eye towards recommending books…
I’m not just reading for me anymore. I’m constantly thinking about who else might like the book I’m reading and what other books are similar to it. This shift in thinking recently led to a list of Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me.

I’m more conscious of fitting reading in every single chance I get…
If I have a free minute (and I mean a literal minute), I try to pull out my Kindle. While stretching at the gym, while waiting in line at the grocery store, if I’m a few minutes early to pick my children up from school, etc. 

How have your reading habits changed over time?

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach: The Book I’ll Be Recommending to Absolutely Everyone

March 7, 2017 Fiction 24

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-LeachFiction – Debut
Released February 21, 2017
353 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Random House)


This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one I’ll be recommending to just about everyone I know for a long time.

Plot Summary

When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.

Why I Read It

I never would have picked up this book on my own (I’m not a fan of the title or the cover and the premise of the story is not particularly appealing)…but Catherine at Gilmore Guide (whose reading taste I trust implicitly) said I absolutely must read it.

Major Themes

Dysfunctional families, alcoholism, degenerative illness, twins

What I Loved

  • It’s rare that I find a book I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” These are my favorite kinds of books to discover and are the ones I feel like I can recommend to anyone at any time. Dead Letters is the first book I’ve read in awhile that fits this description.
  • I knew within the first two paragraphs that I would love this book. Ava’s voice spoke to me immediately and I would later discover the crackling dialogue and snarky, occasionally morbid humor that’s right up my alley.

He has rented a flashy convertible, of course. My dad likes to travel in style, regardless of finances, seemliness, tact. He tends to think of any economic restriction as a dead-letter issue, a rule that does not apply to him.

  • It’s a mystery and a dysfunctional family novel (two of my favorite things) all wrapped up into one ball of alcohol-soaked perfection. There is a crime, but it’s not the center of the story. Rather, it’s a device that helps unravel the twisted dynamics of Zelda and Ava’s relationship (and their relationship with their parents), which is what this book is truly about. And I can add it to my list of winning novels that have a “crime that is not the center of the story” (My Sunshine Away, Every Last One, and Only Love Can Break Your Heart).
  • Dead Letters has almost all of my favorite fiction elements: a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. I don’t think I’ve come across a novel as jam packed with elements that are so firmly in my wheelhouse in quite a while.
  • It’s a book that is fun, yet dark and morbid at the same time. There is a delightfully demented scavenger hunt that strings the reader right along for the ride, yet death and loss permeates the entire story.
  • There’s a sly Friday Night Lights reference!
  • This is a book that you just need to pick up and read. Don’t bother learning a ton about the plot beforehand…going in blind adds to the fun.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I HATE the cover and am not a huge fan of the title. Both make Dead Letters look like it will be type of book that’s compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, then inevitably doesn’t live up to either. Though Dead Letters does have some similarities, it’s it’s own kind of wonderful.
  • I also think the publisher’s blurb gives away far too much information about the plot.

A Defining Quote

Maybe because we were twins, we sought a way to differentiate, to oh so rigorously sketch out our borders. You needed to say, to speak the ways you were different. I’m Ava, I’m the ambitious one; that’s Zelda, she’s the messy one. As though you could determine your own story, secure the ending you wanted through obsessive narration.

Good for People Who Like…

Stories about sisters (particularly twins), stories about mothers and daughters, dysfunctional families, accessible writing, unexpectedly funny, snarky humor.

Other Books You May Like

Another deeply dysfunctional family novel that involves a family member returning home:
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/6/17)

March 6, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 18

Hosted by The Book Date.

I followed up one dysfunctional family with an even more dysfunctional one in last week’s reading…then moved on to dysfunctional neighbors. But, my sizzling reading streak is still going strong…fingers crossed it continues!

If you’re interested in signing up for Book of the Month Club, the March selections are fantastic (they include 2 of my favorite books I read in February)! Selections are due TODAY at 7 pm EST.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (March 7, 2017)
This is the kind of book that I was almost embarrassed to be reading, but also could not put down. The premise is a bit preposterous, but I had to find out what was going to happen with quite possibly the most demented family I’ve come across in fiction (and that’s saying a lot). PS – that premise is super creepy and could be a huge turn-off for some people.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (February 7, 2017)
I’m 65% through this U.S. debut novel about two next door neighbors in South Africa that hate each other and it’s full of the snarky humor I love.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Fall of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo

The Fall of Lisa Bellow
 by Susan Perabo (March 14, 2017)
I loved Susan Perabo’s short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do (my review), and have been anticipating her debut novel. It’s about the girl who is left behind when a classmate is abducted.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: Pat Conroy had just passed away and I’d fittingly just finished reading another Southern novel.

Two Years Ago: I was trying to cover from A Little Life with a YA novel (it didn’t work).

How was your reading week?

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February 2017 Monthly Round-Up

March 3, 2017 Monthly Round-Ups 18

February 2017 Monthly Round-Up
This post contains affiliate links and I will make a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

February Reading / Life

  • My 2017 reading kicked into gear in February with a number of super high quality books! Literally four of my February books could have been my Best Book of January.
  • I adored the writing and emotional tension of A Separation and All Grown Up, but they are the kind of books that I realize won’t appeal to everyone…consequently inspiring my 12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me list.
  • I read two page turners in February; one was a winner (Dark Matter, enabling me to check 4 books off my 2016 Books I Missed list!) and one not so much (Behind Her Eyes, but I did get a Spoiler Discussion post out of it).
  • My audiobooks were so-so: The Unwinding by George Packer didn’t offer much new insight, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks was mildly entertaining, and The Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story (about Silicon Valley culture) was fairly interesting, but didn’t leave a lasting impression.
  • And, I think I’ll be recommending This Is How It Always Is and Dead Letters to many people for the foreseeable future.
  • I attended my first author event (I know, that’s kind of ridiculous) for my friend, Georgia Hunter and her astounding novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. It was fantastic to hear Georgia discuss her novel with Thomas Kail (director of Hamilton) and meet some of her family members whose stories she told in her novel.
  • Book of the Month Club selections are due on Monday…don’t forget to get yours in or sign up for a subscription if you want to get in for March (and you should because this month’s selections are particularly awesome)! Check out my commentary on the this month’s selections, including which book I’d choose.
  • Finally, I spent a big chunk of February trying to heal my thrown out back. After a couple weeks of physical therapy, massage, and rest, I’m finally starting to feel better! I’m still not back to running or intense workouts, but will hopefully be there soon.

Best Books of the Month

My Favorite Book of the Month

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (February 21, 2017)
Fiction, 353 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

PS – last year’s Best Book of February was Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)…also one of my favorites of 2016!

Best Selling Book of the Month (via my affiliate links)

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (author Q&A)

March Releases I’m Excited About

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (March 7)
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler (March 7)
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo (March 14)
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (March 28)

Most Popular February Posts

Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion
12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me
Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections: What Would I Choose? (my commentary on the March selections is also up)

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

How was your reading month?

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