The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2018 So Far

May 29, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 23

Best Backlist Books I've Read in 2018 So Far

 

The best backlist books I’ve read in 2018 so far are all over the map from a genre perspective. But, good for me for genre diversity!

I never read as many backlist books as I’d like, but I do try to fit some in at the beginning and end of every year. And, putting them on hold at the library holds me accountable because I feel pressure to make the time when the books come in!

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

The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2018 So Far

Glitter and GlueGlitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released February 4, 2014)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Ballantine Books)

Plot Summary: Corrigan’s stint as a nanny to an Australian family who had lost their mother helps her reflect on what it means to be a mother and her relationship with her own mother.

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored Corrigan’s latest memoir, Tell Me More, so I was excited to delve into her backlist. While Glitter and Glue didn’t blow me away quite as much as Tell Me More, I still relished sinking back into Corrigan’s signature brand of heartfelt, relatable, and sometimes irreverent observations about life and motherhood. Corrigan hadn’t given much thought to what it’s like to mother someone or quite appreciated her mother until she stepped into the role of surrogate caring for two children who had lost their own. I know I couldn’t begin to relate to what it’s like to be a mother until I was one myself…which gave me a whole new appreciation for my own mother…a situation I’m guessing is pretty common. If you like women’s life observations-type writing (think Anna Quindlen, Cheryl Strayed), Kelly Corrigan should be next on your list! Read by the author, this one is great on audio!

[…] I probably should have figured this out sooner, but what child can see the woman inside her Mom, what with all that mother-ness blocking out everything else?

Heating and CoolingHeating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
Memoir (Released October 10, 2017)
112 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

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

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

There will come a day—let it be many years from now—when our kids realize no married couple ever needed to retreat at high noon behind their locked bedroom door to discuss taxes.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Fiction – Young Adult (Released October 17, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Plot Summary: In the wake of her sister’s tragic death, Julia Reyes (the daughter of Mexican immigrants) strains against the expectations of her traditional parents and tries to find out more about her sister’s life.

My Thoughts: This story of a cultural and generational clash, dealing with grief, and living in the shadow of a deceased sibling reminded me a bit of Everything I Never Told You (my review). Julia is a bit of a feminist with ambitions to leave her Chicago suburb to pursue her writing dreams, while her parents think she should stay home, learning to keep house like “good Mexicans daughters” (e.g. her sister). Julia narrates the book in a salty, questioning style, but her constant negativity started to grate on me after awhile. The story is bleak at times, but is ultimately hopeful (even though the ending is a bit too neat and tidy, though that’s probably appropriate for YA). Though not perfect, this coming-of-age story about the universal theme of young girls navigating their paths with parents who are vastly different than they are could be a transformative read for young girls.

In some ways, I think that part of what I’m trying to accomplish—whether Amá really understands it or not—is to live for her, Apá, and Olga. It’s not that I’m living life for them, exactly, but I have so many choices they’ve never had, and I feel like I can do so much with what I’ve been given. What a waste their journey would be if I just settled for a dull, mediocre life. Maybe one day they’ll realize that.

Red Notice Red Notice by Bill Browder
Nonfiction – Business (Released February 3, 2015)
380 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Simon & Schuster)

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

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

This whole exercise was teaching me that Russian business culture is closer to that of a prison yard than anything else. In prison, all you have is your reputation. Your position is hard-earned and it is not relinquished easily. When someone is crossing the yard coming for you, you cannot stand idly by. You have to kill him before he kills you. If you don’t, and if you manage to survive the attack, you’ll be deemed weak and before you know it, you will have lost your respect and become someone’s bitch. This is the calculus that every oligarch and every Russian politician goes through every day.

Virgin SuicidesThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Fiction – Debut (Released April 1, 1993)
249 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Plot Summary: In a Detroit suburb, the five enigmatic Lisbon sisters commit suicide over the course of a year and the neighborhood boys who were obsessed with them try to understand why.

My Thoughts: I recently read Annie Spence’s Dear Fahrenheit 451 and she raved so much about The Virgin Suicides that I immediately felt like a freak of nature for not having read it yet! I definitely didn’t end up as evangelical about it as Annie, but I did really like it. It’s a gorgeously written, nostalgic, wistful, coming-of-age story told from the collective voice of the neighborhood boys who were obsessed with the mysterious and unreachable Lisbon sisters. This is a book where you know what happens in the first sentence, so there isn’t a ton of “action” (other than lots of awkward, teenage stalking), yet Eugenides still managed to create incredible, simmering tension that had me almost as obsessed with the Lisbon sisters as the neighborhood boys were. PS – the first and last lines are among the best first and last lines I’ve ever read.

It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree-house, with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.

What great backlist books have you read this year?

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My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2018

May 24, 2018 Book Lists 14

Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2018

 

In case you missed it last week, I posted my 2018 Summer Reading Guide, which is chock full of awesome books for summer that I’ve already vetted. Today’s Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2018 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.

My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2018 list is mostly made up of books from trusted sources (to find your personal trusted recommendation sources, check out this post and free downloadable template) who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list. I’m sharing the recommendation source for each book and will specify if that source has or has not read it yet.

I use my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker (available for purchase for $11.99), to keep an ongoing eye on my most trusted recommendation sources…and have improved my reading success by 26% from last year!

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

June

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (June 5, Doubleday)
I’ve read this one and it’s intriguing, addictive, and extremely messed up. It’s super dark and definitely not for everyone, but I’m still thinking about it over a month after reading it. It was also my #1 “Intense / Fast-Paced” pick on my 2018 Summer Reading Guide!

Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship. A Talented Mr. Ripley for the digital age, this seductive story takes a classic tale of obsession and makes it irresistibly new.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by ME, Tyler Goodson (manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA), and Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast.

Us Against You by Fredrick Backman (June 5, Atria Books)
The sequel to Beartown (my review), one of my favorite books of last year!!! This is probably my most anticipated book of the entire year. Beartown reminded me so much of Friday Night Lights and Us Against You sounds like it picks up about where Dillon was split into East and West.

After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. […]

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted Author and already read by Modern Mrs. Darcy (2018 Summer Reading Guide) and Jan Belisle (blog reader whose taste I generally agree with).

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (June 5, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
I love novels based on real events and this one reminded me of a less epic A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. I also loved Pittard’s 2014 novel, Reunion.

It’s a humid June day when the phones begin to ring in Atlanta: disaster has struck. Air France Flight 007, which had been chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s cultural leaders following a luxurious arts-oriented tour of Europe, crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris. In one fell swoop, many of the city’s wealthiest residents perished.

Left behind were children, spouses, lovers, friends, and a city on the cusp of great change: the Civil Rights movement was at its peak, the hedonism of the 60s was at its doorstep. In Hannah Pittard’s dazzling and most ambitious novel yet, she gives us the journeys of those who must now rebuild this place and their lives.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author and already read by ME and Modern Mrs. Darcy (2018 Summer Reading Guide).

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (June 12, SJP for Hogarth)
I love complicated family stories and this one sounds like a good one. I read the sample and was immediately intrigued. The author is only 26 years old and this is her debut novel! It’s also the first acquisition by Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Hogarth.

A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding–a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son’s estrangement–the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children, and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Modern Mrs. Darcy (2018 Summer Reading Guide).

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (June 19, Viking)
I’ve never read Rebecca Makkai before, but have heard she’s kind of extraordinary. One of my best recommendation sources rated this one 5 stars!

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, he finds his partner is infected, and that he might even have the virus himself. The only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS crisis affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Tyler Goodson (manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA).

July

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (July 10, Knopf)
Believe it or not, I’ve never read Anne Tyler. But, women’s reinvention journey novels have been totally appealing to me lately and Tyler Goodson, one of my top recommendation sources, rated this one 5 stars.

A bittersweet novel of hope and regret, fulfillment and renewal, Clock Dance brings us the everyday life of a woman who decides it’s never too late to change direction, and choose your own path.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Tyler Goodson (manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA), Modern Mrs. Darcy (2018 Summer Reading Guide), and Jaclyn Crupi

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (July 10, Little Brown)
I’m a sucker for family stories and the Shanghai setting of this one especially intrigues me.

Set in modern Shanghai, a debut by a Chinese-American writer about a prodigal son whose unexpected return forces his newly wealthy family to confront painful secrets and unfulfilled promises.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Modern Mrs. Darcy (2018 Summer Reading Guide)

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (July 17, Little Brown)
I’m super picky about my psychological thrillers, but Megan Abbott is one of my most trusted authors. She writes demented high school girls better than anyone I know. I loved The Fever and You Will Know Me and this time around she tackles the world of science.

A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted Author

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (July 31, Riverhead Books)
Annie Jones got me interested in this one when she talked about it on Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast…she said the writing is gorgeous. Plus, R.O. Kwon was one of Bookpage’s 11 Women to Watch in 2018.

A powerful, darkly glittering novel about violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Tyler Goodson (manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA), and Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast

August

The Drama Teacher by Koren Zailckas (August 7, Crown)
Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books (one of my most trusted book bloggers) loved Zailckas’ debut novel, Mother, Mother and I’m always on the hunt for new-to-me psychological thriller authors.

Gracie Mueller seems like an average person. […] But she has a lot to hide—she’s not even a US citizen—and when Randy’s failing career as a real estate agent makes finances tight, he leaves town for a better job, their home goes into foreclosure, and Gracie turns back to the creatively illegal lifestyle of her past to keep things afloat for her kids.

An expert in fake identities, she becomes Tracey Bueller, who later becomes Mariana DeFelice. […] After a deadly stint upstate when a friend asks too many questions, she leaves town for New York City, finding her way into the best school in Manhattan for her kids, where she gets a job as the drama teacher. But as she struggles to keep her web of lies spun taut and her secrets hidden, more questions about her past are raised.

Recommendation Source(s): Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books (not read)

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders (August 7, Random House)
I’m a sucker for a good family saga and Tyler Goodson, one of my top recommendation sources, rated this one 5 stars.

A “riveting family saga” (Mary Karr) set in the American West, about sibling rivalry, dark secrets, and a young girl’s struggle with freedom and artistic desire.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Tyler Goodson (manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (August 14, Putnam)
I love a coming of age story that has a bit of mystery and the North Carolina marsh setting of this debut novel grabbed my attention (I’m secretly hoping she’ll remind me a bit of Pat Conroy). PS – Owens is a biologist and wildlife writer.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Recommendation Source(s): None – I received an ARC of this from the publisher and the description caught my attention.

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

What Sumer 2018 books are you looking forward to?

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Why I Didn’t Like Circe by Madeline Miller

May 22, 2018 Fiction 21

CirceFiction – Fantasy
Released April 10, 2018
394 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books)

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

Headline

Though I could tell it was well-done, I didn’t like Circe. I felt like I slogged through it and thought I needed to have better base knowledge or at least more interest in Greek mythology to appreciate it.

Plot Summary

When Circe, the under-rated daughter of the god Helios, begins interacting with mortals and discovers she has a power, her father banishes her to a deserted island as part of an agreement with Zeus.

Why I Read It

I decided to ignore my lack of interest in Greek mythology and read Circe anyway because of the multitude of rave reviews, including some from trusted recommendation sources (Gilmore Guide, Novel VisitsBook of the Month, author Ann Patchett).

Major Themes

Greek mythology, feminism, motherhood, adventure

What I Liked

  • Despite this book not being for me at all, I recognize that it was extremely well-done. I’m actually stressing out over my rating because of this. I didn’t like Circe at all, but I also feel like it doesn’t deserve a 1 star rating because I could see how well-done it was.
  • There were a few parts where I was riveted by the adventure and I couldn’t stop turning the pages (both parts had to do with The Straits).
  • Right when I finished Circe, I went away for a night with some girlfriends I grew up with. I arrived to find two of them reading and loving Circe. We then had a pretty in-depth discussion about the messages it conveys and I liked those messages. I also liked that it sparked this type of discussion at a girls’ weekend!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Circe reminded me of how I felt about A Gentleman in Moscow (my review). I could see it was well-done, but I felt like I was slogging my way through it. I couldn’t concentrate, the story was going in one ear and out the other, I felt like I was fighting with the language, it felt like a school assignment, and I felt like I was viewing the action from 50,000 feet in the air through a layer of clouds..I did not feel present in Circe’s world (except for those two periods in The Straits).
  • The language is formal and of the time of the Greek gods. I had no idea what she was talking about in some passages, like this one:

His voice rolled like a bard’s: Achilles, prince of Phthia, swiftest of all the Greeks, best of the Achaian warriors at Troy. Beautiful, brilliant, born from the dread nereid Thetis, graceful and deadly as the sea itself. The Trojans had fallen before him like grass before the scythe, and the mighty Prince Hector himself perished at his ash- spear’s end.

  • Particularly in the beginning, there are way too many characters and I couldn’t keep track of them. It felt like Miller included every minor god in Greek mythology in this book in some way, no matter how tangential. There was a glossary of characters at the back of the book, but I didn’t know it was there until I was finished…that should absolutely have been at the front of the book!
  • Circe is the kind of book that I’ve found it almost impossible to read these days. I fit reading into my life in small snippets throughout the day amid taking care of my young children. Often while I’m reading, my children are around me talking, interrupting, participating in sports practices, etc. And, I rarely have larger chunks of time to really focus on getting immersed in a book. So, I need books that I can easily get immersed in. A part of me felt like my brain just couldn’t handle Circe. But, I also think a great book shouldn’t feel like hard work…
  • I’d heard you don’t have to know much about or even be super interested in Greek mythology to love Circe. I totally disagree. I think you need somewhat of a foundation in Greek mythology to make heads or tails of this or the time and inclination to do some outside research as you go (i.e. looking up all these tangential gods and learning their stories).
  • You may ask why I finished Circe if I disliked it so much…the answer is I wanted to review it. There are very few contrarian reviews out there about this book and I thought the discussion needed an opposing viewpoint. That being said, this reading experience sure did remind me why I’m usually a big DNF’er of books that aren’t working for me.

A Defining Quote

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.

Good for People Who Like…

Greek mythology, intricate books, more formal writing

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What I’m Reading Now (5/21/18)

May 21, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 22

We’re in the middle of a massive multi-day rain storm (schools were even canceled on Friday because of flash flooding)…the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my life! I’m just hoping the many very tall pine trees in our yard stay firmly rooted in the ground and don’t end up toppling into our house. 

The good news is…my 2018 Summer Reading List went live last week! I’ve got books in 4 categories: Something Fun, Something Intense / Fast-Paced, Something With a Bit of Substance, and Something Different. And, this year I chose a #1 pick for each category and have a printable cheatsheet you can take to the bookstore or library! Bookmark this post because I’ll be adding new books to the list all summer!

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

Giveaway 
In case you missed it on Instagram this weekend, I’m teaming up with Tupelo Style (@tupelostyle) and Richmond Real Estate Mom (@richmondrealestatemom) for a giveaway of The Female Persuasion (one of my favorite books of the year so far!) OR the cute earrings in this picture! Tupelo Style is an online consignment shop specializing in high-end clothing (adults and kids)…they’ll sell your stuff you’re ready to purge and you can pick up some great deals on their Instagram account! I recently bought a cool bracelet for just $10.

Giveaway ends at midnight EST tonight (Monday May 19). To enter, like both Sarah’s Book Shelves and Tupelo Style and tag 2 friends!

WIN A COPY OF THE FEMALE PERSUASION: It’s super dreary today (so much rain that schools were closed…grr), but doesn’t this ensemble just brighten things up?! I love me a fun, coral dress for summer and THE FEMALE PERSUASION is the perfect accessory (because books are what people mean when they talk about accessories, right?!). Check out my 2018 Summer Reading Guide for more perfect summer “accessories” for your beach bags (LINK IN PROFILE)! Photo Cred: @sarahwhitmorephotography _ I want to share a new online consignment shop called @tupelostyle! They’ll sell the stuff you’re ready to purge and you can pick up some great deals on high quality consigned items on their Instagram account. I recently bought a cool gold bracelet with gray stones for just $10 from them! If you love the outfit pictured and want to purchase, head over to @tupelostyle. And, for more details about how @tupelostyle works, check out a blog post from @richmondrealestatemom (link in her profile). _ GIVEAWAY (2 chances to win): To win a brand new copy of THE FEMALE PERSUASION (which is one of my favorite books of the year so far and a featured book on my 2018 Summer Reading Guide, link in profile) OR the cute earrings in this picture… – follow both @sarahsbookshelves and @tupelostyle – Tag 2 friends in the comments section on @tupelostyle. Giveaway ends on Monday (5/21) at midnight EST. * * * * * #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes #resaleshop #designerconsignment #instacloset

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I finished reading…

We Are Gathered

 

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman (June 5, 2018)
I thought this would be a light, fun read and a good candidate for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide. It was not at all what I expected and wasn’t right for the Summer Reading Guide, but I liked it! Mini review to come.

I’m currently reading…

Favorite Sister

 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (May 15, 2018)
I’m about 25% through this novel about a fictional reality TV show similar to Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. And, I’m really liking it despite DNFing Knoll’s first novel (Luckiest Girl Alive). It’s chock full of behind-the-scenes reality TV secrets and passive-aggressive sister dynamics. We’ll see how things progress…

Upcoming reading plans…

Tin Man

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (May 15, 2018)
This novel about a friendship comes highly recommended by Susie at Novel Visits (she said it’s for fans of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, my favorite book of last year!) and my library hold just came in!

was reading…

One Year Ago: Apparently, I didn’t post anything!

Two Years Ago: I was reading a powerful, underrated gem.

How was your reading week?

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2018 Summer Reading List

May 17, 2018 Book Lists 51

2018 Summer Reading List

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Summer Reading Lists: 2013201420152016, 2017

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

2018 Summer Reading List

Latest Addition (July 16, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Fun

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Intense / Fast-Paced

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something With A Bit More Substance

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Different

My #1 Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April and May 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

May 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 16

April and May 2018 Books to Read

 

My reading was all over the place in April (because I was reading way ahead for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide), so you’re getting a double dose of books this month!

In addition to my April and May 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of another April book, Circe by Madeline Miller (coming a week from today).

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April and May 2018 Books to Read

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

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

My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Joanna Cantor’s debut novel is both! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. During the Prologue, I was wavering about whether or not to continue reading, then something completely unexpected and interesting happened that caused me to keep going…and I’m so glad I did. This element isn’t a huge focus of the plot, but it was the pivotal moment that got me engrossed in the book. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife.

When you knew what you wanted, everything became simpler, more streamlined.

book of the month may 2018How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

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

My Thoughts: I’ve been on a streak lately with books about very serious topics that are handled in a light-hearted way…and that read like brain candy. Add How to Walk Away to that list (Alternative Remedies for Loss, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties). How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Admittedly, this is not the kind of book I normally enjoy (I usually like them extra dark and twisted), but all the unicorns and rainbows worked for me here. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). However, I could’ve done without the Epilogue. I have no idea why all these things I normally hate in books worked for me here, but they did and I no longer have to sheepishly admit I have nothing when people ask me for a “feel-good” book recommendation.

Needing to find reasons to live had forced me to build a life worth living. I would never say the accident was a good thing. I would never, ever claim that everything happens for a reason. Like all tragedies, it was senseless.

But I knew one thing for sure: The greater our capacity for sorrow becomes, the greater our capacity for joy.

So I went on, “That’s the thing you don’t know – that you can’t know until life has genuinely beaten the crap out of you: I am better for it all. I am better for being broken.”

Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.

My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). She understandably has different views about many everyday things (e.g., camping, marriage, etc) that were shaped by her experience. The writing is simple and hard-hitting, which is my kind of writing and fit this story well, but the alternating timelines pulled me out of the story a bit. I’d admittedly not learned much about the various refugee crises around the world and this book started to change that.

It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.

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

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

My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing. I’ve only really loved two short story collections in my entire life (Beneath the Bonfire and Why They Run the Way They Do). I can now make that three because I adored this collection…it’s unquestionably 5 stars for me! The three collections I’ve loved all have one thing in common: the stories have something idiosyncratic in them, but are otherwise about mundane life. The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection!

Oh, our private habits, our private selves – how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.

April and May 2018 Books to Skip

I was very quick to DNF books over the past few months because I was trying to get through as many candidates for my Summer Reading Guide as possible. So, all my April and May skips are DNFs…

Campaign WidowsCampaign Widows by Aimee Agresti (May 22, 2018)
DNF at 6%

Honestly, I tried this so long ago and quit so early that I have zero memory of anything I did read or why I DNF’d it. Sorry!

 

 

Love and RuinLove and Ruin by Paula McLain (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 27%

I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, but felt like I was slogging through Love and Ruin. Maybe it was because she went back to Hemingway a second time? I was reading it at the beach and that’s not the place you want to try to slog through a book!

 


That Kind of MotherThat Kind of Mother
 by Rumaan Alam (May 8, 2018)
DNF at 48%

I thought I’d love this novel about a woman who adopts the child of her nanny after she dies during childbirth because two of my top recommendation sources (Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast and Tyler Goodson, Manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA) rated it 5 stars. Unfortunately, something felt off. I had trouble connecting with Rebecca (the main character), the observations about motherhood were kind of all over the map (maybe because it’s written by a man??), and I just couldn’t get fully immersed in it.

 

High SeasonThe High Season by Judy Blendell (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 20%

This novel was heavy on high society and museum board politics, which I found annoying and boring. Kind of like the mommy politics in Big Little Lies (my review) drove me crazy.

 

 

Italian PartyThe Italian Party by Christina Lynch (April 10, 2018)
DNF at 6%.
Ditto Campaign Widows.

 

 

 

What are the best April or May 2018 book you’ve read so far?

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What I’m Reading Now (5/14/18)

May 14, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 27

I hope all the mothers out there had a great Mother’s Day weekend! I spent part of mine on a night away with some old friends and I arrived to find two of them reading Circe! Needless to say, it sparked some discussion…

The summer weather has arrived in Virginia and it’s a welcome change from my old town, where it didn’t really feel like summer had truly arrived until mid June. And, with the summer weather comes my annual Summer Reading List…I’ll be posting it this Thursday, so y’all have plenty of time to peruse it before Memorial Day weekend! And, there are a couple new twists this year!

The first round of personalized book recommendations for our $7/month patrons went out today! If you’d like to get a monthly personalized book recommendation, support the blog on Patreon (more details here). 

Tools of Titans Tip
I’m slowly working my way through Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, a collection of highlights from interviews he’s done with various stars of their fields. It’s chock full of awesome tidbits, so I thought I’d share the most helpful tip I pick up each week. I’ve now moved onto the “Wise” section, which is hit and miss so far.

On Busyness:
This is something I desperately need to take to heart…

“This frantic, self-congratulatory busyness is a distinctly upscale affliction. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the ICU, taking care of their senescent parents, or holding down three minimum-wage jobs they have to commute to by bus who need to tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they are addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

– From Tim Kreider, Essayist and Cartoonist

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Warning: Unpopular opinion ahead…⠀ _⠀ ⠀ ⭐⭐⭐ 💫 // So many of my best recommendation sources rated this book 5 stars…so, I went into it with super high hopes. But, I thought it was just okay. LINK TO MY REVIEW (WHICH ALSO INCLUDES EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER) IN PROFILE.⠀ _⠀ ⠀ I loved the premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…and it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (which I adored). BUT, the adulthood interaction of The Gunners felt off…all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” Tickling? Indian wrestling? Did anyone else think this was odd?!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ This plus the incessant revealing of secrets (it felt like a game of whack-a-mole) made the overall story feel a bit contrived. ⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Has anyone else read The Gunners? What did you think? Am I on this island alone?!⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #badassbookbabes

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I finished reading…

How to Walk Away, Circe

 

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15, 2018)
This May Book of the Month selection was everything I normally hate in my fiction (romance, overly sappy, some unbelievable plot elements)…but it strangely worked for me in this case! Mini review coming tomorrow.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Circe by Madeline Miller (April 10, 2018)
I’m firmly in the minority on this one. Did not like it one bit. I felt like it was a battle to get through. Full review to come.

I’m currently reading…

We Are Gathered

 

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman (June 5, 2018)
Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot’s All the Books podcast recommended this debut novel about a wedding told from the perspectives of the various guests. I’m only 15% in and it’s definitely not what I was expecting so far. I’m not sure yet whether that’s a good or a bad thing. We’ll see how things pan out…

Upcoming reading plans…

Favorite Sister

 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (May 15, 2018)
I originally thought I’d skip this novel about a reality show that seems very similar to Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise because I DNF’d Knoll’s debut, Luckiest Girl Alive. But, I am a total reality TV junkie and two bloggers I trust (Catherine at Gilmore Guide and Tina at TBR, etc. have said good things about Knoll’s latest).

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading one of my favorite sports novels (P.S. it’s a fantastic summer read!)

Two Years Ago: I’d just finished a quiet novel that made me want to immediately read more of that author’s work.

How was your reading week?

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Two Books Everyone Else Rated 5 Stars: Educated by Tara Westover and The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

May 10, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 15

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of both of these books because many people have rated them 5 stars. And, I really liked one and liked the other decently well. But, neither was a 5 star read for me. I liked Educated a lot and can’t point to any specific flaws in it, but it just didn’t have the extra oomph to push it from 4 to 5 stars. However, I did have some specific issues with The Gunners, which kept it at 3.5 stars for me.

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

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

My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. Her journey to follow her passion for knowledge (both academic knowledge and common sense) and her battle with her family to be able to pursue an education is both heart-breaking and inspirational. I could feel Tara’s emotional tug-of-war over her own beliefs and the blood ties of her family…it was heart-wrenching. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass Castle, Hillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my reviewEducated should be next on your list!

Again I thought about the family. There was a puzzle in it, something unresolved. What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations—to friends, to society, to themselves?

The Gunners by Rebecca KauffmanThe Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
261 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Counterpoint Press)

Plot Summary: A coed group of childhood friends (called “The Gunners”) gathers for the one of the members’ (Sally’s) funeral and tries to unravel what went wrong with their friendship group ages ago and what caused Sally to end her life.

My Thoughts: Many of my very best recommendation sources 5 star-loved The Gunners, so I was sure it would be 5 stars for me as well. Well…I liked it, but I did have some issues with it and I never considered rating it 5 stars (it’s getting 3.5 stars). I loved the story’s premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (my review), but Shotgun Lovesongs executed it better. The story meanders a bit in the beginning, but the story moves once the revelations begin. But, so many secrets are revealed that it felt like a game of whack-a-mole. And, I loved the characters, but the way they interacted in adulthood felt off…like the author was trying too hard. The adults tickle each other, Indian-wrestle, and tell scary stories (just like when they were kids), but all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” This coupled with the over-the-top whack-a-mole revealing of secrets made the story feel a bit contrived overall. For a different opinion, check out reviews at Novel Visits and Running N Reading.

“Sally taught me something about people that I never wanted to know.” Alice said, “What was that?” “That people can disappear,” Lynn said. “Right before your eyes. That you’ll never understand it and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.”

Have you read either of these popular books? What did you think?

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Why I Generally Don’t Like Thrillers…and 6 Types of Thrillers That DO Work For Me

May 8, 2018 Discussions 25

Why I Don't Like Thrillers

 

Y’all have heard me complain about my prickly relationship with thrillers for years now. And, based on all that complaining, you’d think I’d just avoid the genre entirely. But, I don’t. Because, when I do find a thriller that works for me, it’s one of my favorite reading experiences! And, then I keep trying and failing to replicate that experience.

Ever since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train were such mega-hits, publishers have been churning out psychological thrillers at a feverish pace, chasing that lightening in a bottle success. My personal opinion is that this has put a ton of mediocre to terrible thrillers out there. There are the ones that rely on some outlandish gimmick to surprise the reader, the ones that are completely predictable, and ones that involve the supernatural or paranormal…all of which drive me crazy.

So, I’ve been trying to choose my thrillers wisely and really consider what makes a thriller work for me. From what I can tell, I prefer thrillers…

With A Surprising, Yet Not Outlandish Ending or Twist

This is the #1 thing a thriller must have for it to work for me. After I finish, I want to be able to look back on the story and say, “I did not see that ending/twist coming, but it totally makes sense in hindsight.” And, it’s unfortunately really hard to ride that perfect line between surprise and inevitability.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night (my review), The Wife (the Alafair Burke version), Gone Girl

That Delve Deep Into a Topic

Certain thrillers are defined by a topic they delve deep into and I like how the topics differentiate these thrillers from everything else out there…and help you learn something in the process.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night – narcissism (my review), The Guest Room – sex trafficking (my review), The Sleepwalker – parasomnia (my review), You Will Know Me – elite women’s gymnastics (my review)

That Feel Like or Are Something Else

Some books are technically considered another genre entirely, but read like a page turner. Again, this helps these thrillers stand out from the very crowded pack.

Successful Examples: Dark Matter – Sci-Fi (my review), Bull Mountain – Grit Lit (my review)

With a Bit of Romance

Normally, I can’t stand cheesy romance in my fiction. But, the romance I find in thrillers is usually of the darker, more twisted (rather than cheesy) variety…and I can totally handle that.

Successful Examples: Quicksand (my review), The Roanoke Girls (my review), Dead Letters (my review)

That are International

I’ve had good luck over the past few years with translated thrillers. Most were run-away bestsellers in their home countries and then made their way to the U.S. market. There’s something about an international thriller (European in these cases) that has a completely different feel than U.S. thrillers. There’s more subtle emotional tension rather than a reliance on suspense driven by action.

Successful Examples: Based on a True Story (spoiler discussion), Fear (my review), After the Crash (my review)

That Feel Literary

I’m not sure how to define this except to say that I know it when I see it. Often, thrillers rely on plot-based action, but I love it when a thriller also has strong character development and great writing. 

Successful Examples: Since We Fell (my review), Social Creature

How do you feel about thrillers? Are you a fan or not? What types of thrillers work for you and what thriller elements bother you?

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What I’m Reading Now (5/7/18)

May 7, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 21

I celebrated my 40th birthday this past weekend…though my actual birthday isn’t until later this week. I know many people view 40 as a big milestone…or tragedy…depending on how you look at it. But, I haven’t really thought much about it and haven’t done any sort of big taking-of-stock. I’m just keeping on for now…

I’m putting together personalized book recommendations for our $7/month patrons this week (you can now support the blog on Patreon and get some fun rewards as a thank you for your support!), so sign up on Patreon if you’d like to be included in the first batch of personalized recommendations! And, check out my post for more details about this whole Patreon thing.

Tools of Titans Tip
I’m slowly working my way through Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, a collection of highlights from interviews he’s done with various stars of their fields. It’s chock full of awesome tidbits, so I thought I’d share the most helpful tip I pick up each week. I’ve now moved onto the “Wise” section, which is hit and miss so far.

On Sleep:
Amen, Amen, Amen. Nothing makes me more out of sorts than lack of sleep.

“Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue – but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.’”

– From Maria Popova, Founder of Brainpickings.org

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My new bookshelves are finally getting some accessories…including some cool bookends! I kind of wish I could sit in a giant wheel and read all day these clowns…⠀ _⠀ ⠀ I actually have a shelf solely dedicated to @bookofthemonth selections! Here’s just a smidge of it…⠀ – My favorite book of 2017 and possibly my favorite of the past few years as well.⠀ – A book I almost didn’t read because I didn’t like the sound of the premise, but ended up loving.⠀ – And, a fun, easy read that was on last year’s Summer Reading Guide (my 2018 Guide is coming out in mid-May!).⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Tell me about your favorite bookends! ⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookgram #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #instabook #booktalk #bookblogger #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #amreading #bookgram #bookofthemonth #shelfie #bookends #bookshelves @ahoffmanwriter @doree @johnboyne @hogarthbooks @simonandschuster @littlebrown ⠀

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I finished reading…

Girl Who Smiled Beads, Tiger Woods

 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya (April 24, 2018)
An emotionally tough, yet powerful read…and a great memoir for book clubs. Mini Review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict (March 27, 2018, Audiobook)
You might think you know a lot about Tiger Woods based on how heavily he’s been covered in the media and you’ve probably heard much of the scoop in this book in little snippets throughout his career, but Benedict puts it all together to paint a complete picture of Tiger as an athlete and a person. It’s a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of an elite athlete in the limelight who has been trained to be a machine, not a whole person. P.S. – Bill Simmons, one of my favorite sportswriters, finished this book in two sittings.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

How To Walk Away

 

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15, 2018)
This novel about a girl who suffers a tragic accident the night she gets engaged was the May Book of the Month selection I was most interested in…and it’s not my kind of book at all (feel-good, romantic, a little sappy). But, I’m about 70% through and have been loving it so far…these elements that usually turn me off are working for me in this case. I’ve heard chatter about the ending, so I’ll be interested to see what I think of that.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Circe

 

Circe by Madeline Miller (April 10, 2018)
This re-imagining of the story of Circe, a figure from Greek mythology, is not my usual fare at all, but it’s gotten so many rave reviews from people I trust that I chose it as my April Book of the Month pick.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just read one of my favorite books of the first half of 2017…a translation!

Two Years Ago: I reading one of my favorite brain candy novels!

How was your reading week?

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