Posts By: Sarah Dickinson

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: On Appreciating, Yet Not Loving A Book (Part 2)

October 19, 2017 Southern Fiction 6

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn WardFiction
Released September 5, 2017
285 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Scribner)


Though I can see why the critics love Sing, Unburied, Sing, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it and had trouble connecting with the story.

Plot Summary

Set in Mississippi, the story of JoJo and Kayla, two mixed race children who grow up in their black grandparents’ house (with the sporadic presence of their drug addict mother, Leonie), and the road trip to pick up their white father (Michael) from prison.

Why I Read It

Though I didn’t finish Ward’s previous National Book Award winner, Salvage the Bones, I wanted to give her latest a try since it, too, was a Finalist for the National Book Award.

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Drugs, Race, Poverty, Family

What I Liked

  • The writing is unquestionably the star of this book. Its first line and chapter (and really the whole book) are raw and vivid and I was highlighting like crazy throughout. It’s the kind of writing that’s sparse, hard-hitting, and can really gut you at times, which usually works well for me.
  • JoJo and Kayla are heart-breaking characters and I wanted to wrap them up and take them home with me. They go through an incredible amount of trauma caused by the adults.
  • And, Pop (Jojo and Kayla’s grandfather) does his best trying to parent them in their parents’ absence. He’s the wise character trying to shape JoJo into a good man and I adored him.
  • The story has a mystical quality similar to Sara Taylor’s The Shore (my review). Ward’s writing about the land, the weather, the animals and their connection to the human spirit sets the atmosphere and there is also a bit of herbal medicine going on. I liked all these elements, but the mysticism went a bit too far for me in other ways (see below).

What I Didn’t Like

  • The feeling I had while reading Sing, Unburied, Sing was similar to how I felt while reading A Gentleman in Moscow (Part 1 of this post topic) and, to a certain extent, Exit West. These books are critical darlings and I could objectively see the elements that have the critics falling all over themselves. But, something in each book didn’t quite connect with me and I kept zoning out while reading. I’m glad I read them, but was never dying to pick them up along the way. And, while I can tick off a number of positive attributes about each one, I can’t say I loved reading them or would widely recommend them to others.
  • A large element of the story involves a ghost named Richie and that entire storyline didn’t work for me. I didn’t see the purpose in him having such a big role in JoJo and Kayla’s story and, even if I accept that role as it was, I don’t understand why he had to be a ghost. His story could have been told another, less perplexing way.
  • This is absolutely not the book for you if you’re looking trying to read for entertainment or to escape…it’s an emotionally tough read.

A Defining Quote

All’s quiet in the house, and for a stupid second I wonder why Leonie and Michael ain’t arguing about him hitting Kayla. And then I remember. They don’t care.

Good for People Who Like…

Grit Lit, emotional gut-wrenchers, gorgeous writing, serious literary fiction, critical darlings

Other Books You May Like

Another emotionally tough book that mystically roots you in its setting:
The Shore by Sara Taylor (my review)

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What I’m Reading Now (10/16/17)

October 16, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

Oh man…my library holds are rolling in (don’t you love how they all invariably come in at the same time?!) and I’m hoping I can get through them before Nonfiction November starts!

On that note, join us for a month celebrating the often pushed-to-the-backburner genre of Nonfiction! There will be themed link-ups, a book swap, an Instagram challenge, and lots of nonfiction reading…learn more here.

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Sing Unburied Sing, Daring to Drive
Sing, Unburied, Sing
 by Jesmyn Ward (September 5, 2017)

I felt the same about this National Book Award Finalist as I did about A Gentleman in Moscow and Exit West. Full review to come later this week.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif (June 13, 2017)
This is one eye-opening, heart-breaking, and enraging read. And al-Sharif is one brave woman. She started the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and this book is the story of her life as well as a stark portrayal of the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia. Perfect for anyone who loved The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review) and excellent on audio.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

Ranger Games
by Ben Blum (September 12, 2017)
This is one crazy story (a couple U.S. Army Rangers rob a bank). A bit overly long (not not even close to the point where I’m dying for it to be over), but entertaining and has some interesting insights to chew on. I’m almost finished with it. And, keep this one in your back pocket as a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
by John Boyne (August 22, 2017)
This hefty novel has been getting raves from bloggers I trust and my library hold finally came in! I’m trying, but failing, to keep my expectations at a reasonable level. Who am I kidding…I actually think this is my last hope for a clear Best Book of 2017.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I finished reading one of my favorites of 2016…and was about to start another!

Two Years Ago: I was in a bit of a slump…kind of like right now!

How was your reading week?

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A Criminal in the Family: The Best Kind of People and Fear

October 12, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 10

What would you do if a family member is accused of a horrific crime? Both these books address this situation in very different ways. In one, the accused a beloved family man and pillar of the community, while the other accused is a gun-loving somewhat absentee father. Regardless, each family is left reeling and there is far more to the story than they imagined.

Best Kind of People by Zoe WhittallThe Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Fiction (
Released September 19, 2017)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Ballantine Books)

Plot Summary: When George Woodbury, a beloved teacher and pillar of the small community of Avalon Hills, is accused of sexual misconduct, his family tries to navigate their upturned world.

My Thoughts: The Best Kind of People is what I call an “aftermath book.” It’s not a page-turner about George Woodbury’s alleged crimes, but more an exploration of the repercussions on his wife and two children (one grown and one still in high school). It explores the conflicted feelings of the loved ones surrounding someone accused of a horrific crime, when you’re forced to reset your view of someone you love and respect, and the unique implications of this playing out in a small, upscale community. I enjoyed all these elements of the story.

However, a couple things bothered me. First, Sadie Woodbury (George’s high school aged daughter) constantly spouted facts and figures about sexual assault, which made the “issue” angle of the book feel heavy-handed. And, without spoiling anything, I wish the existing ending had occurred a little earlier in the book and we’d gotten to explore a bit of the aftermath following the big reveal. Following everything the Woodburys had to face with George, I wondered how they’d face that final turn of events. Despite these flaws, I do think The Best Kind of People would make a great book club selection…lots to discuss here.

Fear by Dirk KurbjuweitFear by Dirk Kurbjuweit
Fiction – Translation (
Released October 3, 2017)
272 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Harper)

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. I love this type of story and Fear was no exception. 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. I could feel the tension of the Tiefenthaler family trying to hold it together in the face of this evil outside force and loved how Kurbjuweit explores the family’s reactions along the way.

Fear is a bit of an untraditional thriller, which tend to work better for me than the traditional kind. It’s chock full of keen observations about marriage, Randolph’s experience as the son of a gun-loving father, and Randolph’s childhood growing up in Cold War-era Berlin. That being said, this type of thriller is not for everyone and some readers might be hard-pressed to even call it a thriller. But as someone who generally has trouble with run-of-the-mill thrillers, Fear stood out for me.

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Backlist Beauties: The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

October 10, 2017 Book Lists 20

Since my Fall reading has been so lackluster, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the best backlist books I’ve read in 2017 so far. When new releases aren’t working for you…dive into the backlist for some relief!

I always say I’m going to make more time for backlist titles and, every year, I don’t follow through. My goal is to read enough additional backlist titles by the end of the year to warrant another Backlist Beauties post!

This post contains affiliate links.

The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

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

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. And, I’m now in the process of reading a couple books Schwalbe talked about in Books for Living (What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). This book would be a fantastic gift for serious readers or someone who is reflecting a bit on life. 

Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Fiction – Thriller / Sci-Fi (Released July 26, 2016)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: After college physics professor Jason Dessen is abducted at gunpoint one night, he awakens in another world.

My Thoughts: Despite the hype, I avoided this book for quite awhile because I’m decidedly NOT into sci-fi. But, Dark Matter is sci-fi like The Martian (my review) is sci-fi (i.e. it has broad appeal). There’s definitely some science in it, but the story is deeply human and is more about life choices than the science. The story begins with a “WTF is going on here” vibe reminiscent of The Beautiful Bureaucrat (my review). I had no idea what was going on for awhile, but could not stop reading. Dark Matter is a page-turner in the purest sense…with an action-level on par with an episode of 24

No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Fiction (Released May 3, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A multi-generational family saga of the impact of depression and mental illness on a family.

My Thoughts: Incredibly sad, but poignant, this 2016 National Book Award Long-Lister is beautifully written and captures the frustration, resentment, and crushing sense of responsibility and worry that come with having a family member who suffers from mental illness. While extended sections from Michael’s perspective are hard to read and nonsensical at times with long tangents on esoteric music, they serve a distinct purpose (allowing the reader inside mind of someone suffering from depression). And, the second half flows beautifully toward the inevitable, yet still drama-filled conclusion.

There is no getting better. There is love I cannot bear, which has kept me from drifting entirely loose. There are the medicines I can take that flood my mind without discrimination, slowing the monster, moving the struggle underwater, where I then must live in the murk. But there is no killing the beast. Since I was a young man, it has hunted me. And it will hunt me until I am dead. The older I become, the closer it gets.

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

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!

Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward: We are good parents, not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us.

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

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 (maybe also because I’m not a romance fan). It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from the 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.

It was called “relaxation,” she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid’s vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid’s vocabulary. Even the word “vocabulary.” She gathered them up like one of those nest-building birds outside. And was she even a maid any more, stretched here on his bed? And was he even a “master”? It was the magic, the perfect politics of nakedness. More than relaxation: peace.

One True Thing by Anna QuindlenOne True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Fiction (August 30, 1994)
315 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Random House)

Plot Summary: Ellen Gulden returns home from her prestigious job as a New York City journalist to care for her mother as she’s dying of cancer…only to be accused her mercy killing.

My Thoughts: I’m a bit late to the Anna Quindlen party, but she’s fast becoming a go-to author for me whenever I’m craving some “life lessons/perspective” in my reading. She just gets life…especially marriage, motherhood, and women’s work/life balance. One True Thing explores the relationship between Ellen (an ambitious career woman) and her mother (a Stepford-style stay-at-home mother) and their efforts to understand each other as people before it’s too late. This novel is heartfelt, sad, moving, and thought-provoking and reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton (a novel about a mother and daughter getting to know each other during a hospital stay) and Home is Burning (a memoir about children serving as caregivers for their parents). 

But in the end what was important was not that we had so misunderstood one another, but that we had so misunderstood her, this woman who had made us who we were while we barely noticed it.

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What I’m Reading Now (10/9/17)

October 9, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 20

I’m seeing so many people on social media talk about how they’re thrilled Fall weather is finally coming…well, don’t count me among them! I’m loving this Indian Summer and will gladly wear shorts a bit longer. My reading is looking up a bit…I think. I’m on the precipice and it could go either way.

Last week, I started a new Instagram series. I love the first lines of books and agree with authors Doug Brunt and Pat Conroy (and I’m sure many others) who say the good ones tell you almost everything you need to know about the book. So, I’ll be sharing favorite first lines from my reading on Instagram. Follow me at sarahsbookshelves!

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

 by Dirk Kurbjuweit (October 3, 2017)

Whew – first book I’ve confidently liked since August! It’s got a Herman Koch vibe (more Dear Mr. M than The Dinner). Mini review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward (September 5, 2017)

I’m almost finished this National Book Award Finalist and I can totally see why it’s racking up critical accolades. The writing is raw and vivid and the story is a sad portrait of hard lives. Yet…I keep zoning out. This is becoming a pattern for me with certain types of books.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us
 by Francesca Hornak (October 17, 2017)
DNF at 27%. This one was so-so and an easy read. It would’ve been easy to keep going, but I didn’t want to waste my time on yet another easy, but forgettable book. On another note, it’s the 3rd book that got lots of buzz at this year’s Book Expo America that has bombed for me. Hmm…maybe a recommendation source to ignore in the future?

Upcoming reading plans…

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

Ranger Games
by Ben Blum (September 12, 2017)
I was planning to save this true story about a seemingly normal Army Ranger who up and robs a bank for Nonfiction November, but I desperately need a change of pace. So, I’m starting early.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading one of my favorites of 2016…I was also on a reading hot streak!

Two Years Ago: I read one of my go-to recovery books!

How was your reading week?

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September 2017 Monthly Round-Up

October 5, 2017 Monthly Round-Ups 6

September 2017 Monthly Round-Up

This post contains affiliate links.

September Reading / Life

My Favorite Book(s) of the Month

Best Book of the Month

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (September 19, 2017)
Fiction, 448 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

PS – last year’s Best Books of September were Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (my review) and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi!

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

For the second straight month…
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker (my review)

And, a backlist favorite…
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

October Releases I’m Excited About

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit (October 3)*
The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst (October 17)

*I’ve already read it and really liked it!

Most Popular Posts

Posts Actually Published in September
10 Hyped Books I Wish I Hadn’t Finished
Book of the Month Club September 2017 Selections: What Would I Choose?

Was 2017 the Summer of Overhyped Books?

Overall Posts
Book Club Recommendations

Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion (#WTFthatending)
Best Books of 2017 So Far

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

How was your reading month? Hopefully better than mine!

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Nonfiction November 2017 is coming soon!

October 3, 2017 Blogger Events 15

Nonfiction November 2017


I’m thrilled to be co-hosting 2017’s Nonfiction November with Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Julie at Julz Reads, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness! Nonfiction November is a month dedicated to celebrating nonfiction…we’ll talk about our favorites, trade recommendations, discuss our nonfiction reading habits, and hopefully discover some new book blogs!

Personally, I tend to push nonfiction to the back burner in favor of the shiny, new fiction releases, so I always appreciate this month of re-focus on a genre I love, but tend to ignore sometimes. And, after this year of Fall fiction, I’ve been especially itching for a change of pace!

Hope to see you in November!

Nonfiction November Schedule of Events

Week 1 (Oct. 30 to Nov. 3)

Introductions and Your Nonfiction Year So Far (Hosted by Julie at Julz Reads)
Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Week 2 (Nov. 6 to Nov. 10)

Nonfiction / Fiction Book Pairing (Hosted by Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves)
Pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Week 3 (Nov. 13 to Nov. 17)

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

Week 4 (Nov. 20 to Nov. 24)

Nonfiction Favorites (Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey)
We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Week 5 (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1)

New to my TBR Hosted by (Lory at Emerald City Book Review)
It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Nonfiction Book Swap Sign-Ups  

This year, we’ll be bringing back the nonfiction book swap!  If you sign up for this swap, you’re committing to sending your swap partner at least one nonfiction book (or more if you want), mailed/ordered in time to arrive by the end of November. You can send books yourself or order them and have them sent directly to your partner. Katie suggests The Book Depository as a great way to send books internationally if you and your partner are in different countries. Sign-ups will be open until Nov 3rd and Katie will do her best to have partner info to everyone by Nov 5th. Sign-up here:

Possibilities for my Nonfiction November Reading List

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (January 1, 1994)
A writing guide by a legendary writer who I’ve yet to read

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner (October 4, 2016)
The story of a family caught on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (August 1, 1998)
A tiny “reading life” memoir by an author I’m trying to read as much of as possible

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul (June 13, 2017)
Another “reading life” memoir…

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild (August 16, 2016)
The book frequently mentioned as the logical next read if you liked Hillbilly Elegy

Ranger Games by Ben Blum (September 12, 2017)
An Army Ranger holds up a bank…the question is “why?”

Red Notice by Bill Browder (February 3, 2015)
A real-life “political thriller” about an American financier in Russia tangling with the Kremlin

The Futilitarians by Anne Gisleson (August 22, 2017)
A grief memoir

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (May 2, 2017)
The story of the girls who worked in the radium factories during WWI…with detrimental consequences

What are you thinking about reading for Nonfiction November? Does anyone have any thoughts on the books on my list? Which books should I kick to the top?

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What I’m Reading Now (10/2/17)

October 2, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 16

Fall books are still proving tough for me, but I’ve now found at least a few I actually enjoyed! Usually, at least one of my Top 3 books of the year comes from the Fall release crop, but I’m thinking that may not happen this year. On a better note, I started watching USA’s The Sinner and am totally hooked! It’s dark, twisty, demented…and perfect!

I posted less than usual on the blog last week, but it was because I was working hard on my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club JUDGES, where I compiled every BOTM judge’s selection track record into an easy-to-use guide (and Excel template) that will help you find the judges that are most compatible with your reading taste! October selections are out…check out my commentary on all the books and the judges guide (including free template) to help you choose the perfect book for your taste!

#Buildsarahsbookshelves Library Update

I’m putting together a very selective library for my new (but small) built-in bookshelves and am sharing each book I acquire on Instagram (follow me at sarahsbookshelves)! And, I’m trying to acquire all these new books at rock bottom prices.

Round 1 of my shelves is complete and, last week, I shared the “blue books” shelf! This just includes my “A List” books…I’ll be adding more books and some decorative things for Round 2.

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

The Best Kind of People
 by Zoe Whittall (September 19, 2017)
A pretty good read, though not perfect. I think this one would make a great book club selection. Mini review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

 by Dirk Kurbjuweit (October 3, 2017)

Finally, something is working for me! Herman Koch (author of one of my favorites, The Dinner) recommended this German thriller and it surprisingly does remind me of the tone of Koch’s books. It’s rare that an author’s blurb actually pans out like this! I’m almost halfway through and, so far, it’s more story of a family rather than thriller, but there is definitely a good amount of suspense.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Manhattan Beach, Lie to Me

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (October 3, 2017)
Despite all the awards and the fact that this book is an October Book of the Month Club selection, I thought it was slow and introduced too many characters too quickly, causing me to glaze over. Some trusted blogger friends who read farther than I did also said it was a slog. DNF at 9%.

Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison (September 5, 2017)
Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy said this psychological thriller was “best in class” for “domestic noir,” so I gave it a shot despite my general hesitancy about this genre. But, through the first 9%, I thought it was pretty standard psych thriller fare and put it down.

Upcoming reading plans…

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us
 by Francesca Hornak (October 17, 2017)
This debut novel features a family cooped up together over the holidays and is supposed to be “warm, wry, and sharply observed.” Kind of reminds me of This Is Where I Leave You or the movie Christmas Vacation. Those are the fantastic examples…I’ve also found that a lot of books like this fall flat. Hopefully, this will be one of the winners!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was having a letdown following two 5 star books in a row.

Two Years Ago: I read one of my top 3 books of 2015!

How was your reading week?

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Book of the Month Club October 2017 Selections: What Book Should You Choose?

October 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 10

Book of the Month Club October 2017 Selections

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

Do you want to know more about the five Book of the Month Club October 2017 selections before making your choice(s)? Welcome to my monthly feature “Book of the Month Club Selections: What Book Should You Choose?”! Every month, I provide commentary on the books that are chosen as that month’s Book of the Month Club selections that will hopefully help you choose your pick, and tell you which book(s) I’m going to choose.

Some of this month’s selections are head-scratchers. Usually, Book of the Month Club focuses on new releases (books that are either coming out in the current month or came out at the end of the previous month), but this month contains a November release and a book that came out all the way back in 2016. Odd. I’m not nearly as excited about the October crop as I was about last month’s selections.

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

Book of the Month Club October 2017 Selections

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie LangBeasts Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (Release Date: November 7, 2017)
352 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.35 on 131 ratings
Selected By: Steph Opitz (Book Reviewer at Marie Claire)

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

Beasts Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

My Thoughts:
This debut novel  has been described as warm and charming. From what I can tell, there could be some elements of magical realism and a memorable main character. Solely based on the publisher’s blurb, Weylyn made me think of Owen Meany, but that’s 100% my speculation. Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave said it was “Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of the usual sources (Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly) reviewed this one in advance of publication. On the surface, this novel seems a bit too weird for me without significant vetting by others first and magical realism always makes me nervous.

The Power by Naomi AldermanThe Power by Naomi Alderman (Released: October 27, 2016)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.95 on 10,704 ratings
Selected By: Laia Garcia (Deputy Editor, Lenny Letter)

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

My Thoughts:
This novel won the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and is a story of “how the world would change if power was in the hands of women.” It’s been described as dystopian, speculative fiction and feminist science fiction…and been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. Alderman was apparently mentored and inspired by Margaret Atwood and the book is dedicated to her. Kirkus gave it a starred review, calling it “fast-paced, thrilling, and even funny” and Publisher’s Weekly called it “a stirring and mind-bending vision.” But regular readers (i.e. not awards committees or big media outlets) haven’t been quite as universally enamored. This was a recurring theme in the Goodreads reviews: the book is well done, but people had a hard time connecting with the story and becoming invested in the characters.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer EganManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Release Date: October 3, 2017)
448 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.78 on 298 ratings
Selected By: Kristen Iversen (Author)

Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. […] At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

My Thoughts:
The author of the hit A Visit from the Goon Squad is back with historical fiction. Manhattan Beach has been described by the publisher as a “noir thriller” and has already been long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award. Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus also gave it starred reviews. However, I read the first 10% and, despite really good writing, I thought the story was slow and too many characters were introduced too quickly, causing me to glaze over. A couple of book bloggers I trust read much farther than I did, but ended up abandoning it as well. I also saw some mediocre Goodreads reviews that said it was slow and hard to get engaged with the characters and the story. Sounds like this could be one of those critical darlings that doesn’t quite connect with regular readers.

After the Eclipse by Sarah PerryAfter the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry (Release Date: September 26, 2017)
368 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.57 on 30 ratings
Selected By: Guest Judge Gabby Sidibe (Actress and Author)

A fierce memoir of a mother’s murder, a daughter’s coming-of-age in the wake of immense loss, and her mission to know the woman who gave her life.

My Thoughts:
After the Eclipse is a debut, true crime memoir, but also the story of a girl trying to get to know her mother after she was murdered. It’s also been described as a fascinating small-town mystery. The Goodreads reviews are outstanding and highlight the gorgeous writing and the way Perry addresses “issues” (i.e. violence against women) without letting them dominating the story. It got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and a good (though not starred) review from Kirkus. It was also on Entertainment Weekly‘s Must Read Books of Fall and Bustle‘s September Nonfiction Books to Add to Your TBR lists. It was also named a Favorite Read of September by Read it Forward, a monthly list that tends to align with my reading taste.

Dark Lake by Sarah BaileyThe Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey (Release Date: October 3, 2017)
400 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.76 on 495 ratings
Selected By: Nina Sankovitch (Bestselling Author)

In a suspense thriller to rival Paula Hawkins and Tana French, a detective with secrets of her own (Gemma) hunts the killer of a woman who was the glamorous star of their high school (Rose).

My Thoughts:
The Dark Lake is a psychological thriller, a debut novel, and the first in a new series (the Gemma Woodstock series). The Goodreads reviews mention it’s character-driven for a psychological thriller and that lots of the story is about Gemma rather than who killed Rose. The Dark Lake seems to be one of those “hook you immediately” (says author Lisa Gardner), “race through in one sitting” (says author Douglas Preston) kinds of books. Kirkus, in a non-starred review, called it a “satisfying mystery novel with a relatable heroine, if not a revelatory one.” Publisher’s Weekly was higher on it than Kirkus, giving it a starred review.

In addition to the five October selections, Book of the Month Club is offering four extras this month (which Book of the Month Club members can add to their boxes for only $9.99 each):

What Book of the Month Club October 2017 selection(s) will I choose?

After my terrible run with Fall fiction and the hard-to-ignore Goodreads reviews, I’m going with the true crime memoir, After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search!

Make your Book of the Month Club selections by Friday, October 6th.

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

Special Deals
New members get a FREE copy of John Green’s new novel, Turtles All the Way Down (use code GREEN), OR Stephen and Owen King’s new novel, Sleeping Beauties (use code KING).

Get Weekly Email Updates!

*All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

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

September 29, 2017 Book Recommendations 10

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!

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)


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)

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 twice, but both her picks were winners for me. She’s the only judge that has a 100% success rate for me and 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!

How to find YOUR go-to 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 judges! They are the ones with the highest numerical total (highlighted in yellow).

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