Category: Book Lists

5 Types of Books to Read When You’re Super Busy

November 16, 2017 Book Lists 7

5 Types of Books to Read When You're Super Busy


I recently asked y’all on Facebook what your biggest reading problem is these days. One reader talked about having trouble “finding consistent time to read” and said “if a book doesn’t hook me right away, I have a hard time sticking with it until it gets going.” Man, can I ever relate to this! This has been my overwhelming reading issue all year long.

Whether you’re juggling a million holiday commitments and prep activities, trying to fit in reading wherever you can while caring for young children, working a demanding job, or are just going through life events that take up significant mental space, it can sometimes be hard to focus on reading even though you want to. And, even though escaping into a book might be just what your brain needs to de-stress.

In a post earlier this year, I talked about different ways to keep reading when life gets crazy. What I didn’t cover in that post was selecting the right types of books to read when you’re super busy. If I’ve learned anything from my reading this year, it’s that choosing the types of books your brain and emotions can handle at any given moment is critical to successful reading. Sometimes what works won’t be the serious, award-winning novels and that’s okay.

Here are 5 types of books to read when you’re super busy…

Fiction that Grabs You from the Very First Page

These types of books hook you immediately and keep you frantically turning the pages because you must find out what happens right. this. very. instant. These are the books that you can’t put down and force you to put other things aside because you just have to keep reading.

Recent Examples:

Engaging, Easy to Read Novels

While these books aren’t grippingly frantic like the pure page-turners of the previous category, they are still easy to sink into. They have engaging storylines and the language doesn’t require a lot of concentration (i.e. they “read easy”…which is key for reading through life chaos). These books definitely don’t feel like slogs even though some do deal with serious topics.

Recent Examples:

Essay Collections

Essay collections are totally underrated! Each essay can stand on it’s own, so you can easily pick up and put down the collections without losing your place in the story. These types of books also work great for me on audio, which is a great substitute when you don’t have a lot of time to read.

Recent Examples:

Light and/or Juicy Memoirs

Similar to essay collections, you don’t generally have to keep track of intricate storylines in these light memoirs. Plus, you’re probably getting some juicy gossip or mind-blowing “truth is stranger than fiction”-type stories. These tend to also be audio winners for me!

Recent Examples:

Re-Reads of Old Favorites

Re-reading old favorites can be incredibly comforting. And, you probably remember the general plot if not the details, meaning you don’t have to concentrate quite as hard!

Recent Examples: Honestly, I haven’t re-read a book in a few years. But, prior to that, I re-read one Pat Conroy novel (he’s an old favorite author for me) every year.

Do you ever feel so busy that you can’t concentrate on a book? What are your favorite types of books to read when you’re super busy?

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Nonfiction November 2017: Be the Expert…Books about the Reading and Writing Life

November 14, 2017 Book Lists 18

Nonfiction November 2017


Today’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Julz at Julz Reads, and me) topic is fiction/nonfiction book pairings:

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).

It’s not surprising that some of my very favorite authors (Pat Conroy, Anna Quindlen, Ann Patchett) have books on this list. What bookworm doesn’t want to delve into the reading and writing life of their favorite authors…and snag some great book recommendations as a bonus?! There’s something comforting about reading your favorite author’s thoughts about how reading fits into their lives…and realizing they’re echoing your own.

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

books about the reading and writing life

Books about the Reading and Writing Life That I Love

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy (my review)
A collection of Pat Conroy’s writings on books, reading, writing, and life (including letters addressed to his readers)…and his final book published (posthumously). Plus, you get his unfiltered thoughts on various books and authors (he loved Game of Thrones…not Infinite Jest).

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe (my review)
Schwalbe’s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life…ranging from serious classics to dark thrillers to children’s books. I added a couple books discussed here to my TBR!

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
A librarian’s letters to the books in her life…both the ones she loves and the ones she hates. And, tons of recommendation lists. PS – it’s really funny.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (my review)
This memoir/essay collection is about much more than the reading and writing life, but both are covered extensively. Anna Quindlen has a grounded, practical outlook and just gets life. Listening to this on audio felt a bit like a therapy session.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Are you surprised Conroy is popping up again? Here he talks about his reading life and the books and people that shaped it.

The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett
A very slim memoir in which one of my favorite authors counsels aspiring writers that the key to the castle is simply putting in the work. Not such a bad piece of advice for life in general.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (my review)
Like Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, this essay collection covers lots more than just reading and writing. The Getaway Car is included in this collection and you get to hear the story behind Parnassus Books among other goodies.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami
Yep, this memoir is about running. But, it’s also about writing and the two are inextricably linked for Murakami.

Books about the Reading and Writing Life That Are On My TBR

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I think this is Lamott’s version of Patchett’s The Getaway Car and Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. I’m hoping to fit it in this month.

What are your favorite books about reading and/or writing?

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6 Book Titles I Love…and 5 I Hate

October 24, 2017 Book Lists 20

Book Titles I Love...and Hate

 

I’ve got to admit…I’m not a huge book title person. I rarely buy a book solely based on the title (but, I know lots of people do this), and the few times I have, it hasn’t turned out well (see The People We Hate at the Wedding).

Book titles are more likely to go unnoticed by me unless I can’t stand them…or, on the good side, they make me laugh. So, today you’re getting both book titles I love…and hate!

Here’s a little book publishing tidbit for you. Did you know authors have very little say about the title of their book? They can throw their title choice into the ring, but the publisher’s marketing team generally has the final say (many publishing contracts specifically state this). And, the title is often determined by marketing research and what the publisher’s title committee thinks will sell. I had no idea about this until very recently. So, don’t blame the authors for the “hate” section of this list!

Linking up with The Broke and the Bookish.
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Six Book Titles I Love

11/22/63 by Stephen King
Because I now can actually remember the date of JFK’s assassination.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
Because it’s the perfect title for this book…intriguing and perfectly encapsulates Noah’s history.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck by Sarah Knight
Because it’s sarcastic, witty and cheeky.

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder
Because who hasn’t hated those people at the wedding?! PS – I also kind of hated the 27% of this book that I read, but the title is still awesome.

Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims
I haven’t read this book, nor do I have any idea what it’s about. I just saw it on Instagram last week and burst out laughing at the title. And, suspect I’ll probably relate to the protagonist.

You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg
This is the only book title that’s ever given me goosebumps. It’s what the race announcer says to every single Ironman triathlon finisher as he or she crosses the finish line (“Sarah Dickinson, you are an Ironman” – this will be the only time I ever see or hear that phrase, I can assure you!).

…and Five Book Titles I Hate

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy (my review)
Y’all know how much it pains me to have Conroy on this list, but I’m sorry, this title is just cheesy.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
I never got how this title had anything to do with the story other than using the main character’s name.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (my review)
I adored this book. 5 stars. The title is cheesy, while the book is decidedly not.

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen (my review)
Another cheesy title for an Anna Quindlen book that I loved. This one sounds like a YA romance novel. Who’s on her publisher’s titling committee?! She deserves better.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington (my review)
Another book I adored and another cheesy title. I understand it refers to a Neil Young song that plays a role in the book, but it’s not a huge role and doesn’t relate much to what the book is really about. Plus, it’s way too long.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite book titles?

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

October 10, 2017 Book Lists 21

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!

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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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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

September 12, 2017 Book Lists 25

Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging


Last week was all about books I didn’t like, but we’re flipping the coin this week. There are so many books that I adored years ago, way before I started blogging, that I don’t talk about much here.

So, today I’m going to spotlight 12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I honestly haven’t read much John Irving since I started this blog, but he still remains one of my all-time favorite authors and Owen Meany is my favorite book of his. It’s on my all-time favorites list and is due for a re-read!

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
I love fiction that’s inspired by real people and this one had me all kinds of curious about the inner life of Laura Bush.

Another City, Not My Own and anything else by Dominick Dunne
Dunne is the man responsible for getting me started reading about “wealthy people behaving badly” with his nonfiction about wealthy and/or famous people in criminal situations. I loved his snark, his tenacity in taking down prominent people who took advantage of being prominent, his gossipy tidbits…and his Vanity Fair column. RIP Mr. Dunne.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy
My love for Pat Conroy began when I was pretty young and I read all my favorite books by him before I started this blog. Beach Music is one of the few that I haven’t re-read in the past five years and I’m due. I also have a slight concern that it won’t hold up for me…luckily, my cousin is test-driving it as we speak!

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis
Awhile back, Michael Lewis was one of my all-time favorite authors. He can make the most mundane financial stories riveting and is a master at clearly explaining complicated financial concepts so non-finance nerds (like me!) can understand. In Boomerang, he investigates how the 2000’s real estate bubble and 2008 crash impacted various foreign countries. He melds finance and hilarious studies of each country’s culture into what I think is his most entertaining book! Sadly, his latest two books (Flash Boys and The Undoing Project) have missed the mark for me.

My Life in France by Julia Child
I used to read a ton of food / cooking memoirs before I started blogging and this was one of my favorites. Julia’s booming personality shines through and I enjoyed reading about the period when she first fell in love with food.

No Angel and The Spoils of Time Series by Penny Vincenzi
The British Spoils of Time series are juicy, multi-generational, historical fiction sagas that are full of drama. These were my guilty pleasure reading way back when!

Philistines at the Hedgerow : Passion and Property in the Hamptons by Steven Gaines
Rich people real estate porn set in the Hamptons. Similar to Michael Gross, but without the crushing, excruciating detail.

The Charm School by Nelson DeMille
Another of my old-school favorite authors! The Charm School is one of his more unique books and it made me wonder if something like The Charm School might have actually existed in the USSR during the Cold War. Bonus: DeMille has a new book (The Cuban Affair) coming out on September 19th!

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
This was the first book that introduced me to Stephen L. Carter’s political thrillers. His books are page-turning thrill rides, but they’re smart and throw in a fascinating look into upper crust, Harlem society. I went on to read four more of his books, including Back Channel most recently.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Believe it or not, I knew nothing about all the hype surrounding this book when I read it. I just wasn’t plugged into the book world back then. It blew me away. I went on to find out that it blew most everyone else away too. 

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
I remember picking up this coming of age memoir on a complete whim, knowing nothing about it. It’s stuck with me and introduced me to J.R. Moehringer’s writing, which is right up my alley.

What are some of your old favorites?

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My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2017

August 15, 2017 Book Lists 21

Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2017
It’s finally here…big, buzzy book season! For those that don’t closely follow the publishing industry, Fall is traditionally when the buzziest books by the biggest name authors hit the shelves. We’ve got new books coming from Celeste Ng, Nelson DeMille, Alice Hoffman, Dan Brown, Jennifer Egan, and Andy Weir.

But, a number of books from lesser known or debut authors caught me eye as well! And, a couple of those are international books hitting U.S. soil for the first time this Fall.

Last year, four of the books I picked for my Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016 list ended up being hits for me. Let’s see if I can beat that this year!

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

September

Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 5, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
I loved Sloan’s quirky novel about bookstores, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and now he’s writing about food! Admittedly, I can’t begin to figure out what about food this book is actually about. More power to anyone who can decipher this blurb…

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (September 12, Penguin Press)
I’ve already read this one and it’s great! Which is good news because it had big shoes to fill (Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was a huge hit and was Amazon’s Best Book of 2014…and I loved it). 

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned […]. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson (September 12, Ecco)
It’s about time for a heart-wrenching, Southern saga for me…hoping this is it! It’s been described as “To Kill a Mockingbird meets Beloved” and has gotten some eyebrow-raising blurbs (Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans called it “art of the highest order”).

Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille (September 19, Simon & Schuster)
Years ago, Nelson DeMille was one of my favorite authors…and his The Gold Coast was one of my favorite books. He’s still a solid go-to thriller writer for me and I’m looking forward to this departure from his John Corey novels.

Daniel Graham MacCormick—Mac for short—seems to have a pretty good life. At age thirty-five he’s living in Key West, owner of a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat, The Maine. One day, Mac is sitting in the famous Green Parrot Bar in Key West, contemplating his life, and waiting for Carlos, a hotshot Miami lawyer heavily involved with anti-Castro groups. Carlos wants to hire Mac and The Maine for a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba at the standard rate, but Mac suspects there is more to this […].

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (September 19, Ballantine Books)
I’ve read an excerpt of this novel that has been compared Fates and Furies and The Mothers and really liked the writing! Hopefully, it can keep up it’s good start. 

A timely novel about an accusation against a beloved schoolteacher and the repercussions on his loved ones, exploring issues of loyalty, truth, and the meaning of happiness through the lens of an all-American family on the brink of collapse.

October

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (October 3, Scribner)
I’ve never read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, but it won a bunch of awards (including the 2011 Pulitzer) and people seem to love it. So, I’m looking forward to giving her venture into historical fiction a try.

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.

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit (October 3, Harper)
The Dinner is one of my all-time favorite novels and I’ve been looking for a similar book for quite awhile. Fear has not only been compared to The Dinner, but Herman Koch himself blurbed it! 

An acclaimed German writer makes his American debut with this gripping and sophisticated thriller reminiscent of The Dinner and the early novels of Ian McEwan, about the murder of a neighbor who had been harassing a middle-class family—and the relative imprisoned for the crime.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (October 17, Berkley Books)
This debut novel was one of the more hyped books at this year’s Book Expo event and I love “family gets back together” books (This Is Where I Leave You, anyone?!).

A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays…

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst (October 17, Algonquin)
I’m intrigued by the Hurricane Katrina setting and it got a starred review in Kirkus

A dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans.

November

The Senator’s Children by Nicholas Montemarano (November 7, Tin House)
Annie B. Jones of the From the Front Porch podcast has been talking up this book for awhile now! And, since Annie is my new go-to book recommendation guru (I read Rabbit CakeStandard Deviation, and American Fire on her recommendation), that’s all I need to know! 

Sisters Betsy and Avery have never met, but they have both spent their lives under the scrutiny of prying cameras and tabloid journalists. Their father, David Christie, was a charismatic senator and promising presidential candidate until infidelity destroyed his campaign and his family’s life. In the aftermath, Betsy grieves her broken family, while Avery struggles with growing up estranged from her infamous father yet still exposed by the national spotlight.

Artemis by Andy Weir (November 14, Crown)
The author of the smash hit The Martian is back with his sophomore novel! 

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. […] Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down.

December

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn (December 5, Atria Books)
I don’t normally read new releases in December, but this one sounds so totally up my alley that I’m going to have to break with tradition! And, Claire Fuller (author of Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons) called it “brilliant, shocking, and gripping.” 

An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.

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

What Fall 2017 books are you looking forward to?

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3 Gripping New Crime Books…Both Fiction and Nonfiction

July 27, 2017 Book Lists 22

I used to love books about crime…especially true crime. But until the last few months, it had been awhile since I’d read any memorable ones. I read Killers of the Flower Moon back in April and was excited to see that I had a number of books about crime coming up later in the year…enough to do a crime books round-up. And then, one by one, each crime book fell flat…until the past month, when I had two unexpected winners that weren’t even on my radar back in April when I first decided to do this post.

3 Gripping New Crime Books…Both Fiction and Nonfiction

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

In the small, rural community of Accomack County on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) was on the loose. 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. American Fire is a portrait of a declining town similar to Hillbilly Elegy (but without the social analysis element). 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. It’s going on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide

I spent the next two years trying to understand why he did it. The answer, inasmuch as there is an answer for these things, involved hope, poverty, pride, Walmart, erectile dysfunction, Steak-umms (the chopped meat sold in the frozen foods aisle), intrigue, and America. America: the way it’s disappointing sometimes, the way it’s never what it used to be. But it also involved love. The kind of love that is vaguely crazy and then completely crazy and then collapses in on itself in a way that leaves the participants bewildered and telling very different stories about what actually happened.

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

This 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 is a flawless blend of history and mystery. It’s 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, but that I sure didn’t hear about in any history class. Though the early details occasionally get a little dry, the story picks up steam once the FBI starts to investigate and, just when you think it’s over, things become even more unbelievable. Killers of the Flower Moon would be a great choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered.

Quicksand by Malin Persson GiolitoQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
513 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Other Press

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! 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. The story shifts back and forth between Maja’s (Sebastian’s girlfriend and the “Annette” character in Quicksand) trial and time in jail and the lead-up to the shooting, including Maja and Sebastian’s love affair and Sebastian’s tumultuous relationship with his billionaire father. 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! It’s also going on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide!

The prosecutor said I did what I did because I loved Sebastian. That my love for him was the greatest thing in my life. That nothing else was more important. But it’s not true. Because the greatest of all is fear, the terror of dying. Love means nothing when you believe you’re going to die.

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3 More Books That Are Perfect for Summer Reading: Beartown, Standard Deviation, Since We Fell

June 22, 2017 Book Lists 18

When I originally posted my 2017 Summer Reading Guide, I said I’d be adding more books that are perfect for summer reading to that list throughout the summer. Well, here’s the first installment of add-ons! And, they are GOOD.

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

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: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! 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 it’s residents have to be proud of. Backman makes you feel the core emotions of sports…what makes something that can seem frivolous mean so much to some people.

It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.

Like Friday Night LightsBeartown is far more than just sports fiction. It’s about high school, marriage, intense pressure on young children, bullying, class, and violence. The first paragraph smacked me in the face and I was fully engrossed until the very end. It’s a book you can fly through…I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though I easily guessed the what and who of what happened (thanks to a super spoiler-y comparison a major book blogger made to another book…GRR). Beartown would make a fantastic summer reading book and is jam packed with discussion material for book clubs.

Since We Fell by Dennis LehaneSince We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Fiction – Thriller (
Released May 9, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Ecco)

Plot Summary: After a traumatic experience as a broadcast journalist covering the earthquake in Haiti, Rachel becomes a recluse despite her happy marriage…until she begins to question everything about her life and is sucked into something far bigger than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: Since We Fell is the first psychological thriller I’ve enjoyed in ages! Maybe that’s because it reads more like character-driven fiction, especially in the first half. The twists do hit like an avalanche eventually…there’s just a solid set-up to make you care about the characters first. And, those twists all surprised me, yet made sense with the story, which is the number one criteria that a thriller must have for me to enjoy it…and where most thrillers fall apart for me. Since We Fell is a thriller for people who have been frustrated with psychological thrillers lately…and, if this isn’t enough, check out this first line:

On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead. He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face, as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.

Standard Deviation by Katherine HeinyStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Fiction (
Released May 23, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Knopf)

Plot Summary: When Graham and his bubbly second wife (Audra) become friends with Graham’s introverted first wife (Elspeth), Graham begins to ponder the state of his marriage and his family (including a ten year old son with Asberger’s).

My Thoughts: Standard Deviation is one of those novels where not a ton happens, but the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing and spot-on commentary about marriage, introverts and extraverts, and parenting carry the story. It’s an honest rumination on a not perfect, but not completely dysfunctional marriage. Though Graham and Audra certainly have their issues, there is a clear love for each other that was a nice change of pace from my usual fare of stratospherically dysfunctional marriages/families. I loved Graham’s (who narrated the book) salty, dry sense of humor and the way he honestly addressed the aspects of marriage and parenting that it’s socially expected of people to always portray as unicorns and rainbows.

Graham didn’t admit this to anyone, even Audra, but part of him was secretly pleased that Matthew had been caught looking at porn on a school computer. Wasn’t that—wasn’t that something normal kids did?

Audra is a massive chatterbox and someone who I don’t think I could be friends with in real life, but her total lack of filter made her amusing to read about. The collision between Audra’s extraversion (she constantly invites random people over for dinner and to stay as houseguests in their NY apartment) and Graham’s introversion, as well as Matthew’s Asberger’s, added a bit more intrigue to the story. My only complaint was an overly abrupt ending that will probably irritate some people. If you like straight talk about marriage, this book is for you!

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My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2017

May 23, 2017 Book Lists 34

Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2017


In case you missed it last week, I posted my 2017 Summer Reading Guide, which is chock full of awesome books for summer that I’ve already vetted. Today’s Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2017 list focuses on upcoming releases that I’m excited about, but (for the most part) have not yet read. I hope I’ll be adding many of these to my Summer Reading Guide as the summer goes on.

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

June

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (June 6, Riverhead)
Bookpage included this novel on its 2017 preview and Ann Patchett (one of my favorite authors, most recently of Commonwealth) called it “smart and thrilling and impossible to put down.” I’ve almost finished this one and it’s a perfect page-turning beach read…as long as you’re not traveling with kids in a foreign country! 

From a beloved, award-winning writer, the much-anticipated novel about what happens when two families go on a tropical vacation and the children go missing.

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder (June 6, Flatiron Books)
I’ve got to be honest…I put this book on my TBR list mostly because of the title. And, also because it sounds a bit like Seating Arrangements (my review) and Jennifer Close (author of The Hopefuls) called it “family dysfunction at its best” (and ya’ll know I can’t resist that). 

A bitingly funny, hugely entertaining novel in which a fractured family from the Chicago suburbs must gather in London for their eldest daughter’s marriage to an upper-crust Englishman, proving that the harder we strain against the ties that bind, the tighter they hold us close.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (June 6, Coffee House Press)
Ya’ll know how much I love sports fiction and this novel has a bit of a John Irving ring to it. Not to mention Hanya Yanigahara (author of A Little Life, one of my favorite books of 2015) called it “a coming-of-age story with its own, often explosive, rhythm and velocity.”

Foxcatcher meets The Art of Fielding, Stephen Florida follows a college wrestler in his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity. Profane, manic, and tipping into the uncanny, it’s a story of loneliness, obsession, and the drive to leave a mark.

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs (June 6, Simon & Schuster)
I realize trying to match When Breath Becomes Air (see below) could be a fool’s errand, but I’m still intrigued. Especially since it’s gotten starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and a blurb from Lucy Kalanithi (Paul Kalanithi of When Breath Becomes Air‘s widow). 

An exquisite memoir about how to live—and love—every day with “death in the room,” from poet Nina Riggs, mother of two young sons and the direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the tradition of When Breath Becomes Air.

July

Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam (July 4, Random House)
When Meg Wolitzer (author of The Interestings) calls a book “funny, dark, big, and bold,” that’s all I need to hear. Plus, blurbs from Jonathan Tropper and Curtis Sittenfeld. 

Two people, who are married to other people, meet at a conference for artists and writers in a charming seaside village. Rich, a formerly sort-of-famous cartoonist, and Amy, a student of narrative painting, shared a moment of passion the summer before, and have returned to see what happens next. In the wicked events that follow, both of their lives completely unravel.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (July 11, Viking)
This debut novel has been compared to The Mothers (one of my favorite books of last year) and was #1 on Buzzfeed’s list of 22 Exciting New Books You Need to Read this Summer

From a debut author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (July 11, Henry Holt)
Another debut novel that made Buzzfeed’s list of 22 Exciting New Books You Need to Read this Summer! And Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter) said this about it: “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more candid portrait of love between family members.” 

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.

Final Girls by Riley Sager (July 11, Dutton)
I’m desperately searching for a satisfying thriller and Stephen King called this one “the first great thriller of 2017.” If Stephen King is wrong, then I’m give up. It also got a starred review from Kirkus.

An intense and imaginative horror story, Final Girls follows the lone survivor of a massacre, who must reclaim her locked-away memories when faced with another threat ten years later.

August

The Lauras by Sara Taylor (August 1, Hogarth)
I loved Taylor’s 2015 debut novel, The Shore (my review), and have been looking forward to her follow-up! 

The gritty, fierce, and winning story of an unforgettable pair on a road trip across the United States, and their shared journey into the past.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (August 1, Atlantic Monthly Press)
Yay – fiction based on true crime! I went through a period of loving these a few years ago, but haven’t read one in awhile. I’m looking forward to this!

In this riveting debut novel, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time (the Lizzie Borden case) into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

The Futilitarians by Anne Gisleson (August 22, Little, Brown)
Gisleson has been compared to Cheryl Strayed (Tiny Beautiful Things, one of my absolute favorite memoirs) and Jami Attenberg (author of All Grown Up) said it was her favorite memoir of the year. 

A memoir of friendship and literature chronicling a search for meaning and comfort in great books, and a beautiful path out of grief.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (August 22, Algonquin Books)
Zevin’s previous novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (my review) was my favorite book of 2014. And, I love the focus of her latest on the double standards between men and women facing public scandal. 

Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it.

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

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2017 Summer Reading Guide

May 16, 2017 Book Lists 30

2017 Summer Reading Guide


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

Personally, my only requirements for summer reading are avoiding books that take a ridiculous amount of concentration and/or demand to be read in perfect peace and quiet.

I’ve read every book that appears on this list and will continue to add new selections throughout the summer. And, stay tuned for my list of My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2017 (i.e. books that will be published this summer, but that I haven’t read yet) on Tuesday, May 23.

Previous Summer Reading Lists: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

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

2017 Summer Reading Guide

Latest Addition (August 14, 2017)

Shadow of the Lions by Christopher SwannShadow 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. But, I’ve had read some stinkers over the past few years. Shadow of the Lions is NOT one of the stinkers! It’s been described as a “literary thriller,” which I’m not sure I agree with. I’d say it’s more of a literary “mystery” than a “thriller” because it doesn’t have all the heart-pounding franticness that a thriller brings to mind. Continue Reading…

Emma in the night by Wendy WalkerEmma 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 this book in one day. Continue Reading…

Something Fun

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 I’ll be recommending to just about everyone I know for a long time. 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.” Continue Reading…

Rabbit CakeRabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
Fiction – Debut (Released March 7, 2017)
338 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Twelve year-old Elvis Babbitt and her family try to make sense of their mother’s unexpected death.

My Thoughts: Despite the serious topic, Rabbit Cake is a sweet, delightful, and whimsical story about a family coming together after a tragedy. The Scout Finch-like Elvis is quirky, endearing, and full of morbid, yet charming humor. I immediately fell in love with her voice as narrator. Plus, check out this first line: “On my tenth birthday, six months before she sleepwalked into the river, Mom burned the rabbit cake.”

StartupStartup, Doree Shafrir by Doree Shafrir
Fiction (Released April 25, 2017)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Katya (a young and hungry technology reporter for TechScene) pursues a juicy story about Mack McAllister, the twenty eight year-old founder of a mindfulness app startup (called TakeOff) in this satire about New York City startup culture.

My Thoughts: Doree Shafrir is a culture writer for Buzzfeed, so it’s not surprising that her social commentary on the NYC startup world is biting and snarky. In Startup, she skewers douchey startup founders, the South by Southwest technology festival, and the lack of diversity at startups and the venture capital firms that fund them. But, beneath the snark is a human workplace story that spreads its tentacles into marriage, motherhood, and women in the workplace.

The Most Dangerous Place on EarthMost Dangerous Place on Earth, Lindsey Lee Johnson by Lindsey Lee Johnson
Fiction (Released January 10, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A tragedy that occurred when a community of wealthy high school students were in middle school creates ripple effects for the students and teachers.

My Thoughts: This was not the twisty page turner I expected. It’s more about the characters and how every single one of them is either trying to be someone they’re not or perceived to be someone they’re not…a fairly accurate description of high school in my book. The story captures the levers of high school power and makes you realize how silly they are. And, despite one hiccup with the ending, it’s an easy, yet thought provoking read with stellar writing as a bonus.

The TakedownThe Takedown by Corrie Wang by Corrie Wang
Fiction – Young Adult (Released April 11, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When someone posts a video of Kyla Cheng (the big girl on campus) in a compromising position with her youngish professor on school grounds, she embarks on a crusade to take down her “hater.”

My Thoughts: I don’t normally read YA, but The Takedown was completely addictive! It’s is a unique twist on the “demented high school students” (think The FeverReconstructing Amelia) reading category and is set in a world where technology is pervasive and invasive. Wang’s astute portrayal of high school girls (especially those at an elite Brooklyn private school) absolutely plays out Kyla’s view that “there are only two ways to emerge from high school. Scarred or worshipped.” The first paragraph of The Takedown smacks you in the face and you won’t want to put this super fun read down for a second after that! 

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.

Something Fast-Paced / Intense

Based on a True StoryBased on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan by Delphine de Vigan
Fiction (Released May 9, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Based on a True Story (a smash hit in France already) is the memoir-style story of a writer’s toxic female friendship…and how it essentially destroyed her.

My Thoughts: Though the book is technically fiction, the main character shares the author’s name and general background. The story begins with a titillating Prologue and continues with a creepy, Single White Female vibe that left me dying to know how things would play out. It’s incredibly emotionally tense and de Vigan’s gorgeous writing helps accomplish this. The entire time I was reading, I understood that Based on a True Story was completely messing with my head with its “is this story true or isn’t it?” vibe. Continue Reading…

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

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile MeloyDo Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Fiction (
Released June 6, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While on a holiday cruise through Central America, cousins Liv and Nora’s children (along with two friends) disappear during a shore excursion.

My Thoughts: Though the plot requires the reader to suspend belief a few times, I flew through this novel. The story is told from the perspectives of the different sets of parents (who have their own dynamics and are experiencing cracks in their relationships with each other as a result of the children’s disappearances) and the missing children. It’s a “shit hits the fan on an International vacation” story in the vein of Siracusa (my review) and would be a perfect vacation read…as long as you’re not traveling with young children through Central America! Continue Reading…

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 so far. 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 this book! Continue Reading…

Quicksand by Malin Persson GiolitoQuicksand 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! Continue Reading…

Since We Fell by Dennis LehaneSince We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Fiction – Thriller (
Released May 9, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After a traumatic experience as a broadcast journalist covering the earthquake in Haiti, Rachel becomes a recluse despite her happy marriage…until she begins to question everything about her life and is sucked into something far bigger than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: Since We Fell is the first psychological thriller I’ve enjoyed in ages! Maybe that’s because it reads more like character-driven fiction, especially in the first half. The twists do hit like an avalanche eventually…there’s just a solid set-up to make you care about the characters first. Continue Reading…

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

Plot Summary: When Lane Roanoke hears her cousin (Allegra) is missing, she returns to the Kansas estate where she spent one fateful summer as a teenager and must face the dark truth about her family.

My Thoughts: The Roanoke Girls features quite possibly the most dysfunctional (although, supremely F’d up is probably more accurate) family I’ve ever encountered in fiction. It’s the kind of book that I was slightly embarrassed to be reading, but was completely unable to put down. Think The Flowers in the Attic on steroids mixed with a bit of Sweet Home Alabama. It’s a fast, if not demented and twisted, read!

The SleepwalkerThe Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Thriller (Released January 10, 2017)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Annalee Ahlberg, a notorious sleepwalker, disappears from her home in the middle of the night, her husband and two daughters try to piece together what happened.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian’s most recent books are giving him quite a reputation for coming up with mysteries…with more. They have the who-done-it/why-done-it elements of your run-of-the-mill mystery, but he layers on something deeper. In 2016’s The Guest Room, it was sex-trafficking, and in The Sleepwalker, it’s parasomnia. I found the parasomnia angle fascinating…it’s much more than the book’s title suggests. Continue Reading…

Something with Substance

All Grown UpAll Grown Up by Jami Attenberg by Jami Attenberg
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: All Grown Up is a raw, compact story of a young woman (Andrea) trying to find her way in the world, but it’s taking longer than society says it should.

My Thoughts: Attenberg uses little snapshots of Andrea’s life to share her struggles with being single in New York City and provide “yes, that’s exactly how it is” commentary on how society treats single ladies in their thirties. Andrea’s floundering is frustrating, but also relatable and endearing. What really made All Grown Up for me was the unexpectedly funny writing. It’s snarky and filled with the type of dry, morbid humor that may not be for everyone. All Grown Up tackles the quarter-life crisis theme in a brutally honest rather than grating way and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far!

All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood by Bryn Greenwood
Fiction (Released August 9, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and addict mother, witnesses Kellen’s (one of Wavy’s father’s “employees”) motorcycle accident, he takes her under his wing, leading to an unlikely relationship.

My Thoughts: I was all over the place with my feelings about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, but I ended up in an emotionally invested and somewhat surprising (to me) place. I immediately loved the voice of Amy, Wavy’s cousin, and the storyline of Wavy’s integration into her extended family’s normal way of life the first of many times she stayed with them. Then, I became thoroughly creeped out by the story’s direction once Wavy returns to her parents at the ranch (her home and the site of her father’s meth cooking business). Continue Reading…

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: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! 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 it’s residents have to be proud of. Continue Reading…

Before the WindBefore the Wind by Jim Lynch by Jim Lynch
Fiction (Released April 19, 2016)
306 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Josh Johannssen and his somewhat estranged family, a sailing dynasty, reunite in an attempt to win the Pacific Northwest’s prestigious Swiftsure race.

My Thoughts: Before the Wind plops the dysfunctional family element of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into a sailing environment with brilliant results. Within the first five pages, Lynch delves into the psyche of sailors and boaters in general and his writing about sailing is filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” moments. Note: you do not have to be into sailing to love this book…it’s first and foremost a story about a family! Continue Reading…

Standard Deviation by Katherine HeinyStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Fiction (
Released May 23, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Graham and his bubbly second wife (Audra) become friends with Graham’s introverted first wife (Elspeth), Graham begins to ponder the state of his marriage and his family (including a ten year old son with Asberger’s).

My Thoughts: Standard Deviation is one of those novels where not a ton happens, but the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing and spot-on commentary about marriage, introverts and extraverts, and parenting carry the story. It’s an honest rumination on a not perfect, but not completely dysfunctional marriage. Continue Reading…

Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons by Claire Fuller by Claire Fuller
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
356 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Swimming Lessons tells the story of the volatile marriage between famous author Gil Coleman and Ingrid…through letters Ingrid hid in Gil’s books prior to her disappearance and their daughters’ returns home to care for their ailing father.

My Thoughts: Though Swimming Lessons didn’t immediately grab me, its steady revelations about the Coleman marriage and increasing complexity eventually pulled me in. The publisher’s blurb makes Swimming Lessons sound like it will be a mystery, but it’s actually an exploration of a troubled marriage. The “mystery” part of the story is somewhat ancillary and, once I wrapped my head around that, I enjoyed the book much more. Continue Reading…

The Fall of Lisa BellowFall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Debut (
Released March 14, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After Meredith Oliver witnesses the abduction of a her classmate (but not necessarily friend), Lisa Bellow, she and her entire family struggle to process the impact of being the one left behind.

My Thoughts: The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a psychologically suspenseful novel that gets to the nasty little heart of things, a type of story I’m always game for. This story is not about what happened to Lisa Bellow, but about the survivors and survivor’s guilt. It’s about the often ungenerous, but brutally honest thoughts, of those who escaped the worst. And, it’s about the minefield of life as a middle school girl. Continue Reading…

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. Continue Reading…

The Woman Next DoorWoman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso by Yewande Omotoso
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

Plot Summary: Two next door neighbors (Marion and Hortensia) can’t stand each other and are constantly plotting how to figuratively take the other one down, yet The Woman Next Door ends up being a story about friendship and regret and a lesson in how you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

My Thoughts: The Woman Next Door was a fantastic surprise for me…and it’s likely to end up on my Underrated Gems of 2017 list. It’s like Grumpy Old Men crossed with Desperate Housewives set in South Africa and involving race. The story kicks off with snarky humor before taking a more contemplative turn. Plus, the writing shines! Continue Reading…

This Is How It Always IsThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel by Laurie Frankel
Fiction (Released January 24, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.

My Thoughts: This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times. Continue Reading…

Something Different

Adnan's Story by Rabia ChaudryAdnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry
Nonfiction – True Crime (Released August 9, 2016)
410 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Adnan Syed family friend and lawyer Rabia Chaudry explores everything that wasn’t included in the Serial podcast.

My Thoughts: If you loved the original Serial podcast (focusing on the murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent arrest and trial of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed), this book is for you! It covers all the angles of the case that Serial left out, the family’s reaction to Adnan’s arrest and trial and the podcast, and where Syed’s case is now. I enjoyed it on audio! Continue Reading…

American Fire by Monica HesseAmerican Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land 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. Continue Reading…

Anything Is PossibleAnything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction – Linked Short Stories (Released April 25, 2017)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The companion work to My Name is Lucy Barton: a collection of interconnected short stories focusing on the characters from Lucy Barton’s small hometown of Amgash, Illinois.

My Thoughts: My Name Is Lucy Barton (my review) was one of my favorite books of 2016…and the beautiful simplicity of Strout’s writing in her follow-up immediately took me back to my experience with Lucy Barton. Anything is Possible is a subtle book that grew on me the farther I read and I loved the theme of small-town life with threads of darkness running just beneath the surface. It feels like a novel told from different characters’ perspectives and would be a perfect choice for readers that are new to short stories. And, fans of Lucy Barton to get to learn more about her childhood as the town outcast and how the town’s residents view her success now.

Born a Crime by Trevor NoahBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released November 15, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa.

My Thoughts: I guess Born A Crime is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place. Though I studied apartheid in school, Born A Crime really provided color on what it was like to be there…and I learned so much that was included in the textbooks. I’m always thrilled to be educated while feeling like I’m being entertained and that’s exactly how I felt about Born A Crime. Also fantastic on audio!

Hungry HeartHungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner by Jennifer Weiner
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October 11, 2016)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner’s memoir-style essay collection about her childhood, writing, her struggle with her weight, marriage, and motherhood…and the Bachelor/ette.

My Thoughts: You probably know Jennifer Weiner from her bestselling novels Good in Bed and In Her Shoes or her hilarious and pointed live-tweeting of the Bachelor/ette shows. But, her memoir reminded me that there is far more to this lady than enlivening my Twitter feed on Monday nights. Hungry Heart is an incredibly relatable memoir about a girl gradually growing comfortable in her own skin. Though the book was overly long and a bit repetitive towards the end, it was the perfect mix of light-hearted humor and real-life struggle! Continue Reading…

Settle for More by Megyn KellySettle for More by Megyn Kelly
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released November 15, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Ex-Fox News (and current NBC) anchor Megyn Kelly discusses her childhood, career as a lawyer, transition into broadcast journalism, and her brawl with Donald Trump.

My Thoughts: Don’t worry, ya’ll, this is not a political memoir! In fact, Kelly barely discusses politics at all in this book. Instead, it’s filled with girl power, solid values, hard work, women in the workplace, and balancing a career with motherhood (plus, the story of falling in love with her husband, author Douglas Brunt, is adorable!). This book was a delightful surprise for me! It’s also great on audio…read by Kelly. Settle for More would also make a fantastic graduation present for a young woman about to chase her career dreams!

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

Plot Summary: Current New Yorker staff writer Levy takes a brutally raw and honest look at her life including love, massive loss, and bad decisions in her searing memoir of self-examination.

My Thoughts: I immediately fell for the writing in this memoir…her style is rambling – covering topics from crafting her career as a professional writer to gardening to covering the Caster Semenya story to her views on marriage in general and gay marriage specifically (she’s a bisexual) to infidelity to Mike Huckabee to late-in-life pregnancy – but it flows seamlessly. It’s a risky thing to market a book as “for readers of Cheryl Strayed” and, while I’m not putting Levy on equal footing with the giant, the comparison is not unfounded. Continue Reading…

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.

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