A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne: Darker Than The Heart’s Invisible Furies, But Still 5 Stars!

November 15, 2018 Fiction 3

A Ladder to the SkyFiction – Literary
Release Date: November 13, 2018
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher: (Hogarth Books)

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


I’m two for two on 5 star books by John Boyne…though, A Ladder to the Sky is much darker and not necessarily for the exact same type of reader as The Heart’s Invisible Furies.

Plot Summary

Maurice Swift is single-mindedly focused on becoming a world famous author (despite having trouble coming up with story ideas) and will use anything and anyone to get there.

Why I Read It

Because The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review), obviously!

Major Themes

Ambition, literary world, using people, relationships, writing process

What I Liked

  • Y’all know I loved Boyne’s 2017 novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, so A Ladder to the Sky had huge shoes to fill! While it didn’t fill that exact pair of shoes, it did fill a pair of equal size, just in a different style.
  • It’s much darker (I don’t mean sadder…I mean more messed up) than The Heart’s Invisible Furies. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone who loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but Boyne’s writing style is absolutely there and I 5 star-loved it.
  • Maurice is an operator / manipulator to a degree I don’t think I’ve seen all that much in fiction. He’s much like many of Herman Koch’s characters in that he’ll say incredibly unsettling things that most regular people may not even think, much less say aloud. He’s not the least bit likable (readers who want to see likable characters in your reading, this is your warning!), but he sure is disturbingly fascinating.
  • A Ladder to the Sky, particularly its structure, unfolds brilliantly. Each section is told from the perspective of someone Maurice impacted on his quest for literary dominance…including the real life literary legend, Gore Vidal. These sections feel a bit like extremely interconnected novellas. I loved it more and more with each new section.
  • The story begins in the 1980’s and moves forward, but a large chunk of the opening section is told through flashbacks to World War II in Germany. Parts of the book felt like historical fiction and parts felt very contemporary. Y’all know I have a finicky relationship with Historical Fiction, but I loved this mash-up of the historical and contemporary.
  • I loved the look into the dark side of publishing and the literary world. I’m hoping Boyne’s portrayal is a bit exaggerated, but it made for delicious reading. I can’t help but wonder how much of this stuff actually goes on in real life.
  • This one could’ve gone on my list of 16 Character-Driven Novels I Couldn’t Put Down and my list of 12 Memorable Villains of Fiction if I’d read it in time!
  • This would be an excellent book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • This isn’t truly a criticism…more of a nit-picky observation about A Ladder to the Sky compared to The Heart’s Invisible Furies. But, one of the things I loved most about The Heart’s Invisible Furies is that it made me feel a  wide range of emotions (joy, sadness, delight, amusement, etc.). A Ladder to the Sky is not that kind of book…it’s more like watching a series of massive betrayals one after the other. You know it’s coming, the surprise is in what form it will take. The prevailing emotion throughout the whole thing is horrified incredulity.

A Defining Quote

“And you’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, haven’t you?”
He shook his head.
“That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy. […]”

Good for People Who Like…

Dark stories, dislikable characters, a memorable villain, stories set in the literary world

Other Books You May Like

Another book starring authors that features dislikable characters:
Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

The New and Improved Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet

November 14, 2018 Tools to Pick Better Books 5

Reading Tracking Spreadsheet

I improved my reading QUALITY 42% this year by using the Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet

Two years ago, I was disappointed in the big books that publishers hyped and those listed on various Best Books lists by non-blogger media sources.

So, last year, I built the Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet to help me:

  • Track my best and worst recommendation sources.
  • Enable me to monitor my reading stats in real time…because it automatically compiles my stats throughout the year.

Since I started using the Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet, my reading quality has improved 42%! That blows past my goal of liking over 50% of the books I attempt (so far this year, I’ve liked 61% of the books I’ve attempted).

The Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet is ideal for book bloggers and bookworms that read a high volume of books each year.

How the Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet Will Help You

For $14.99, you’ll be able to:

  • Track key elements bookworms like to keep tabs on (your reading goals, books and pages read, ratings, genre, format, diversity, etc). They’re built right into the spreadsheet…with Summary Charts that automatically populate as you enter the books you’ve read!
reading tracking spreadsheet reading tracking spreadsheet


reading tracking spreadsheet


  • Keep your To Be Read (TBR) list and reading tracker in one place.
  • Track the recommendation sources for books you do not finish (DNF’s)…because knowing who gives you bad recommendations is just as important as knowing who gives you great ones!
  • Customize the spreadsheet for your needs. Delete items you don’t care about tracking. Add columns for anything you’d like to track that I haven’t included. Email me if you’d like me to customize dropdown menus, summary charts, etc for your specific needs.

And, possibly the best part…no more tallying up your numbers and manually creating Excel pie charts at the end of the year! It’s all done for you on the Summary Charts tab!

Key Improvements to the 2019 tracking spreadsheet

  • Automatically tracks “reading quality” statistic (which has become my primary reading statistic…replacing quantity)
  • Automatically calculates progress against your annual reading goal
  • Automatically calculates your average star rating for the year
  • Tracks additional items: re-reads, series, reading challenges, POV (point of view), new-to-you authors, audiobook narrator, and audiobook hours listened.

Two Special Discounts

  • Early Birds – Get last year’s price ($11.99) by purchasing the new tracker in the next 2 weeks (by Noon EST on Wednesday, November 28)!
  • Returning Customers – If you bought last year’s tracker, I’m offering a 20% discount on your purchase of the new and improved 2019 version. Check your email for the discount code! And, this offer can be coupled with the Early Bird offer (so returning customers that purchase in the next 2 weeks will get the 20% discount on the $11.99 Early Bird price).
Reading Tracking Spreadsheet


I’m available at sarahsbookshelves@gmail.com to answer any questions before and after your purchase and provide support using the tracker. 

Testimonials from Current Customers

Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books:

Whether you want to keep it simple and just count how many books you’ve read or you want to go all in and geek out on numbers and charts, the Rock Your Reading Tracker is the only tool you need. Because of it, I not only have a manageable TBR list, I also know the authors, bloggers, and publishers who work best for me and those who don’t- which gives me more time to read. It is my favorite rabbit hole to fall into when thinking about books!

Susie at Novel Visits:

Sarah’s Rock your Reading Tracker has made organizing the books I’ve read AND those I still want to read a breeze. Data isn’t my thing, but her tracker does all the work for me. I love turning to the summary charts and getting that quick visual of my reading trends and stats. I guarantee, you’re going to love it, too. Now, if Sarah would only create a tracker for my job!

Gabby at 500 Books Blog:

I like having all the statistics right there! There are some (like debuts) I never thought to track on my own and enjoy having access to. Tracking things like format read in and books read per month has also been super interesting to see visually.

Carla at Happiest When Reading:

I really LOVE this and found it very insightful in regards to my reading habits. I became much more aware of the reading choices I was making and it made for a more enjoyable selection of books!

Purchase the Rock Your Reading Tracking Spreadsheet…

I’ve heard from some people who did not receive their email receipt with the link to download the tracker. If you don’t receive this email after your purchase, please email me at sarahsbookshelves@gmail.com and I will send you the tracker. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and am working on a fix!

Nonfiction November 2018: Be the Expert…Investigative Journalism

November 13, 2018 Book Lists 10

Nonfiction November 2018


Today’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) topic is Be / Become / Ask the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

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!).

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Journalism

I actually came to my Be the Expert topic by request! I mentioned in my My Year of Nonfiction post that I hadn’t read enough investigative journalism this year and that I was looking forward to reading more during Nonfiction November. Multiple people mentioned in that post’s comments that they were interested in seeing what investigative journalism books I end up reading this month (so far, I’ve read and really liked The Fifth Risk, Big Game, and Bad Blood…all of which I’ll review at the end of the month!). Today, I thought I’d also share some of my past investigative journalism favorites!

But first, I want to share a couple new, investigative journalism podcasts I’ve been loving lately…all from Wondery, who seems to be cornering the market on investigative journalism podcasts these days:

  • Dr. Death
    The story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon who catastrophically hurt a number of patients he operated on…and the flawed medical system that failed his patients.
  • Gladiator
    A deep dive into deceased New England Patriots football star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez.
  • American Scandal
    Behind the scenes of America’s biggest scandals. Season 1 focused on BALCO and performance enhancing drugs and Season 2 is about New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and his corrupt NY State government.

True Crime

A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
True crime (the story of a woman who was charged with lying about being raped and the detectives that worked to uncover the truth) mixed in with a bit of history of rape investigation and would make a great companion read to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (my review).

American Fire by Monica Hesse (my review)
The story behind the hunt for this arsonist (actually, arsonists), who they were, and why they couldn’t stop burning down abandoned buildings is ultimately about a unique community and a love affair gone very wrong.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (my review)
McNamara, previously a true crime writer and blogger at TrueCrimeDiary.com, investigated the unsolved crimes of a 1970’s-80’s serial rapist and murderer that she dubbed the Golden State Killer (also known as the EAR for East Area Rapist). Before her book could be published, she passed away…and soon after it was published, the Golden State Killer was caught via DNA evidence.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer (my review/discussion)
Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (my review)
The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes. Also, one of my all-time favorite audiobooks!


Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (my review)
The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL). It’s so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it was one of my favorite books of 2015!

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (my review)
An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation. Plus, it reads like a thriller.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (my review)
The true story of the woman whose tissue became one of science’s most important discoveries, the “immortal” HeLa cells that enabled countless medical breakthroughs (including the Polio Vaccine). And, the first book I ever read for a book club!


DisneyWar by James B. Stewart
“The dramatic inside story of the downfall of Michael Eisner—Disney Chairman and CEO—and the scandals that drove America’s best-known entertainment company to civil war.” – Amazon

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonette
An in depth look at Ty Warner and the story of the mid-1990’s speculative bubble surrounding his Beanie Babies…and its subsequent crash.

The Middle East

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
A historical account of how Al Qaeda (and, really, Islamic terrorism in general) grew into what it is now, what motivates the terrorists, and the U.S.’s response to the terrorist threat (and how we could have prevented 9/11).

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review)
Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg exposes the “unofficial” custom of girls pretending to be boys (called bacha posh) in present day Afghanistan.


Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (my review)
The story behind L. Ron Hubbard’s (LRH) founding of Scientology, its links to the entertainment industry, and the current state of the “religion”…and, a big dose of cray-cray. This book sparked the best book club discussion I’ve ever been a part of…including lots of googling to see which celebrities are Scientologists!

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
An expose-type account of life in extreme Mormon communities that still practice polygamy. Also – one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books!

What are some of your favorite investigative journalism books?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

What I’m Reading Now (11/12/18) – A Double Shot

November 12, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 11

I’ve been knee deep in Nonfiction November (#nonficnov) reading and it’s been fantastic so far! I’ve liked every book I’ve read and listened to so far…and I’ve gotten through my entire TBR list. So, I’m going to sneak in a novel after I finish my current book…I’m ready for some fiction.

Y’all know how I’ve been using my “Rock Your Reading Tracker” all year to track all my reading stats in real time and figure out who my best recommendation sources are? Well, my reading QUALITY improved 42% from last year! I know this is because I started paying attention to who my best and worst recommendation sources are. And, the new and improved 2019 tracker will go on sale on Wednesday! 

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 


View this post on Instagram


Nonfiction November Day 9: True Crime…I’ve always loved true crime. Since way before I started Sarah’s Book Shelves (I wrote my junior year term paper on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood in high school!) and way before the prevalence of true crime podcasts brought the genre back in vogue. I’m not sure what that says about my psyche, though 🤣⠀ _⠀ ⠀ A murderer’s row of my favorites…⠀ ⠀ 📖 One Day in September – the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics…and the Israeli retaliation mission.⠀ 📖 The Stranger Beside Me – Ted Bundy.⠀ 📖 The Monster of Florence – the most infamous double murders in Italian history.⠀ 📖 Justice – crimes of the rich and famous (including O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow, and Michael Skakel).⠀ 📖 Fatal Charms and Mansions of Limbo – more crimes of the rich and famous.⠀ 📖 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – the Savannah murder of Billy Hanson and trial of well-known antiques dealer Jim Williams.⠀ 📖 The Devil in the White City – Dr. Henry H. Holmes terrorizes the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.⠀ 📖 I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (not included in this picture because I only had it on Kindle!) – the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer.⠀ ⠀ Do you read true crime?! What are some of your favorites?⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #igreads #booksofinstagram #badassbookbabes #nonficnov #nonfiction #nonfictionbooks #truecrime #truecrimeaddict ⠀

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

I finished reading…

what I'm reading now


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (January 1, 1994)
This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! Mini review coming at the end of the month.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Fifth Riskby Michael Lewis (October 2, 2018)
Totally fascinating, but his overall purpose felt muddled to me. But, the fascinating elements made it all worth it! Mini review coming at the end of the month.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Timesby Mark Leibovich (September 4, 2018)
Leibovich writes with dry, sarcastic wit and I loved how he essentially made fun of all the self-important people that run the NFL. And, that’s what this book is about far more than actual football. Mini review coming at the end of the month.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friendsby Kelsey Miller (October 23, 2018) – AUDIOBOOK
One big nostalgia trip about Friends…and a bit of enlightenment on how parts of the show are problematic when viewed through today’s lens. Upon finishing the audiobook, I immediately started binge watching Friends on Netflix…from the beginning! Mini review coming at the end of the month.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…



Dopesick by Beth Macy (August 7, 2018)
Y’all, this book is absolutely terrifying…especially for a parent. I’m over halfway done and am astounded how little I knew about the opioid crisis, especially in my home state.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

I need a little breather from nonfiction…

My sister the serial killer


My Sister, the Serial Killerby Oyinkan Braithwaite (November 20, 2018)
I mean, the title alone of this one made my ears perk up. But, Susie at Novel Visits also liked it. And, it’s about exactly what the title says.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I took a week off!

Two Years Ago: I read Pat Conroy’s memoir about his reading life.

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Readers Recommend: Seabiscuit and The Woman in the Window

November 8, 2018 Book Recommendations 10

Woman in the window


Welcome to Readers Recommend, my monthly feature where “regular readers” (i.e. readers who do not have their own book blogs) share their book recommendations! 

One of the most surprising things I learned in this year’s reader survey was that over 70% of you do not have your own book blogs. This means you are not book bloggers, but “regular readers”! That’s a large chunk of Sarah’s Book Shelves readers with fantastic book recommendations floating around in their heads and no place to share them. I’m thrilled to be able to mine all this brainpower for some great books! Prepare for your TBR to explode…

If you’d like to be featured in an upcoming “Readers Recommend” post, leave a note in the comments section or email me at sarahsbookshelves@gmail.com.

I’ve got a special guest this month…y’all remember this Instagram post from a month or so ago? Featuring a 9th grader who is working on starting her own book blog? Well, the book blog is in progress, but in the meantime, Elizabeth is sharing some of her book recommendations with all of you!


View this post on Instagram


This email from a 9th grade blog reader made my week! First, I had no idea I had blog readers as young as 9th grade. Second, she’s reading some hefty books and is showing such initiative in starting her own blog.⠀ _⠀ ⠀ I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what I was doing in 9th grade, but I do know it wasn’t anything as ambitious as starting my own blog. Putting yourself out there on the Internet for anyone to judge is a scary thing and I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to take that emotional risk in 9th grade. Kudos to her for going for it!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ You’re going to be seeing more of my 9th grade friend…she’s going to be my November “Readers Recommend” guest and you can be sure I’ll be sharing her blog all over the place once it’s up and running!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ What were you doing in 9th grade? Starting your own blog?! 😉⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes

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

Get to Know Elizabeth

  • Home: I live in New York City, and have for all 13 years of my life! It’s truly is a magical place, with hundreds of experiences that are too easily taken for granted.
  • “Career”: I am currently a Freshman in high school, so it’ll be a few years before I can consider anything a career!
  • Hobbies: My hobbies include reading (especially mystery and fantasy) and writing poetry. I am also a member of my school’s debate team and newspaper.
  • Favorite TV Show: My current favorite TV show is the BBC Sherlock series. I am a huge fan of Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, and in my eyes, the modern twist really brings it all to life.

Elizabeth Recommends…

An Old Love

SeabiscuitSeabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Nonfiction – Sports (Released June 30, 1999)
401 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon











Seabiscuit is a masterfully told true story of an American racehorse in the midst of the Great Depression. Although I’m far from an avid history reader, Seabiscuit really transports you back to the time period, painting an intriguing protagonist and an underdog you can root for. Although it’s a long read, it is definitely worth it!

My Take:
I love a good underdog sports story…even about sports I don’t follow or know much about…so, it’s no surprise that I loved Seabiscuit as well! I read it way before I started this blog, so I don’t have a review to share, but I do remember loving Red Pollard, the jockey!

A New Love

Woman in the WindowThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released January 2, 2018)
446 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 











I heard about this book from a friend and decided to seek it out at The Strand (a used bookstore in the East Village). The definition of a psychological thriller, it’s a true masterpiece. Told in the first person, the reader learns more about the protagonist’s agoraphobia and backstory as the plot progresses, and the tension intensifies. Even though it was only released earlier this year it is already scheduled to come out as a movie starring Amy Adams in October of 2019!

My Take:
I passed on this one earlier this year because I was burned out on psychological thrillers and the premise seemed a bit too similar to The Girl on the Train (my spoiler discussion), but I’ve been hearing all year from trusted recommendation sources that I might actually like it. Speaking of The Girl on the Train

A “Didn’t Love”

Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released May 2, 2017)
386 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon











I decided to give Into to Water a try after enjoying another Paula Hawkins book, The Girl on the Train. The concept of the death of a woman in the suicide spot that she was obsessed with is immensely intriguing with the fascination of the abomination and all. Generally, the plot was interesting and I am always one for books that go through multiple perspectives. The major reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as I didn’t find any of the characters genuinely likable, and with that, it was hard to root for any of them to achieve their goals.  

My Take:
So…I was about to say I totally agreed with Elizabeth, but then I realized that wouldn’t be quite accurate because I DNF’d this book at something like 5%. It happened so quickly, I don’t even think I added to my DNF list…I considered it more of a “sample.” Regardless, I think the general consensus is in agreement with Elizabeth…I remember hearing from lots of my trusted recommendation sources that Into the Water suffered terribly from the dreaded sophomore slump.

What do you think of Elizabeth’s recommendations (or her “Didn’t Love”)?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Nonfiction November 2018: Fiction Nonfiction Book Pairings Link-Up

November 5, 2018 Blogger Events 33

Nonfiction November 2018


Today’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) topic is fiction/nonfiction book pairings:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairings is my favorite topic of Nonfiction November and I keep a running list throughout the year of all my ideas for pairings. I hope y’all have just as much fun with it!

Link up your posts below and check out the plans for the rest of the month at here!


Fiction Nonfiction Book Pairings


Campus Stories Involving Basketball

My Losing Season is Pat Conroy’s (my all-time favorite author) memoir about his time playing basketball at The Citadel, the military college in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a team of underdogs and Conroy is its “mediocre point guard”…but they play with incredible heart as they wrestle with a difficult coach.

In All the Castles Burned (my review), Owen Webb, a scholarship student at the prestigious Rockcastle School (a private day school for boys) embarks on an obsessive, dangerous friendship with Carson Bly, the son of a wealthy and absent father…all against the backdrop of the Rockcastle basketball team.

What it’s Like to Go to Space

Endurance is the true story of astronaut Scott Kelly’s year he spent on the International Space Station and his bumpy journey to becoming an astronaut.

In The Wanderers (my review), Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime Space’s – a private space exploration company – first manned mission to Mars) go through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

The Rwandan Genocide

The Girl Who Smiled Beads (my review) is the true story of six year-old Clemantine and her older sister getting separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spending the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.

Small Country (which I haven’t read yet) is an “evocative coming-of-age tale, set against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide and the civil war in Burundi, of a young boy’s childhood innocence shattered by the brutal tides of history.” (Goodreads)

Behind-the-Scenes of Reality TV

Bachelor Nation (my review) exposes the inner workings of The Bachelor franchise.

The Book of Essie (my review) AND The Favorite Sister (my review) are fictional stories set in the world of reality TV.

Sociopathic Husbands / Boyfriends

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing (my review) is Jen Waite’s memoir about her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco).

In Tell Me Lies, Lucy Albright arrives for her freshman year at Baird College in California and falls into a toxic love affair with Junior Stephen DeMarco (who made my list of Memorable Villains of Fiction).

Books Set in DC Politics That Read Like Brain Candy

From the Corner of the Oval is a quarter life crisis memoir (by Beck Dorey-Stein, one of Obama’s stenographers) set in the world of politics and is my favorite audiobook of the year so far!

In The Hopefuls (my review), young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job and must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.

Incidentally, Tell Me Lies could also pair well with From the Corner of the Oval in a totally different way…yes, From the Corner of the Oval features another possibly sociopathic boyfriend.

What are some of your favorite Nonfiction / Fiction pairings?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

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

November 1, 2018 Book Recommendations 21

Book of the Month November 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).

Well, phew! As soon as I read A Ladder to the Sky a few weeks ago, I knew my head would explode if it wasn’t a November Book of the Month pick! Especially since it’s by the author of Book of the Month‘s 2017 Book of the Year (The Heart’s Invisible Furies). Thank you, Book of the Month, for keeping my head intact and not completely going off the rails by ignoring this one!

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 November 2018 Selections

For Better And Worse For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt
Release Date: December 11, 2018

336 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.06 on 215 ratings
Selected By: Siobhan Jones (Book of the Month Editorial Director)

When they fell in love back in law school, Natalie and Will Clarke joked that they were so brilliant, together they could plan the perfect murder. After fifteen rocky years of marriage, they had better hope they’re right.

Their young son Jacob’s principal is accused of molesting a troubled student. It’s a horrifying situation—and the poison spreads rapidly. One night before bed, Jacob tells Natalie he is a victim, too. In that moment, her concept of justice changes forever. Natalie decides the predator must die.

My Thoughts:
For Better and Worse is Hunt’s sophomore novel and your obligatory psychological thriller for this month. Goodreads reviewers said the premise is clever, it’s fast-paced (although a few reviewers disagreed, calling it slow), and it’s well-written. Others mentioned they kept zoning out and that Nat and Will aren’t super likable. People also seem divided about the ending, mentioning it’s somewhat unrealistic. The Goodreads reviews are mostly 4 stars and above or 2 stars and below (there are very few 3 star reviews), making me think this could be a “love it or hate it” kind of book. Hunt has some big name author blurbs (Alafair Burke, Amy Engel, Peter Swanson), but they are all for her debut novel, Best Friends Forever, which is a little worrisome. Where are the author blurbs for this novel??

The ProposalThe Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Release Date: October 30, 2018

336 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.9 on 551 ratings
Selected By: Helen Hoang (Author of The Kiss Quotient)

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way.

My Thoughts:
Guillory’s debut novel, The Wedding Date, was super popular (though, I DNF’d it at 22%) and The Proposal continues her theme of rom-com style romance / chick-lit hybrids with diverse characters. The Proposal a companion novel (but, not a sequel) to The Wedding Date. The main characters are different (though two characters from The Wedding Date do make appearances in The Proposal) and I hear you can absolutely read The Proposal without reading The Wedding Date. Tara at Running N Reading (one of my trusted recommendations sources) liked it, but didn’t love it as much as The Wedding Date. She said it was slower and didn’t feel quite as exciting, but thought readers who liked The Wedding Date would still like this one. Both Liberty and Rebecca from Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast loved it. Goodreads reviewers said it’s cute, sweet, and deals with empowerment and friendship. They also lamented the cliched writing and dialogue and weren’t buying the chemistry between Nik and Carlos.

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Release Date: November 6, 2018
464 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.7 on 3,832 ratings
Selected By: Rosie Walsh (Author of Ghosted)

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. […] But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. […] But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

My Thoughts:
Liane Moriarty doesn’t need much of an introduction. However, I am one of the few that is not on her bandwagon (all the mommy politics…more details here). Annie Jones of From the Front Porch podcast said not to worry…that Moriarty fans that were disappointed with Truly Madly Guilty will probably like this one (she rated it 4 stars)! Kelly Massry said the first half is mostly getting to know the characters (but, they’re interesting!) and the action really took off in the second half. Goodreads reviewers liked the witty and sly writing (which pokes fun at the wellness / self-improvement industry), the relatable characters that really make this story, how it deals with the way we connect with each other, and how it really takes off in the second half. However, some said the ending is anti-climactic, while others said it’s far-fetched.

A Ladder to the SkyA Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Release Date: November 13, 2018
384 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.2 on 1,089 ratings
Selected By: Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent – but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own.

Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall…

My Thoughts:
Y’all know how much I loved Boyne’s 2017 novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review). Well, I also 5 star-loved A Ladder to the Sky. BUT, I have to caution HIF lovers…just because you loved HIF doesn’t mean you’ll automatically love this one (even though I did). A Ladder to the Sky is much darker and more messed up than HIF. And, Maurice is incredibly dislikable (but, deliciously dislikable in my opinion)…and reminded me a bit of a Herman Koch character (the kind that has no problem saying very settling things that most people would never say aloud). I loved the structure (each section is told from the perspective of someone Maurice meets/manipulates on his quest for literary fame), the focus on the publishing world’s dark underbelly, and Boyne’s writing (which is reminiscent of HIF). I know some people who didn’t like this one…mostly because they expected something similar to HIF. Let me warn you again…this one is very different. Make sure you like dark, twisted stories and aren’t turned off by dislikable characters before picking this up!

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Release Date: October 16, 2018
480 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.8 on 874 ratings
Selected By: Brianna Goodman (Book of the Month Editorial Team)

Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts.

My Thoughts:
I’ve been waffling over whether to try Kingsolver’s latest novel. I think I’d love the dysfunctional family story and the writing, but I’m worried about the complicated dual narrative, keeping track of the many characters, its political nature, and its somewhat slow pace. Annie Jones of From the Front Porch podcast loved it (5 stars) despite worrying it would be too slow for her. Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books (my book twin!) loved it as well and said, “Yes, she draws on politics, but at its heart Unsheltered is a novel of family, aging, relationships, and society.” Goodreads reviewers preferred one narrative over the other (although there wasn’t consistency about which narrative people preferred!) and said Kingsolver is heavy-handed and unnatural with the many political issues she addresses. Some called it preachy and tiresome…and some who loved her previous novels were disappointed with this one. The overall feeling I got from the Goodreads reviews was that you’ll like it if you don’t mind overt political agendas in your fiction and you’ll be turned off if you don’t.

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

I’m choosing A Ladder to the Sky! I’ve already read and loved it, but want a hard copy for my shelves.

Make your Book of the Month selections by Tuesday, November 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 FRIENDSGIVING.

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!

October 2018 Monthly Round-Up

October 31, 2018 Monthly Round-Ups 9

October 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!).

Do y’all remember how terrible my September reading was? Well, my October reading more than made up for it…in quantity and quality! This is the big, buzzy book season I was hoping for…I guess I just had to wait

I read 10 books this month…much better than the 5 I read last month)! And, I got audiobooks back into my life in a big way…thanks to library holds coming in! I’ve realized that nothing makes me prioritize my audiobook over podcasts like a library due date!




Best-Selling Book (via my affiliate links)

It’s a tie…


  • Nonfiction November kicked off this week! Join us for a month of celebrating nonfiction! Details here.
  • Personalized Book Recommendations and the Superstars Facebook Group are available to anyone who supports Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!

October Quality and Recommendation Sources

Reading Quality

October 2018

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 90% (totally makes up for my 33% September stinker!)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 82%

2018 Year-to-Date (through October)

  • % Successful Books Attempted (includes DNF’s) = 61% (above my 43% success rate from 2017)
  • % Successful Books Finished (does not include DNFs) = 85%

Successful Recommendation Sources

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

November Releases I’m Excited About

The publishing industry starts to wind down in November and December…not publishing many new books. Consequently, I sort of stop paying attention to new releases in those months, so I only have one for you today. But, it’s a fantastic one!

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (November 13)

Most Popular Posts

Posts Actually Published in October
Book of the Month October 2018: What Book Should You Choose?
What I’m Reading Now (10/15/18)
October 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

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

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

How was your reading month?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

My Year of Nonfiction So Far: Nonfiction November 2018

October 30, 2018 Blogger Events 31

Nonfiction November 2018


Welcome to Nonfiction November 2018! I’m thrilled to be co-hosting 2018’s Nonfiction November with Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness! Nonfiction November is a month dedicated to celebrating nonfiction…we’ll talk about our favorites, trade recommendations, discuss our nonfiction reading habits, and hopefully discover some new book blogs! There will be a link-up for your posts every Monday…go here for the schedule of events and where to find the link-ups. Here’s my year of nonfiction so far…

Hop over to Sophisticated Dorkiness to link up your introductory post!

My Year of Nonfiction

So far this year, I’ve read 27 Nonfiction books (34% of my total books read), 16 of which were audiobooks. This is down 22% from this time last year’s 35 Nonfiction books, 27 of which were audiobooks. I didn’t realize I hadn’t read as much nonfiction this year until I was writing this post!

Diving into the numbers a bit, I realized I’d actually read more nonfiction books / e-books this year and listened to a lot less audiobooks. The decrease in audiobook listening is the reason my overall nonfiction reading has fallen off this year. I’ve been listening to a lot more podcasts and sometimes took a full month to get through one audiobook. Over the past few months, a bunch of audiobooks came in from the library and I learned there’s nothing like a library due date to get me to choose an audiobook over podcasts! So, my audiobook pace has picked back up lately.

Favorite Nonfiction of 2018 So Far

My Year in Nonfiction


Overall Favorite Nonfiction of 2018

Favorite Nonfiction Audiobook of 2018

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

Most Recommended Nonfiction of 2018

My Year in Nonfiction


This year, I’ve read a lot of…

“Life wisdom” essay collections, mostly written by women.

My go-to authors for these types of books are (check out my “Women Who Get Women” Authors Club post for more of these types of authors):

  • Ann Patchett
  • Anna Quindlen
  • Kelly Corrigan
  • And, even though I’ve only read one book by Maggie O’Farrell, I think she could be added to the list.

This year, I haven’t read enough…

Investigative Journalism…

But, over half of my Nonfiction November TBR list is investigative journalism, so I’m going to make up for it!


I love sports memoirs and general nonfiction and I have one of each on my Nonfiction November TBR list!

What are your favorite Nonfiction books so far this year?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

What I’m Reading Now (10/29/18)

October 29, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 15

I got an early start on my Nonfiction November reading last week, which is a nice change of pace from my normal reading! Focusing on a different genre and reading lots of backlist and based on mood is a bit freeing. Go here for more details on how to participate. And, look for my Year in Nonfiction post tomorrow!

And, here are the Nonfiction November Instagram prompts! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #Nonficnov!

Nonfiction November 2018 Instagram Prompts


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 


View this post on Instagram


It’s taken me 10 months into 2018 to find the right combination of books for an Alcohol & Advil post! So, welcome to the first Alcohol & Advil post of 2018…LINK IN PROFILE ⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Waiting for Eden by @elliot.ackerman gut-punched me over and over in only 192 pages. It’s not for everyone, but if you like books that make you acutely FEEL, even if those feelings are tough, you have to read this book. ⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Sadie by @courtneysummers, while not perfect, was just the quick and easy read I needed following Waiting for Eden. It’s YA, which is not normally my thing, but I love that Sadie was partially told through a Serial-esque podcast transcript.⠀ _⠀ ⠀ What was the last book that gave you a massive reading hangover?⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Alcohol & Advil is my feature where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s both.⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #igreads #booksofinstagram #badassbookbabes #youngadultbooks @aaknopf @wednesdaybooks⠀

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

I finished reading…

what I'm reading now


Driven by Julie Heldman (August 22, 2018)
I enjoyed all the tennis history in this memoir, but it desperately needed an editor (it was self-published, which I don’t normally read for this very reason)! 446 pages was outrageous. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (May 21, 2018) – AUDIOBOOK
Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, this true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley startup, Theranos, was kind of mind-blowing. And, also a bit scary for investors. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Bird by Bird


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (January 1, 1994)
Believe it or not, this is my first time reading the legendary Anne Lamott! She’s so relatable and funny, which I didn’t expect for some reason. I’m only 25% through, but think I’ll definitely be reading more of her in the future.

Upcoming reading plans…

Still waiting on this library hold, which my Libby app says is “coming soon”…

Fifth Risk


The Fifth Riskby Michael Lewis (October 2, 2018)
Michael Lewis is one of my auto-buy authors. I think he’s a master at making dry topics entertaining and breaking down complicated concepts so the layperson can understand them. This time, he’s tackling the U.S. government. However, I’m a little skittish because I didn’t love his two most recent books (Flash Boys and The Undoing Project).

was reading…

One Year Ago: I read what I’m pretty sure is one of my favorite books of all-time!

Two Years Ago: I was reading a couple books that I remember virtually nothing about.

How was your reading week?

Get Weekly Email Updates!