Search Results for: the nest

Read Both…for Different Reasons: The Nest and The Tsar of Love and Techno

April 7, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 31

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, but they couldn’t be more different. One is light, while the other is heavy. One is an “easy” read, while the other takes some concentration to catch all the brilliant connections. And one is plot driven, while the other relies more on the writing and social commentary. Pick your poison!

The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix SweeneyThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Fiction (Released March 22, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Ecco) 

Plot Summary: After an accident leaves the four adult Plumb siblings’ (Melody the suburban mom, Bea the washed-up author, Leo the ex-media titan and current party boy, and Jack the struggling antique dealer) shared inheritance decimated, they’re forced to re-examine their lives.

My Thoughts: I love that The Nest is a debut novel by a 55 year old woman AND she got a $1 million advance! Unlike last year’s advance winner (City on Fire at $2 million), I think this book might actually sell. I’m a sucker for novels about dysfunctional families and wealthy people behaving badly and The Nest delivered both on a silver platter! I was immediately sucked into the lives of all four siblings and how each one responds to the news of their decimated trust fund (i.e. by maneuvering against each other based on their individual agendas). And, as the story continues, it becomes somewhat of a cautionary tale of why not to spend money that you don’t yet have!

Let’s come right out and say it…The Nest is not the pinnacle of literary fiction and will likely not be receiving any major literary awards. But, it’s a satisfying indulgence if you’re looking for something on the lighter side or that reads quickly…and, it will make an appearance on my 2016 Summer Reading List (coming in May).

Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony MarraThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Fiction (Released October 6, 2015)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Hogarth) 

Plot Summary: A collection of linked short stories spotlighting life in the USSR/Russian Federation/Russia from 1937 to present day (including life under Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and Putin).

My Thoughts: My somewhat bizarre fascination with life behind the Iron Curtain (which started while watching those ‘roided up he-women win almost every swimming gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and The Tsar of Love and Techno‘s performance in the 2016 Tournament of Books got me to finally read this much-lauded collection. It doesn’t read like most short story collections, as its linked nature makes it feel more like a novel told from different perspectives and time periods. And, the way Marra used characters and events to link each story perfectly rode the line of being brilliantly intricate, yet not too confusing to follow.

What really shined for me was Marra’s portrayal of the more quirky/screwed up aspects of Soviet life under Communist rule, wartime, Glasnost, and the rise of the oligarchs and organized crime (i.e. a professional censor of art and official photographs, music records made with old Cancer x-rays, a forest of metal trees with plastic leaves to trick people into thinking an area of Siberia wasn’t as polluted as it really was). His writing, especially when handling this type of social commentary, is delightfully subversive with occasional dry, fatalistic humor.

A little cropping, editing, adjusting of margins can rule out many undesirable elements. This has obvious limitations. Stalin’s pitted cheeks, for instance. To fix them you’d have to crop his entire head, a crime for which your own head would soon follow. For such sensitive work, I am brought in. During one bleak four-month stretch, I did nothing but airbrush his cheeks.

However, two stories (The Grozney Tourist Bureau and A Prisoner of Caucasus) focused more on the war with Chechnya and less on life under Communism for regular people…and therefore weren’t as successful for me (and are the reason I’m giving it 4 rather than 5 stars on Goodreads). Even so, The Tsar of Love and Techno would make an excellent book club selection.

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2018 Summer Reading List

June 14, 2018 0

2018 Summer Reading List

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Summer Reading Lists: 20132014201520162017

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

2018 Summer Reading List

Latest Additions (July 23, 2018)

CalypsoCalypso by David Sedaris
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released May 29, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Sedaris’ latest essay collection focusing on middle age.

My Thoughts: David Sedaris is generally known for his dark humor and his ability to make readers sob and laugh hysterically on the same page. Personally, I didn’t cry or laugh hysterically while reading Calypso, but I did chuckle and get sad and appreciate the crap out of his dark humor. I love how Sedaris says things that most people probably think, but are too scared to say out loud. And, though I read this one in print, Sedaris is fabulous on audio! Full Review.

 

Banker's Wife The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger
Fiction – Thriller (Released July 3, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When a private plane carrying a Swiss banker and his wealthy client goes off the radar, his wife is left to piece together the shady dealings Swiss United Bank was involved in.

My Thoughts: Despite it’s unfortunately domestic sounding title (really…can publishers try for at least one thriller without “Wife” or “Girl” in the title?!!), The Banker’s Wife is more of a conspiracy / financial thriller. It’s purely plot driven (so much so that I forgot to highlight passages to share in this post!) and will keep you turning the pages. Plus, there are characters who resemble real life people enough to make you wonder! Full Review.

Book of EssieThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released June 12, 2018)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When the youngest daughter (Essie) of a evangelical reality TV family becomes pregnant and realizes her mother is working with their show’s producers to come up with the best way to spin it for the show, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

My Thoughts: The Book of Essie is the type of brain candy I love…a story about weighty topics that reads quickly and easily. The first line will grab you immediately and I was dying to find out how all this was going to turn out. Bonus: you get an interesting behind-the-scenes look at reality TV and image management in the media spotlight. Full Review.

Favorite SisterThe Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A shocking death occurs during the filming of a Real Housewives-esque reality TV show.

My Thoughts: The Favorite Sister was just the type of brain candy I love: smart, a bit different, and containing an ending that’s surprising, yet makes sense with the story looking back on it. I’ve always been intrigued by how the sausage gets made in reality TV and The Favorite Sister doesn’t disappoint in that department. If you read Reality Steve’s blog, liked Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (my review), or love the TV show UnrealThe Favorite Sister is for you! Warning: if dislikable characters ruin books for you, steer clear of this one! Full Review.

Something Fun

My #1 Pick

Charlotte Walsh Likes to WinCharlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: July 24, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Charlotte Walsh leaves her high powered job as COO of a Silicon Valley tech darling to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania, she’s forced to confront the impact on her marriage, her sanity, and her past.

My Thoughts: I’ve been loving books about substantial topics that read easy this summer and I can now add Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win to that list! Though it reads easy enough for the beach, it’s full of astute commentary on women in politics, women in business, managing your image in public life, marriage, motherhood, and gender roles. But, it also has snappy dialogue, a badass sister-in-law (Kara), and a Friday Night Lights name-check (the easiest way to my heart). An excellent choice for fans of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close! Full Review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Intense / Fast-Paced

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

Give Me Your HandGive Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Diane and Kit become lab partners in high school, Diane shares an explosive secret. And, when the two women meet again as star lab scientists, the secret comes back to haunt them both. 

My Thoughts: Megan Abbott is one of my go-to authors for intense summer reads…generally about demented high school girls (The Fever and You Will Know Me are my favorites). She’s kept her streak alive with Give Me Your Hand…her most grown-up novel yet. This story is set in the world of science and Abbott’s writing makes the lab, the competition for limited positions on important studies, and the researchers’ dedication seem like the pressure cauldron of an Olympic Trials. Grab this one if you like dark and twisty with some substance! Full Review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something With A Bit More Substance

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Us Against YouUs Against You by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Literary (Released June 5, 2018)
448 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Amid the wreckage of the previous winter, Beartown residents face their beloved ice hockey team being disbanded and a volatile rivalry with nearby Hed Hockey.
My Thoughts: Us Against You is the sequel to last year’s Beartown (one of my favorites of 2017) and I highly recommend you read Beartown before reading Us Against You. This time around, Beartown has lost its innocence. The story is even darker, more sinister, and more focused on the adults and the politics of sports (a very real thing). Like in Beartown, the story is about far more than hockey…friendship, rivalry, marriage, parenting, power, sexuality, and violence. I was completely engrossed in the emotion of sports, which Backman captures better than anything save Friday Night Lights (and if you’re missing FNL, these are the books for you!). Full Review.

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

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

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

Something Different

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2018 Summer Reading List

May 17, 2018 Book Lists 51

2018 Summer Reading List

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Summer Reading Lists: 2013201420152016, 2017

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

2018 Summer Reading List

Latest Additions (July 23, 2018)

CalypsoCalypso by David Sedaris
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released May 29, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Sedaris’ latest essay collection focusing on middle age.

My Thoughts: David Sedaris is generally known for his dark humor and his ability to make readers sob and laugh hysterically on the same page. Personally, I didn’t cry or laugh hysterically while reading Calypso, but I did chuckle and get sad and appreciate the crap out of his dark humor. I love how Sedaris says things that most people probably think, but are too scared to say out loud. And, though I read this one in print, Sedaris is fabulous on audio! Full Review.

 

Banker's Wife The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger
Fiction – Thriller (Released July 3, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When a private plane carrying a Swiss banker and his wealthy client goes off the radar, his wife is left to piece together the shady dealings Swiss United Bank was involved in.

My Thoughts: Despite it’s unfortunately domestic sounding title (really…can publishers try for at least one thriller without “Wife” or “Girl” in the title?!!), The Banker’s Wife is more of a conspiracy / financial thriller. It’s purely plot driven (so much so that I forgot to highlight passages to share in this post!) and will keep you turning the pages. Plus, there are characters who resemble real life people enough to make you wonder! Full Review.

Book of EssieThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released June 12, 2018)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When the youngest daughter (Essie) of a evangelical reality TV family becomes pregnant and realizes her mother is working with their show’s producers to come up with the best way to spin it for the show, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

My Thoughts: The Book of Essie is the type of brain candy I love…a story about weighty topics that reads quickly and easily. The first line will grab you immediately and I was dying to find out how all this was going to turn out. Bonus: you get an interesting behind-the-scenes look at reality TV and image management in the media spotlight. Full Review.

Favorite SisterThe Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A shocking death occurs during the filming of a Real Housewives-esque reality TV show.

My Thoughts: The Favorite Sister was just the type of brain candy I love: smart, a bit different, and containing an ending that’s surprising, yet makes sense with the story looking back on it. I’ve always been intrigued by how the sausage gets made in reality TV and The Favorite Sister doesn’t disappoint in that department. If you read Reality Steve’s blog, liked Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (my review), or love the TV show UnrealThe Favorite Sister is for you! Warning: if dislikable characters ruin books for you, steer clear of this one! Full Review.

Something Fun

My #1 Pick

Charlotte Walsh Likes to WinCharlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: July 24, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Charlotte Walsh leaves her high powered job as COO of a Silicon Valley tech darling to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania, she’s forced to confront the impact on her marriage, her sanity, and her past.

My Thoughts: I’ve been loving books about substantial topics that read easy this summer and I can now add Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win to that list! Though it reads easy enough for the beach, it’s full of astute commentary on women in politics, women in business, managing your image in public life, marriage, motherhood, and gender roles. But, it also has snappy dialogue, a badass sister-in-law (Kara), and a Friday Night Lights name-check (the easiest way to my heart). An excellent choice for fans of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close! Full Review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Intense / Fast-Paced

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

Give Me Your HandGive Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Diane and Kit become lab partners in high school, Diane shares an explosive secret. And, when the two women meet again as star lab scientists, the secret comes back to haunt them both. 

My Thoughts: Megan Abbott is one of my go-to authors for intense summer reads…generally about demented high school girls (The Fever and You Will Know Me are my favorites). She’s kept her streak alive with Give Me Your Hand…her most grown-up novel yet. This story is set in the world of science and Abbott’s writing makes the lab, the competition for limited positions on important studies, and the researchers’ dedication seem like the pressure cauldron of an Olympic Trials. Grab this one if you like dark and twisty with some substance! Full Review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something With A Bit More Substance

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Us Against YouUs Against You by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Literary (Released June 5, 2018)
448 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Amid the wreckage of the previous winter, Beartown residents face their beloved ice hockey team being disbanded and a volatile rivalry with nearby Hed Hockey.
My Thoughts: Us Against You is the sequel to last year’s Beartown (one of my favorites of 2017) and I highly recommend you read Beartown before reading Us Against You. This time around, Beartown has lost its innocence. The story is even darker, more sinister, and more focused on the adults and the politics of sports (a very real thing). Like in Beartown, the story is about far more than hockey…friendship, rivalry, marriage, parenting, power, sexuality, and violence. I was completely engrossed in the emotion of sports, which Backman captures better than anything save Friday Night Lights (and if you’re missing FNL, these are the books for you!). Full Review.

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

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

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

Something Different

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017

November 24, 2017 0

Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017

 

Welcome to my 2017 Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers guide!

A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift!

Every year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. And, this year I’m also recommending a fabulous book subscription service and some bookish goodies that aren’t actual books!

If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (20162015201420132012).

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

Book of the Month Club: The Gift That Keeps on Giving for Book Lovers

You know those book lovers that have read everything under the sun and you’re kind of scared to pick out a specific book for them? Or, the kind that enjoy finding out about new and interesting books? Or, the kind that love beautiful hardcover books? Or, the kind that read so much that a gift of just one book won’t last them past New Year’s? 

A subscription to the Book of the Month Club is the perfect holiday gift for these types of readers!

How it Works

On the first of every month, members get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want. Book of the Month Club will mail your chosen book (along with any extras you ordered) to your house for free. 

HOLIDAY GIFT PRICING

 3 Months for $44.99, 6 months for $79.99, 12 months for $149.99
Buy a Book of the Month gift subscription and get a free book for yourself.

Special Black Friday Deal (valid through Sunday, 11/26): 
Use code GIFTBOTM to get $10 off a 6 or 12-month gift subscription.

Special Cyber Monday Deal (valid on Monday, November 27 only):
New members can use code 2FORYOU to get 2 months for just $7.50 each and a free tote.

And, you can top off the perfect book lover gift by including a tool that will help your book lover choose the best Book of the Month Club selection for his or her personal taste every month…my easy-to-use template that helps find readers’ go-to Book of the Month Club judges (i.e. the judges whose taste most perfectly matches your book lover’s). When you know which judges to trust the most, choosing your perfect book is a breeze!

I am a Book of the Month Club Affiliate and will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my affiliate links, but I’m also a paying customer.

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing its residents have to be proud of. It’s also a story of the privilege bestowed on star athletes, even at the youth level. Beartown is an absolutely explosive story and is one of my favorite books of 2017!  Full Review

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Fiction (Released January 17, 2017)
287 Pages
Affiliate Link: 

Plot Summary: While taking a walk around her beloved New York City on New Year’s Eve of 1984, eighty-five year old Lillian Boxfish, the highest paid female advertising executive in the 1930’s, reflects on her life.

My Thoughts: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is the unique kind of historical fiction (which appeals to me far more than the run-of-the-mill kind) and is a delightful, quintessentially New York City book. Lillian herself was the Peggy Olson (Mad Men) of 1930’s advertising. She’s both old school (i.e. in her manners, her hatred of TV) and progressive (an unapologetic career woman in a time when it was more acceptable to get married and have babies). She’s smart, playful, and whimsical…and Rooney mirrors this in her writing style.  Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers.

Little Fires Everywhere Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fiction (Released September 12, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Summary: When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.

My Thoughts: Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told YouLittle Fires Everywhere is my go-to recommendation for book loving friends whose reading taste you’re not quite sure of…it’s a book that most everyone will love. Full Review 

Shadow of the LionsShadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann
Fiction (Released August 1, 2017)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After his life spirals out of control following the success of his first novel, Matthias returns to teach at his old boys’ boarding school, where his best friend (Fritz) vanished from campus during their senior year.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m a sucker for boarding school novels and Shadow of the Lions is a good one! It’s been described as a “literary thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a literary “mystery” than a “thriller.” It’s a story about male friendship…the kind of bond that can only be developed in extremely close quarters with shared experiences (i.e. living together in dorms, in the military, etc). Bonus for fellow Virginians: the author is a Woodberry Forest grad and the story is set at a fictional version of the school. Full Review

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

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

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

We Were the Lucky Ones We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Historical Fiction (Released February 14, 2017)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: World War II “annihilated over 90% of Poland’s Jews and […] all but about 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom,” Georgia Hunter’s ancestors’ home. Yet, her entire family survived. We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the story of how they did it.

My Thoughts: The Kurc family’s experience during World War II, beginning in Poland and stretching to Siberia, Italy, and Brazil is nothing short of a harrowing odyssey, the outcome of which defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. It feels like a “quick read” in a page-turning sense, even though it’s not a short or light book. Excellent choice for anyone who enjoyed The Nightingale or All the Light We Cannot See. And, pairing it with Nina Willner’s memoir, Forty Autumns, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift! Author Interview

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker, tackle more fraught issues, or have more aggressive language, etc. than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!

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

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.

My Thoughts: This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one my most recommended book of the year. It has a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. And, it’s one of those rare books that I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” Full Review

If We Were VillainsIf We Were Villains by M.L. Rio by M.L. Rio
Fiction – Debut (Released April 11, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts.

My Thoughts: If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017! It’s a sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down! Special Note: references to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. But, you do not have to read them closely or understand them to love it! Excellent choice for fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret HistoryFull Review

QuicksandQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito by Malin Persson Giolito
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
513 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: In a nutshell, Quicksand is the movie Cruel Intentions (elite prep school, lots of money, partying, drugs, neglected high schoolers, and an intense love affair), if Sebastian (PS – Quicksand‘s main character is also named Sebastian…it’s almost too perfect!) had shot up his school and Annette had gone to trial for helping him.

My Thoughts: I “5 star adored” this Swedish “courtroom thriller” and am amazed it hasn’t gotten more buzz in the U.S. since its March release! This story is about far more than just a school shooting…it’s about friendship, family, a wealthy community, the complicated entanglement of young love, the law, and a slight bit of politics. I couldn’t put it down. If you like dark, twisty high school books, this is one of the best I’ve ever read! Full Review

Heart's Invisible Furies The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Historical Fiction (Released August 22, 2017)
582 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: 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 sexuality and how he fits into an Ireland that’s run by an overreaching Catholic Church over the course of his life.

My Thoughts: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the first big, immersive novel that’s really hit me since A Little Life and is hands-down one of my favorite books of 2017! It spans Cyril’s entire life in 7 year segments and it’s heartfelt and emotional, yet unexpectedly funny and reads like juicy gossip at times. Don’t be afraid of the length…this one is not a slog at all. Excellent choice for fans of A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Little Life (minus all the heart-wrenching violence). Full Review

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Lots of Candles Plenty of CakeLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
182 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!

My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read! Excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…scratch that, It’s perfect for pretty much any woman you know.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

Plot Summary: Ann Patchett’s (author of one of my 2016 favorites: Commonwealth) essay collection covering all kinds of topics from her life. Buy from Amazon

My Thoughts: Pat Conroy is one of the rare authors whose fiction and nonfiction I’ve truly enjoyed. Now that he’s gone, Ann Patchett might be taking his place (thanks to his recommendation in A Lowcountry Heart). She covers the gamut of topics in this essay collection: marriage (obviously), divorce, writing, book tours, opera (the only low point for me), friendship, how to be productive, and the story behind the opening of Parnassus Books. She lives an interesting, yet fairly normal life and I love her grounded outlook on things. Another excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…and also writers!

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Emma in the Night Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released August 8, 2017)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.

My Thoughts: Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read it in one day. Full Review

Fear by Dirk KurbjuweitFear by Dirk Kurbjuweit
Fiction – Translation (
Released October 3, 2017)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After a stalking campaign by Randolph Tiefenthaler’s downstairs neighbor, Randolph’s father lands in prison for shooting the neighbor.

My Thoughts: Fear is what I like to call a “why book.” It starts with the main event and the suspense lies in discovering the how and why. It was marketed as a “gripping thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a slow burn. The overall feel is very European (logical since this is a German translation). Think Herman Koch (more Dear Mr. M than The Dinner) and Based on a True Story, with the tension simmering and crackling beneath the surface rather than exploding in a more traditional, action-packed way. Full Review

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy. They read easy, but their stories still have great depth.

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid
Historical Fiction (Released June 13, 2017)
391 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.

My Thoughts: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in the brain candy class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. And, you might be surprised by where this story goes. Full Review

Trophy SonTrophy Son by Douglas Brunt by Douglas Brunt
Fiction – Sports (
Release Date May 30, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.

My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on the coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents, and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through. Excellent choice for sports fans.

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, books and reading (duh!), the Cold War, running, personality types, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of politics.

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeBooks for Living by Will Schwalbe
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 27, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.

My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. Full Review

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

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

My Thoughts: Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob (which was a similar book, but got too esoteric and intellectually snobby for my taste)! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned. Excellent choice for big-time bookworms.

Forty Autumns by Nina WillnerForty Autumns by Nina Willner
Nonfiction – History/Memoir (Released October 4, 2016)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.

My Thoughts: Forty Autumns is a fascinating look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. It’s highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson. Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers…and, pairing it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift!

My Year of Running Dangerously My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Nonfiction – Memoir/Sports (Released October 6, 2015)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.

My Thoughts: Not only is this memoir the story of an impressive running feat (prior to Foreman’s year of races, he hadn’t run since he was much younger), but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. It would make a great gift for a father or daughter that’s getting into running…and it’s great on audio!

Reading People by Anne BogelReading Peopleby Anne Bogel
Nonfiction (Released September 19, 2017)
226 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A primer on the major personality type frameworks including Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, and the 5 Love Languages.

My Thoughts: If you’re interested in personality types and how to apply your personality types to your own life, Reading People is an approachable place to start. It doesn’t go deep into any of these types, but it’s a good overview that can help you decide where you might like to go deep. Excellent choice for anyone interested in personality types or psychology.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Nonfiction – Memoir/Politics (Released March 21, 2017)
257 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.

My Thoughts: This is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! Excellent choice for women newly embarking on their careers or behind-the-scenes of politics junkies.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories…I find these books make great Dad gifts!

Ranger Games by Ben BlumRanger Games by Ben Blum
Nonfiction (Released September 12, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link:

Plot Summary: Alex Blum was a gregarious, athletic, popular teenager (think Pat Tillman) until he joined the U.S. Army Rangers and, within four months, robbed a bank. Written by Alex’s cousin, Ranger Games is the story of how this happened.

My Thoughts: While Alex’s story is pretty outrageous, Ranger Games goes deeper into the Army’s training methods, specifically for the Rangers. And, how the Ranger methods and philosophy could help turn a happy-go-lucky kid into a bank robber. It’s a little overly long, but would make a perfect Dad, Husband, or Father-in-Law gift.

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing LandAmerican Fire by Monica Hesse by Monica Hesse
Nonfiction (Released July 11, 2017)
259 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of the hunt for a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) who burned down abandoned buildings in Accomack County, a small, declining town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

My Thoughts: 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. It’s a well-told and engrossing story with a broad appeal beyond the true crime genre and is a perfect “gateway book” for those interested in dipping their toes into the true crime genre for the first time. Excellent choice for Virginians. Full Review

Killers of the Flower MoonKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Nonfiction (Released April 18, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of the systematic murder of many members of the Osage Indian Nation for their oil rights and the subsequent investigation into the killings.

My Thoughts: Killers of the Flower Moon is about the history of the Osage Indian Nation, oil drilling in America in the 1920’s, 1920’s law enforcement and the FBI’s first homicide case. Then, overlay all that with a murder mystery involving a stunning level of corruption that captivated the public interest at the time and you get a flawless blend of history and mystery. Excellent choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Goodbye Vitamin Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Fiction – Debut (
Released July 11, 2017)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Ruth returns to her parents’ home in the L.A. area to help care for her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

My Thoughts: Goodbye, Vitamin is the type of book that could get overlooked because it’s all about the intangibles, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking this one! Though this story is about a sad and serious topic, it has a lightness to it and is amusing at times. The story is told through Ruth’s journal entries that read like little vignettes, a format that worked for me in this case because I absolutely adored Ruth’s endearing, witty, real, and relatable voice. Excellent choice for young professionals. Full Review

Grit by Angela Duckworth Grit by Angela Duckworth
Nonfiction – Life Improvement (
Released May 13, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Duckworth uses examples from the military, sports, education, and business to illustrate how perseverance (rather than talent) is the best predictor of success. 

My Thoughts: The primary message seems like common sense, but Duckworth supports it with entertaining real life examples and multiple studies. It reinforced to me that you have far more control over your destiny than you think. Excellent choice for parents and anyone with a big-time goal in mind.

Mothering Sunday by Graham SwiftMothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Historical Fiction (Released April 26, 2016)
177 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.

My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all. It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from her Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey. Full Review

The Stranger in the WoodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel by Michael Finkel
Nonfiction (Released March 7, 2017)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of 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.

My Thoughts: This is one strange, but completely captivating story. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait, coupled with a look at today’s extraversion-oriented society. Christopher Knight is one of those people who makes you want to figure out what makes him tick. This is a quick read (or listen, in my case!) that’s perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Excellent choice for Dads, Father-in-Laws, brothers, and husbands.

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey by Meg Howrey
Fiction (Released March 14, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

My Thoughts: The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year. It’s first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. Full Review

Bookish Gifts

Kindle Oasis E-Reader (the latest Kindle upgrade)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Amazon has come out with its latest and greatest Kindle upgrade. Y’all know how devoted I am to my Kindle…I’d be reading far less without it. Its convenience can’t be beat. The Oasis has a couple fancy, new features: it’s waterproof  (yes, bathtub, pool float, and wine drinking readers rejoice!), you can listen to Audible audiobooks via Bluetooth directly from your Kindle, it’s battery lasts 9 weeks when paired with the leather cover it comes with, and it has a thinner and lighter sloped design that’s supposed to mimic a book’s spine.

Lit Chat (a literary discussion game)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Created by literary media company, Book Riot (I’m a big fan of their blog posts and podcasts!), Lit Chat is a game intended to get people talking about books and reading. It comes with 50 cards containing all kinds of bookish questions (such as “what book would you want with you if you were stuck on a desert island?”) designed to spark debate about books. A few rounds of Lit Chat would be a great addition to any book club gathering!

“F Off, I’m Reading” Socks 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

A friend gave me these amazing socks earlier this year and I burst out laughing! They pretty much perfectly reflect my state of mind about 80% of the day. Excellent stocking stuff for any bookworm not afraid of a little F bomb! But, if you’re averse to the language, the same company also makes cute “Stop Talking” and “I Heard You and I Don’t Care” versions.

Happy Holidays!

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The Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 (including book recommendations)

November 24, 2017 Gift Guides 20

Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017

 

Welcome to my 2017 Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers guide!

A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift!

Every year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. And, this year I’m also recommending a fabulous book subscription service and some bookish goodies that aren’t actual books!

If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (20162015201420132012).

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

Book of the Month Club: The Gift That Keeps on Giving for Book Lovers

You know those book lovers that have read everything under the sun and you’re kind of scared to pick out a specific book for them? Or, the kind that enjoy finding out about new and interesting books? Or, the kind that love beautiful hardcover books? Or, the kind that read so much that a gift of just one book won’t last them past New Year’s? 

A subscription to the Book of the Month Club is the perfect holiday gift for these types of readers!

How it Works

On the first of every month, members get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want. Book of the Month Club will mail your chosen book (along with any extras you ordered) to your house for free. 

HOLIDAY GIFT PRICING

 3 Months for $44.99, 6 months for $79.99, 12 months for $149.99
Buy a Book of the Month gift subscription and get a free book for yourself.

Special Black Friday Deal (valid through Sunday, 11/26): 
Use code GIFTBOTM to get $10 off a 6 or 12-month gift subscription.

Special Cyber Monday Deal (valid on Monday, November 27 only):
New members can use code 2FORYOU to get 2 months for just $7.50 each and a free tote.

And, you can top off the perfect book lover gift by including a tool that will help your book lover choose the best Book of the Month Club selection for his or her personal taste every month…my easy-to-use template that helps find readers’ go-to Book of the Month Club judges (i.e. the judges whose taste most perfectly matches your book lover’s). When you know which judges to trust the most, choosing your perfect book is a breeze!

I am a Book of the Month Club Affiliate and will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my affiliate links, but I’m also a paying customer.

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing its residents have to be proud of. It’s also a story of the privilege bestowed on star athletes, even at the youth level. Beartown is an absolutely explosive story and is one of my favorite books of 2017!  Full Review

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Fiction (Released January 17, 2017)
287 Pages
Affiliate Link: 

Plot Summary: While taking a walk around her beloved New York City on New Year’s Eve of 1984, eighty-five year old Lillian Boxfish, the highest paid female advertising executive in the 1930’s, reflects on her life.

My Thoughts: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is the unique kind of historical fiction (which appeals to me far more than the run-of-the-mill kind) and is a delightful, quintessentially New York City book. Lillian herself was the Peggy Olson (Mad Men) of 1930’s advertising. She’s both old school (i.e. in her manners, her hatred of TV) and progressive (an unapologetic career woman in a time when it was more acceptable to get married and have babies). She’s smart, playful, and whimsical…and Rooney mirrors this in her writing style.  Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers.

Little Fires Everywhere Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fiction (Released September 12, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Summary: When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.

My Thoughts: Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told YouLittle Fires Everywhere is my go-to recommendation for book loving friends whose reading taste you’re not quite sure of…it’s a book that most everyone will love. Full Review 

Shadow of the LionsShadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann
Fiction (Released August 1, 2017)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After his life spirals out of control following the success of his first novel, Matthias returns to teach at his old boys’ boarding school, where his best friend (Fritz) vanished from campus during their senior year.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m a sucker for boarding school novels and Shadow of the Lions is a good one! It’s been described as a “literary thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a literary “mystery” than a “thriller.” It’s a story about male friendship…the kind of bond that can only be developed in extremely close quarters with shared experiences (i.e. living together in dorms, in the military, etc). Bonus for fellow Virginians: the author is a Woodberry Forest grad and the story is set at a fictional version of the school. Full Review

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

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

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

We Were the Lucky Ones We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Historical Fiction (Released February 14, 2017)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: World War II “annihilated over 90% of Poland’s Jews and […] all but about 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom,” Georgia Hunter’s ancestors’ home. Yet, her entire family survived. We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the story of how they did it.

My Thoughts: The Kurc family’s experience during World War II, beginning in Poland and stretching to Siberia, Italy, and Brazil is nothing short of a harrowing odyssey, the outcome of which defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. It feels like a “quick read” in a page-turning sense, even though it’s not a short or light book. Excellent choice for anyone who enjoyed The Nightingale or All the Light We Cannot See. And, pairing it with Nina Willner’s memoir, Forty Autumns, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift! Author Interview

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker, tackle more fraught issues, or have more aggressive language, etc. than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!

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

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.

My Thoughts: This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one my most recommended book of the year. It has a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. And, it’s one of those rare books that I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” Full Review

If We Were VillainsIf We Were Villains by M.L. Rio by M.L. Rio
Fiction – Debut (Released April 11, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts.

My Thoughts: If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017! It’s a sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down! Special Note: references to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. But, you do not have to read them closely or understand them to love it! Excellent choice for fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret HistoryFull Review

QuicksandQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito by Malin Persson Giolito
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
513 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: In a nutshell, Quicksand is the movie Cruel Intentions (elite prep school, lots of money, partying, drugs, neglected high schoolers, and an intense love affair), if Sebastian (PS – Quicksand‘s main character is also named Sebastian…it’s almost too perfect!) had shot up his school and Annette had gone to trial for helping him.

My Thoughts: I “5 star adored” this Swedish “courtroom thriller” and am amazed it hasn’t gotten more buzz in the U.S. since its March release! This story is about far more than just a school shooting…it’s about friendship, family, a wealthy community, the complicated entanglement of young love, the law, and a slight bit of politics. I couldn’t put it down. If you like dark, twisty high school books, this is one of the best I’ve ever read! Full Review

Heart's Invisible Furies The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Historical Fiction (Released August 22, 2017)
582 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: 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 sexuality and how he fits into an Ireland that’s run by an overreaching Catholic Church over the course of his life.

My Thoughts: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the first big, immersive novel that’s really hit me since A Little Life and is hands-down one of my favorite books of 2017! It spans Cyril’s entire life in 7 year segments and it’s heartfelt and emotional, yet unexpectedly funny and reads like juicy gossip at times. Don’t be afraid of the length…this one is not a slog at all. Excellent choice for fans of A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Little Life (minus all the heart-wrenching violence). Full Review

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Lots of Candles Plenty of CakeLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
182 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!

My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read! Excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…scratch that, It’s perfect for pretty much any woman you know.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

Plot Summary: Ann Patchett’s (author of one of my 2016 favorites: Commonwealth) essay collection covering all kinds of topics from her life. Buy from Amazon

My Thoughts: Pat Conroy is one of the rare authors whose fiction and nonfiction I’ve truly enjoyed. Now that he’s gone, Ann Patchett might be taking his place (thanks to his recommendation in A Lowcountry Heart). She covers the gamut of topics in this essay collection: marriage (obviously), divorce, writing, book tours, opera (the only low point for me), friendship, how to be productive, and the story behind the opening of Parnassus Books. She lives an interesting, yet fairly normal life and I love her grounded outlook on things. Another excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…and also writers!

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Emma in the Night Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released August 8, 2017)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.

My Thoughts: Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read it in one day. Full Review

Fear by Dirk KurbjuweitFear by Dirk Kurbjuweit
Fiction – Translation (
Released October 3, 2017)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After a stalking campaign by Randolph Tiefenthaler’s downstairs neighbor, Randolph’s father lands in prison for shooting the neighbor.

My Thoughts: Fear is what I like to call a “why book.” It starts with the main event and the suspense lies in discovering the how and why. It was marketed as a “gripping thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a slow burn. The overall feel is very European (logical since this is a German translation). Think Herman Koch (more Dear Mr. M than The Dinner) and Based on a True Story, with the tension simmering and crackling beneath the surface rather than exploding in a more traditional, action-packed way. Full Review

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy. They read easy, but their stories still have great depth.

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid
Historical Fiction (Released June 13, 2017)
391 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.

My Thoughts: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in the brain candy class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. And, you might be surprised by where this story goes. Full Review

Trophy SonTrophy Son by Douglas Brunt by Douglas Brunt
Fiction – Sports (
Release Date May 30, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.

My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on the coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents, and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through. Excellent choice for sports fans.

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, books and reading (duh!), the Cold War, running, personality types, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of politics.

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeBooks for Living by Will Schwalbe
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 27, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.

My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. Full Review

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

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

My Thoughts: Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob (which was a similar book, but got too esoteric and intellectually snobby for my taste)! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned. Excellent choice for big-time bookworms.

Forty Autumns by Nina WillnerForty Autumns by Nina Willner
Nonfiction – History/Memoir (Released October 4, 2016)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.

My Thoughts: Forty Autumns is a fascinating look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. It’s highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson. Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers…and, pairing it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift!

My Year of Running Dangerously My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Nonfiction – Memoir/Sports (Released October 6, 2015)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.

My Thoughts: Not only is this memoir the story of an impressive running feat (prior to Foreman’s year of races, he hadn’t run since he was much younger), but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. It would make a great gift for a father or daughter that’s getting into running…and it’s great on audio!

Reading People by Anne BogelReading Peopleby Anne Bogel
Nonfiction (Released September 19, 2017)
226 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A primer on the major personality type frameworks including Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, and the 5 Love Languages.

My Thoughts: If you’re interested in personality types and how to apply your personality types to your own life, Reading People is an approachable place to start. It doesn’t go deep into any of these types, but it’s a good overview that can help you decide where you might like to go deep. Excellent choice for anyone interested in personality types or psychology.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Nonfiction – Memoir/Politics (Released March 21, 2017)
257 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.

My Thoughts: This is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! Excellent choice for women newly embarking on their careers or behind-the-scenes of politics junkies.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories…I find these books make great Dad gifts!

Ranger Games by Ben BlumRanger Games by Ben Blum
Nonfiction (Released September 12, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link:

Plot Summary: Alex Blum was a gregarious, athletic, popular teenager (think Pat Tillman) until he joined the U.S. Army Rangers and, within four months, robbed a bank. Written by Alex’s cousin, Ranger Games is the story of how this happened.

My Thoughts: While Alex’s story is pretty outrageous, Ranger Games goes deeper into the Army’s training methods, specifically for the Rangers. And, how the Ranger methods and philosophy could help turn a happy-go-lucky kid into a bank robber. It’s a little overly long, but would make a perfect Dad, Husband, or Father-in-Law gift.

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing LandAmerican Fire by Monica Hesse by Monica Hesse
Nonfiction (Released July 11, 2017)
259 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of the hunt for a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) who burned down abandoned buildings in Accomack County, a small, declining town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

My Thoughts: 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. It’s a well-told and engrossing story with a broad appeal beyond the true crime genre and is a perfect “gateway book” for those interested in dipping their toes into the true crime genre for the first time. Excellent choice for Virginians. Full Review

Killers of the Flower MoonKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Nonfiction (Released April 18, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of the systematic murder of many members of the Osage Indian Nation for their oil rights and the subsequent investigation into the killings.

My Thoughts: Killers of the Flower Moon is about the history of the Osage Indian Nation, oil drilling in America in the 1920’s, 1920’s law enforcement and the FBI’s first homicide case. Then, overlay all that with a murder mystery involving a stunning level of corruption that captivated the public interest at the time and you get a flawless blend of history and mystery. Excellent choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Goodbye Vitamin Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Fiction – Debut (
Released July 11, 2017)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Ruth returns to her parents’ home in the L.A. area to help care for her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

My Thoughts: Goodbye, Vitamin is the type of book that could get overlooked because it’s all about the intangibles, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking this one! Though this story is about a sad and serious topic, it has a lightness to it and is amusing at times. The story is told through Ruth’s journal entries that read like little vignettes, a format that worked for me in this case because I absolutely adored Ruth’s endearing, witty, real, and relatable voice. Excellent choice for young professionals. Full Review

Grit by Angela Duckworth Grit by Angela Duckworth
Nonfiction – Life Improvement (
Released May 13, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Duckworth uses examples from the military, sports, education, and business to illustrate how perseverance (rather than talent) is the best predictor of success. 

My Thoughts: The primary message seems like common sense, but Duckworth supports it with entertaining real life examples and multiple studies. It reinforced to me that you have far more control over your destiny than you think. Excellent choice for parents and anyone with a big-time goal in mind.

Mothering Sunday by Graham SwiftMothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Historical Fiction (Released April 26, 2016)
177 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.

My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all. It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from her Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey. Full Review

The Stranger in the WoodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel by Michael Finkel
Nonfiction (Released March 7, 2017)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of 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.

My Thoughts: This is one strange, but completely captivating story. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait, coupled with a look at today’s extraversion-oriented society. Christopher Knight is one of those people who makes you want to figure out what makes him tick. This is a quick read (or listen, in my case!) that’s perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Excellent choice for Dads, Father-in-Laws, brothers, and husbands.

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey by Meg Howrey
Fiction (Released March 14, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

My Thoughts: The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year. It’s first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. Full Review

Bookish Gifts

Kindle Oasis E-Reader (the latest Kindle upgrade)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Amazon has come out with its latest and greatest Kindle upgrade. Y’all know how devoted I am to my Kindle…I’d be reading far less without it. Its convenience can’t be beat. The Oasis has a couple fancy, new features: it’s waterproof  (yes, bathtub, pool float, and wine drinking readers rejoice!), you can listen to Audible audiobooks via Bluetooth directly from your Kindle, it’s battery lasts 9 weeks when paired with the leather cover it comes with, and it has a thinner and lighter sloped design that’s supposed to mimic a book’s spine.

Lit Chat (a literary discussion game)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Created by literary media company, Book Riot (I’m a big fan of their blog posts and podcasts!), Lit Chat is a game intended to get people talking about books and reading. It comes with 50 cards containing all kinds of bookish questions (such as “what book would you want with you if you were stuck on a desert island?”) designed to spark debate about books. A few rounds of Lit Chat would be a great addition to any book club gathering!

“F Off, I’m Reading” Socks 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

A friend gave me these amazing socks earlier this year and I burst out laughing! They pretty much perfectly reflect my state of mind about 80% of the day. Excellent stocking stuff for any bookworm not afraid of a little F bomb! But, if you’re averse to the language, the same company also makes cute “Stop Talking” and “I Heard You and I Don’t Care” versions.

Happy Holidays!

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The Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club Judges (including a free download!)

September 29, 2017 Book Recommendations 12

Ultimate Guide to Book of the Month Club Judges


This year, I started a monthly feature sharing my commentary on all the Book of the Month Club selections and which ones I’d choose that month. Putting these posts together got me thinking about creative ways to help Book of the Month Club members choose the monthly selection that is right for them.

In my monthly commentary feature, I focus on the books. I research each selection, tap into chatter from the book community, and sometimes I’ll get lucky and have already read one or more of the selections, enabling me to share my personal thoughts on those books. Hopefully, enabling Book of the Month Club members to choose the right book for their personal taste.

But, I recently started focusing on the Book of the Month Club judges in addition to the books. Many of the judges pop up over and over again, creating a track record of their selections…which you can analyze to figure out what types of books certain judges tend to choose and which judges are most compatible with your personal taste.

So, I analyzed every Book of the Month Club selection from the club’s inception and created The Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club Judges showing the tastes and track record of every recurring judge that has appeared somewhat recently, which you can use to find your personal, go-to Book of the Month Club judges…and your personal no-go judges!

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

How to Join Book of the Month Club…

Book of the Month Club 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 Club, 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 Club’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 Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). Book of the Month Club 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 Club 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

The Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club Judges

Lighter Literary Fiction

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (author of The Nest)

Rachel Syme (Writer)

  • Not overly heavy fiction
  • Also picked Lucky You by Erika Carter
  • Pick that Didn’t Work for Me: The Windfall

Serious Literary Fiction

Alexander Chee (author of The Queen of the Night)

Elizabeth Kiefer (Books & Senior Features Editor, Refinery 29)

  • Mostly serious literary fiction
  • Seems to focus on diverse fiction
  • Pick I Liked: American Fire (my review, only nonfiction book she’s picked)
  • Pick that Didn’t Work for Me: The Leavers

Isaac Fitzgerald (Books Editor at Buzzfeed Books)

Laia Garcia (Deputy Editor, Lenny Letter)

Leigh Haber (Books Editor, O Magazine)

Maris Kreizman (Book of the Month Club Editorial Director)

Nina Sankovitch (Bestselling Author)

Morgan Jerkins (Writer)

Thrillers

Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

Sarah Weinman (writer, editor and “Crime Lady”)

Young Adult (YA)

Dana Schwartz (Author)

Katie Cotugno (Bestselling Author)

Eclectic Judges

Kevin Nguyen (Digital Deputy Editor, GQ Magazine)

Kim Hubbard (Books Editor for People Magazine)

Steph Opitz (Book Reviewer at Marie Claire)

Stacey Armand (“You Be the Judge” Contest Winner)

Tyler Coates (Culture Editor at GQ)

Kristen Iversen (Author)

Siobhan Jones (BOTM Editorial Director)

  • A new judge from inside the BOTM walls.
  • So far, she’s picked two literary fiction novels (Rainbirds and The Mars Room) and a thriller (Our Kind of Cruelty).
  • I haven’t read any of her selections yet.

Who are MY go-to Book of the Month Club judges?

Kim Hubbard is my number one, go-to judge!

Sarah Weinman is in second place…she also picks books in genres that don’t normally work for me, but her picks in those genres do work for me!

Finally, Laia Garcia has only appeared on the judges panel three times and I’m 2 for 3 on her picks (I haven’t read her third pick yet). I hope she pops up more frequently!

If you generally like books I recommend on my blog, focusing on these three judges’ picks is probably a good idea!

Who are MY no-go Book of the Month Club judges?

Rachel Syme, Alexander Chee, and Elizabeth Kiefer are my top no-go judges.

Cristina Arreola is in second place…not surprising since she focuses on a genre I tend to have trouble with in general (thrillers).

I have liked one of these judge’s picks here and there, but if I’m on the fence about a book, I’m likely to decide against it if it was chosen by one of these judges.

How to find YOUR go-to and no-go Book of the Month Club judges

  • Download my free template below.
  • In the spreadsheet, look for the genre categories that you generally prefer. You can skip this step if you want to consider every single judge as an option for you.
  • Look for Columns D, E and F (Read?, Liked?, Interested in Reading?). For each book you’ve read, use the dropdown menu change the “No” to “Yes”. Do the same for “Liked?” and “Interested in Reading?”
  • Look in the Total Column (Column G) to find your go-to and no-go judges! The go-to’s are obviously the ones with the highest numerical total and the no-go’s are the ones with the lowest…and preferably negative numerical total (highlighted in yellow).

Using this guide, who are your go-to Book of the Month Club judges?

Book Turn-Offs: Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Run Away from a Book

April 25, 2017 Book Lists 28

Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Run Away From a Book
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) topic is Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to NOT Read A Book.

This topic is the flip side of last week’s Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book. And, I actually prefer this version because the snark can come out!

This post contains affiliate links.

Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

Cheesy Romance…
I love a good love triangle on TV (Hart of Dixie, One Tree Hill…yep, I admit to watching the ridiculous CW network shows) and in movies (Sweet Home Alabama), but I just can’t stomach it in my reading. Something about the cheesy banter. However, I’m not against a good hate/love storyline (The Roanoke Girls, Dead Letters).

Comparisons to Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train
Publishers need to just stop this already! It’s completely overdone and regularly slapped on books that don’t remotely resemble the two gigantic Girl books (A Separation is the most recent egregious example).

Magical Realism
I just have trouble buying into stuff like this. And, I’ve skipped some recent hit novels (The Underground Railroad, Exit West) because of it.

Mommy Politics
UGH! I try to run far away from this in my daily life…why would I want it invading my precious, peaceful reading time?! It’s why I can’t abide Liane Moriarty and hated Cutting Teeth (my review).

Overly Formal or Flowery Writing
I wrote a whole post about the kind of writing I adore and it boils down to simple, spare, and hard-hitting. The formal writing is why I couldn’t get onboard with A Gentleman in Moscow (my review).

Endings That Are Too Neatly Tied Up
I like some sort of closure that leaves me satisfied (which can be an open ending that make sense with the story), but I can’t stand when every single tiny thing is answered in the last chapter. The worst offenders are those epilogues that skip forward a decade to tell you where each character ended up ten years later (i.e. The Nest).

Series
I just can’t commit to three, four, or more books about the same story. I recently read the first two books in Greg Iles’s Natchez Burning (my review) series and have no urge to pick up the final book (Mississippi Blood) that just came out. 

Certain Covers
Like the ones you typically find on romance or fantasy books.

“Beautiful” War Novels
I used to love these, but am just kind of burned out. This one may be temporary…we’ll see.

Celebrity Comedian Memoirs
I don’t generally find these as funny as I think I’m supposed to (Bossypants, Yes PleaseDad Is Fat). I think I prefer more subtle, unexpected humor.

What are your biggest book turn-offs?

Looking for a specific book recommendation? I’ve got you covered!
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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/27/17)

March 27, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 30

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.

This post contains affiliate links.

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.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

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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Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections: What Would I Choose?

February 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 25

Book of the Month Club February 2017 selections

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.


Do you want help choosing from the five Book of the Month Club selections each month?

Welcome to my new monthly feature “Book of the Month Club Selections: What Would I Choose?”! Every month, I’ll provide commentary on the books that are chosen as that month’s Book of the Month Club selections and tell you which book(s) I would choose.

Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections

Pachinko, Min Jin LeePachinko by Min Jin Lee (Release Date: February 7, 2017)
496 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.32
Selected By: Alexander Chee (author of  The Queen of the Night)

For readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone.

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

My Thoughts:
I’ve seen this book around (by around, I mean I’ve seen other bloggers I follow mention that they’re interested in reading it), but I haven’t seen that any of them have actually read it yet. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, mainly due to its length and heavy subject matter (just not what I have the mental space for at the moment).

Update: A little more information about Pachinko from Beth Fish Reads.

The Animators, Kayla Rae WhitakerThe Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (Released: January 31, 2017)
384 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.18
Selected By: Cynthia Sweeney D’Aprix (author of The Nest)

At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. […] A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, and with the release of their first full-length feature, a fearless look at Mel’s childhood, they stand at the cusp of success. […] When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, threatening their partnership—and hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.

My Thoughts:
Susie at Novel Visits, a blogger who has similar taste to mine, said this debut novel was her favorite book of the year so far and wrote this glowing review. Consequently, I added it to my “must at least try before the end of the year” TBR list.

Update: Here’s one more review from a blogger I follow (52 Books or Bust)…it’s not as positive as Susie’s and will give you a different perspective. Also, Liberty Hardy mentioned on today’s All the Books podcast that this book has a chance to be one of her favorites of the year.

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah PinboroughBehind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Released: January 31, 2017)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.06
Selected By: Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. […] As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

My Thoughts:
This twisty psychological thriller has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (seriously, when will publishers get sick of these comparisons?!) and apparently has a controversial ending that people will be talking about. Beth Fish Reads, a blogger I follow, shared these thoughts on it. If you like psychological thrillers and/or want to be a part of the conversation about that ending, this one might be a good choice for you.

Perfect Little World, Kevin WilsonPerfect Little World by Kevin Wilson (Released: January 24, 2017)
352 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.81
Selected By: Maris Kreizman (Book of the Month Club Editorial Director)

When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s just about out of options. […] So when Dr. Grind offers her a space in The Infinite Family Project, she accepts. Housed in a spacious compound in Tennessee, she joins nine other couples, all with children the same age as her newborn son, to raise their children as one extended family. Grind’s theory is that the more parental love a child receives, the better off they are.

My Thoughts:
Perfect Little World has gotten starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist and the premise sounds intriguing. Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books, a blogger whose taste I trust implicitly, thinks I would like it. So, it’s joined The Animators on my “must at least try before the end of the year” TBR list.

The Possessions, Sara Flannery MurphyThe Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Released: February 7, 2017)
368 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.82
Selected By: Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances.

My Thoughts:
This is another psychological thriller with the obligatory comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, BUT is also being compared to Station Eleven (review) and Margaret Atwood, which is definitely a combination I’ve never seen before. Another blogger I follow (Michelle at That’s What She Read) shared her brief thoughts about it on Monday. I’m sort of burned out on psychological thrillers and am generally skeptical of comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, so I probably wouldn’t choose this one.

Update: Michelle at That’s What She Read has now posted her full review.

What Book of the Month Club February 2017 selection(s) would I choose?

My choices this month would be The Animators and Perfect Little World!

Make your Book of the Month Club selections by Monday, February 6th.

For anyone unfamiliar with Book of the Month Club…

Book of the Month Club 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 Club, you can get a hardcover book for $9.99, which is 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 Club’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 Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge) for $9.99 per month. Book of the Month Club 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 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month Book of the Month membership!
(Special February Deal: get a free BOTM tote when you sign up for a 3 month membership)

Book of the Month Club


*All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

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Books that Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016

November 28, 2016 0

Books that make perfect holiday gifts 2016


A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift! Each year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

Commonwealth, Ann PatchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Fiction (Released September 13, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: Commonwealth is a simply and perfectly told story of a cobbled together family…and is one of my favorite books of 2016! Every member of the blended Keating/Cousins family behaves dreadfully, but I was somewhat sympathetic towards all of them. Continue Reading…

Only Love Can Break Your HeartOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Southern (Released January 5, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
When Richard (aka “Rocky”) was eight years old, his rebellious older half-brother, Paul, disappears without explanation, setting off a chain of events that impact their family and community in rural Spencerville, Virginia.
My Thoughts:
The awkward and innocent, yet calculating voice of Rocky made this Southern coming of age story sparkle…and reminded me a bit of My Sunshine Away, one of my favorite books of 2015. While I wouldn’t call this debut novel “Grit Lit”, it is a top-notch Southern coming of age story. And like My Sunshine Away, there is “action” and suspense in this story, but it really serves as a vehicle for Rocky’s coming of age, not the other way around. Continue Reading…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd involvement with an older teenager named Suzanne and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life on a dilapidated ranch.
My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, was one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Continue Reading…

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker and/or tackle more fraught issues than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!  

Dear Fang With Love, Rufi ThorpeDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
303 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a psychotic break at a party, seventeen year-old Vera accompanies her father (who has been absent for most of her life) on an European history tour to Lithuania, where her paternal grandmother grew up.

My Thoughts: It’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is truly about because it’s about teen angst, mental illness, and family history and relationships without being overly about any one of those things. They all kind of balance each other out into a story that ends up being about the people (mainly Vera and her father). I adored Vera. She’s precocious, insightful, quirky, troubled, yet sometimes comes across as the surprising voice of reason. Continue Reading…

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.
My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Continue Reading…

Sweetbitter, Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When twenty two year-old Tess comes to New York City looking to start her adult life, she lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a fictional Union Square restaurant that sounds a lot like Union Square Cafe…and experiences an unimaginable education in food, wine, life, and love.

My Thoughts: Sweetbitter was my fourth 5 star book of the year! This is one of those books where the cover and premise could deceive you into thinking you’re getting “brain candy”. What you’re actually getting is a smart, exquisitely written coming of age story set in the rough and tumble world of top-notch restaurantsContinue Reading…

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Continue Reading…

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir is short, sweet and hopeful…and focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works. Continue Reading…

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth StroutMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: During a long hospital stay, Lucy Barton has a heartfelt conversation with her mother spanning topics from her difficult childhood to gossip from her hometown to her marriage and motherhood.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was an unexpected winner for me. The story focuses on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, but it feels more about Lucy’s own life: her childhood, what it was like to grow up poor and never quite fit in, and her adult life. This is one of those books that has all the intangibles. Continue Reading…

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction – Essays (Released July 10, 2012)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of the best of The RumpusDear Sugar advice columns, authored by Cheryl Strayed (anonymously at the time).

My Thoughts: I usually find advice columns cheesy and not particularly relevant to my own life. Trust me when I tell you these advice columns are nothing like that. Strayed is warm, relatable, and non-judgmental in her counsel and most people will find something in this book that pertains to their own life past or present. If you have friends or family members who have had tough years, this is the book for them (as long as they don’t mind a few F bombs).

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Continue Reading…

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos.
My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. Continue Reading…

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy.

The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. LeeThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction (Released January 12, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A story about life as an American expat in Hong Kong told through the eyes of three women: Margaret (a married mother of three recovering from a tragedy), Mercy (a twenty-something Korean American Columbia grad trying to get her life on track), and Hilary (a housewife struggling with fertility).

My Thoughts: The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary. I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances. Continue Reading…

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.
My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Continue Reading…

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Released: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.
My Thoughts: 
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. Continue Reading…

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, restaurants, entrepreneurship, running, and global travel.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows you chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture.

Originals, Adam M. GrantOriginals by Adam M. Grant
Nonfiction – Business / Social Analysis (Released February 2, 2016)
326 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An analysis of how to get ahead by being a non-conformist…using real-life examples from the worlds of business, politics, sports, and Hollywood.

My Thoughts: This combination economic / social analysis, business how-to guide, and “life lessons” book is a must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and contains tons of Malcolm Gladwell-esque data analysis. In that sense, it’s far more engaging than your average business book. It also has a strangely motivating quality, which left me wanting to try out a new idea for the blog…and having a better understanding of how to go about it. Plus, it’s great on audio!

Run the World, Becky WadeRun the World by Becky Wade
Nonfiction – Running (Released July 5, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Following a successful career at Rice University, elite runner Becky Wade used her Watson Fellowship to travel the world learning about running cultures in nine different countries.

My Thoughts: Run the World is part travel memoir, part sports memoir…with a bit of practical advice for recreational and competitive runners mixed in. I loved learning about different countries’s widely varied approaches to training and about the local “athletes’s” diet in each of them. An excellent choice for friends with the running bug or general wanderlust.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories.

American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin, Patty HearstAmerican Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin
Nonfiction – Crime/Biogossip (Released August 2, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and her subsequent trial for bank robbery.

My Thoughts: As it turns out, I knew way less about this saga than I thought I did! It’s a truly fascinating story that goes far beyond kidnapping and bank robbery. It covers the political climate of the 1970’s, class warfare, race, Stockholm’s Syndrome, and the media, among other themes. This thing was basically the OJ Simpson debacle of the 1970’s.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Continue Reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.

My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobilityContinue Reading…

Love Loss and What We Ate, Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 8, 2016)
324 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi shares the story of her global upbringing, her love of food, her career as a model and television host, and her personal life.

My Thoughts: This memoir has a little of everything: celebrity gossip (including the literary kind), behind-the-scenes Top Chef scoop, her struggle with finding a balance between her Indian upbringing and her American life, her struggle with weight (believe it or not, she actually had one), and her struggle with fertility and endometriosis. This lady is not just a pretty face!

Why They Run the Way They Do, Susan PeraboWhy They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Short Stories (Released February 16, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of short stories featuring the darker undertones of daily life.

My Thoughts: Short stories have historically been a tough sell for me, but I’m trying to be more open to them after loving Nickolas Butler’s Beneath the Bonfire last year. I’m so glad I gave Why They Run the Way They Do a shot because it’s now only the second short story collection I’ve truly enjoyed from start to finish. On the surface, these stories are about mundane daily life…a harmless middle school prank, a child’s toy, spending time with your mother after some bad news…but, they have a darkness simmering just underneath. Continue Reading…

Gift-y Books

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyA Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released October 25, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts: This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces. As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Continue Reading…

Natgeo Instagram Photos@NatGeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photographs by National Geographic
Released October 25, 2016
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: A collection of the most “liked, commented on, and favorite photos” from the @Natgeo Instagram account.

My Thoughts: This coffee table-type book would make a fabulous gift for travel, nature and/or animal lovers…big or small (we’re getting it for our 5 year old animal fanatic son).

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