Category: Book Lists

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

April 25, 2017 Book Lists 21

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

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

This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your biggest book turn-offs?

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Five New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

March 21, 2017 Book Lists 37

New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

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

Five New Books You Can Read in a Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What great books have you read in a weekend?

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

March 16, 2017 Book Lists 32

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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My Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2017

March 14, 2017 Book Lists 26

Most Anticipated Books Spring 2017

This post contains affiliate links.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Spring 2017 books are you looking forward to?

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12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me!

February 21, 2017 Book Lists 39

Books That Aren't For Everyone
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) topic is Ten Books I Loved Less/More Than I Thought I Would.

Well, I’m going to spin this one…possibly so much that it doesn’t much resemble the original topic because I got inspired by a book I read last week (A Separation)

You’ll notice some running themes here…in both the “isn’t for everyone” and “was for me” categories. Namely, writing, dislikable characters, long books, and the lack of a propulsive plot.

12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me!

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Why isn’t it for everyone?
 It’s over 900 pages. It’s full of odd, fantasy / magical realism – type elements.

Why was it for me? Despite not usually buying into magical realism, Murakami made me believe in the world he created. Plus, back when I read this, chunksters didn’t scare me.

A Separation by Katie Mitamura
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s a 100% style book. Not much happens plot-wise.

Why was it for me? That style completely worked for me. I could read the narrator’s observations about life, marriage, grief, etc all day long. Plus, she created emotional tension despite the lack of action.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? One particular story element gets super creepy and icky.

Why was it for me? By the end of the book, Greenwood had forced me to see how this situation could be more gray than I initially thought. She talked me out of my initial revulsion.

Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s a short story collection. The stories and characters are dark, depressing, and maddening in their inaction.

Why was it for me? Miller’s writing was filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” statements.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? The plot meanders and fails to explain a major element of the story. Also, the narrator is dislikable.

Why was it for me? I’m a diehard fan of Koch’s distinct writing style…particularly his social commentary.

Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? This memoir is an emotional gut-wrencher (it’s about a father suffering from ALS)…and also chock full of crass and inappropriate humor.

Why was it for me? I love books that make me feel a range of emotions and this one made me laugh, cry, cringe, and everything in between. And, crass humor definitely doesn’t offend me.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Plot has been called boring and nonexistent. Tess (the main character) isn’t particularly likable.

Why was it for me? The writing…especially the food writing. It’s just incredible. Plus, I lived in NYC when I was the same age as Tess (the main character) and have worked in restaurants, so I could identify with the setting.

Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Parts of this story are utterly cringe-worthy and uncomfortable to read. Catherine’s (a main character) terrible decision-making makes the reader want to shake her many times.

Why was it for me? Another book that took me on an emotional roller-coaster and created extreme tension without much action. Plus, the writing.

The Dinner by Herman Koch (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? See Dear Mr. M. Plus, there isn’t much action in the beginning of the book.

Why was it for me? See Dear Mr. M.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s looong. And, the Las Vegas section of the book is a massive departure from the rest of the story…and isn’t appealing to everyone.

Why was it for me? The writing. And that Las Vegas section introduced the character that stole the show (Boris, of course).

The Shore by Sara Taylor (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It takes a lot of concentration to read…there are a gazillion family members to keep track of and the timeline jumps around randomly. Plus, the last chapter was either love it or hate it.

Why was it for me? Again, the writing. Also, the raw focus on the terrible treatment of the women in this story and the soulful setting.

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Non-sports fans are put off by the apparent football premise. Plus, there’s not much of a plot.

Why was it for me? I actually am a football fan (but you don’t have to be to love this book). Also, the spot-on social commentary about all aspects of life and the darkness running just under the surface of the seemingly mundane.

What are some books that you loved, but you don’t necessarily think would appeal to lots of people? And, what books on this list worked for you too?

Eight Books Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor Would Love

January 24, 2017 Book Lists 25

Books Friday Night Lights Tami Taylor Would Love


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you are probably aware of my Friday Night Lights (the TV show, not the movie) obsession by now. My husband makes fun of me because I talk about the characters as if they are real people…and also because I’m still obsessed with them years after the show ended. I 100% own all of the above and this post is a prime example. And, don’t think I’m stopping with Tami; I feel Coach and Riggins (yes, unlikely, but I think I can make it happen) installments brewing down the line.

Eight Books Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor Would Love 

Because she focused on her career within the context of her marriage…
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (review)
Because she was the Dillon High School students’ main source of adult, yet non-judgmental advice…
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (mini review)
So she could stay informed about the high school sex scene (and counsel Julie appropriately)…
Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Because she counseled Becky on a major life choice…
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (mini review)
Because she takes kids from terrible home situations under her wing and pushes them to want more…
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (mini review)
Because she’s a champion for bad@ss ladies and, you know, Texas high school sports…
Because underneath all her Southern charm, Tami is a feminist at heart…
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Fellow Friday Night Lights fans, what other books do you think Tami Taylor would love?


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Backlist Beauties: (Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

January 19, 2017 Book Lists 18

One of my 2016 goals was to read more backlist books since I had great success with the few I read in 2015 (50% were 4.5 or 5 star reads). As I approached 2016’s halfway mark, I realized this was the one goal where I was utterly failing to make inroads! So, to keep me honest, I decided to briefly highlight a few backlist books in an occasional “Backlist Beauties” feature.

Here’s the 2016 crop (with one missing, which was so good it’s getting it’s own mini review) and, hopefully, I’ll read enough excellent backlisters throughout 2017 to warrant more than one post!

(Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

Our Souls at Night, Kent HarufOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Fiction (Released May 26, 2015)
179 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

Our Souls at Night is a sweet, calm, and uncomplicated novel about two older people (Louis and Addie) who stopped caring what everyone else thought and did what they needed to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, which I happened to be listening to while reading this book. This novel reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton, as much of the story and background on the characters is revealed through conversations between Louis and Addie.

I told you I don’t want to live like that anymore – for other people, what they think, what they believe. I don’t think it’s the way to live. It isn’t for me anyway.

Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Fiction (Released June 3, 2014)
286 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

This powerful book about the life of immigrants living in the U.S. is initially quiet, but I couldn’t put it down towards the end. It forces the reader to see life in America through a different set of eyes. There’s lots to chew on here and it would make a fantastic book club selection.

When I walk down the street, I don’t want people to look at me and see a criminal or someone that they can spit on or beat up. I want them to see a guy who has just as much right to be here as they do, or a guy who works hard, or a guy who loves his family, or a guy who’s just trying to do the right things.


This is the story of a happy marriage, Ann PatchettThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper) 

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

What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God you’re ever going to get. All of the decisions are yours. You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a car. You have to make all the trees and all the leaves and then sew the leaves onto the trees. You make the entire world.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction (Released July 10, 2012)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Vintage/Random House Audio) 

In this compilation of columns from her time as the Dear Sugar advice columnist for The Rumpus, Strayed blends empathy, truth, bluntness, and humor to form a perfect blend of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and useful, non-judgmental advice about how to live it. I’m not an advice column type of person or an audiobook lover, but the audio version of this book (narrated by the author) earned 5 stars from me.

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

You Are An Ironman, Jacques SteinbergYou Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 15, 2011)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Gift (Publisher: Viking) 

The intertwined stories of six amateur triathletes’ attempts to complete Ironman Arizona 2009 (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), a race that can last as long as 17 hours. A friend gave me this book after learning I was competing in a Sprint Triathlon and I figured I’d peek at a few pages, but probably not read the whole thing. Boy, was I wrong! I teared up within the first 50 pages and was thoroughly inspired by the stories of these regular people attempting an extraordinary feat. 

The road to an Ironman truly begins with someone deciding to place one hand in front of the other in a pool, or one foot before the other on a fast-walk that might progress into a jog or a run.

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My Most Anticipated DEBUTS of Winter 2017

January 3, 2017 Book Lists 24

Most Anticipated debuts of winter 2017

This post contains affiliate links.

A little while ago, I shared My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2017, but that list did not include debuts. And, thank God, because there are so many debuts I’m looking forward to this year! There’s no way would I have been able to combine everything into one list. Last year, 6 of my top 10 books of the year were debuts, so this crop has extra large shoes to fill!


The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson (January 10, Random House)
Demented high school books always suck me in…plus, a blurb by Megan Abbott, the queen of demented high school books.

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (January 17, Lee Boudreaux Books)
Another type of book I’m a sucker for: the coming of age in New York City story. And, the publisher claims this book is for fans of Adelle Waldman (The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.) and Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements).

The Futures is a glittering story of a couple coming of age and a tender, searing portrait of what it’s like to be young and full of hope in a city that often seems determined to break us down—but ultimately may be the very thing that saves us.


We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (February 14, Viking)
This is the only book on this list that I’ve already read, so I can recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s a mind-blowing story and feels like a page turner.

An extraordinary, propulsive novel based on the true story of a family of Polish Jews who are separated at the start of the Second World War, determined to survive and to reunite.

Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz (February 28, Random House)
I’m interested in reading more about South Korea and Kate at Parchment Girl included this book on her Winter 2017 Book Preview.

Two young women of vastly different means each struggle to find her own way during the darkest hours of South Korea s economic miracle in a striking debut novel for readers of Anthony Marra and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.


The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis (March 7, Hogarth)
I’ve had great luck with debut Southern coming of age stories (My Sunshine Away, Only Love Can Break Your Heart) the past few years…this one is set in North Carolina.

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction.

Down City by Leah Carroll (March 7, Grand Central)
This memoir was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick and ya’ll know I love dysfunctional childhood memoirs.

Down City is a raw, wrenching memoir of a broken family and an indelible portrait of Rhode Island – a tiny state where the ghosts of mafia kingpins live alongside the feisty, stubborn people working hard just to get by.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo (March 14, Simon & Schuster)
I loved Perabo’s short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do, despite generally having trouble with short stories.

The suspenseful, breakout novel from the critically acclaimed author of the short story collections Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do—when a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill (March 21, Knopf)
Another Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick and I’m having visions of the movie The Thomas Crown Affair.

Hilarious and poignant, The Gargoyle Hunters is a love letter to a vanishing city, and a deeply emotional story of fathers and sons. […], the novel solves the mystery of a brazen and seemingly impossible architectural heist – the theft of an entire historic Manhattan building – that stunned the city and made the front page of The New York Times in 1974.

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

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Best Debuts of 2016

December 15, 2016 Book Lists 19

Best Debuts of 2016

The past couple years have been stellar for debuts. 30% of my overall Best Books of 2014 and 20% of my Best Books of 2015 were debuts. And, I suspect that you’ll be seeing an even higher percentage of debuts on this year’s Best Books of the Year list! 

Best Debuts of 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (review)
I read this dysfunctional childhood/social analysis memoir before the election. Since then, sales have taken off and controversy has swirled.

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Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington (review)
When I first read this Southern coming-of-age story, I was thrilled that it reminded me of 2015’s My Sunshine Away. Then, I found out it was based on an actual double murder in Lynchburg, VA (Tarkington’s hometown), which added to the intrigue.

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Shelter by Jung Yun (review)
I’m shocked I haven’t seen this perfectly balanced (between plot and style) dysfunctional family novel on more Best Books of 2016 lists so far.

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Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (review)
This gritty, gorgeously written NYC foodie/restaurant novel has gotten some very mixed reviews…but it was unquestioningly a winner for me.

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The Girls by Emma Cline (review)
This super hyped novel was different than I expected, but the gorgeous writing won me over.

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The Mothers by Brit Bennett (review)
This gorgeously written novel about a young girl coming of age in a black community in California has deservedly appeared on numerous Best Books of 2016 lists. I’m firmly on this bandwagon.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I waited awhile to read this because I was somewhat skeptical of all the hype, but it lived up to everything I’d heard. Yet, sadly, this will be the one and only work of Kalanithi we’ll get the pleasure of reading.

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Youngblood by Matt Gallagher (review)
The writing and the emotional struggles of the main character made this Iraq war story shine for me.

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My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2017

December 13, 2016 Book Lists 50

My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2017

This post contains affiliate links.

When I posted My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016 list a few months ago, I lamented that I hadn’t been very good at picking winners in the past (I ended up loving only one book from my Summer preview and big, fat zero from my Spring preview). Well, I’m thrilled to say that I bucked that trend with my Fall post…loving 4 out of 10 books. Cheers to hoping for an even better success rate with my winter picks!

This list does NOT include debuts, as they will get their very own post on January 3, 2017 (and there are some that I’m super excited about).


The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (January 10, Doubleday)
Bohjalian, author of The Guest Room (review), is one of my “I’ll read whatever he/she writes” authors and reading his seemingly annual January release is fast becoming a late December tradition for me.

[…] a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire – the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

Human Acts by Han Kang (January 17, Hogarth)
I missed Kang’s internationally bestselling novel (The Vegetarian) last year, but am intrigued by the South Korea setting of this short book.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.
The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre.

Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe (January 17, Simon & Schuster)
This nonfiction title hits my “gossip-y business books” hot button.

In Valley of the Gods, Wolfe follows three of these upstarts who have “stopped out” of college and real life to live and work in Silicon Valley in the hopes of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.


A Separation by Katie Kitamura (February 7, Riverhead Books)
I’m a sucker for books that break down the psychology of marriage and Rebecca Schinsky mentioned on Book Riot’s Holiday Recommendations podcast that she was excited about this one.

A mesmerizing, psychologically taut novel about a marriage’s end and the secrets we all carry.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (February 7, Tin House Books)
Another novel about marriage…plus, I loved Fuller’s 2015 debut, Our Endless Numbered Days (review).

Sexy and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious and complicated truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

The Brain Defense by Kevin Davis (February 28, Penguin Press)
Courtroom drama and investigation of how the brain works? Yes, please! Kate at Parchment Girl had this book on her 50 Amazing Books to get Excited About This Winter list.

Thought-provoking and brilliantly crafted, The Brain Defense marries a murder mystery complete with colorful characters and courtroom drama with a sophisticated discussion of how our legal system has changed and must continue to change as we broaden our understanding of the human mind.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (February 28, Little Brown)
This one is sort of my random shot in the dark. I know nothing about the author or the book, but the premise intrigued me.

Neurosurgeon Eitan Green has the perfect life–married to a beautiful police officer and father of two young boys. Then, speeding along a deserted moonlit road after an exhausting hospital shift, he hits someone. Seeing that the man, an African migrant, is beyond help, he flees the scene.


All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (March 7, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
I loved Attenberg’s 2015 novel, Saint Mazie (review), and Book Riot’s Rebecca Schinsky is already raving about her latest.

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman who defies convention as she seeks connection.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (March 7, Riverhead Books)
Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm said this dysfunctional families novel (total sucker for these too!) is “totally F’d up, yet compelling.”

The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein (March 21, Algonquin Books)
Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (review), blurbed this novel and that’s all the convincing I need. 

[…] when Jacob’s father, Dave, found out Karen was pregnant and made it clear that fatherhood wasn’t in his plans, Karen walked out of the relationship, never telling Dave her intention was to raise their child alone. But now Jake is asking to meet his dad, and with good reason: Karen is dying.

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

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