Nonfiction November 2017 is coming soon!

October 3, 2017 Blogger Events 18

Nonfiction November 2017


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

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

Hope to see you in November!

Nonfiction November Schedule of Events

Week 1 (Oct. 30 to Nov. 3)

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

Week 2 (Nov. 6 to Nov. 10)

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

Week 3 (Nov. 13 to Nov. 17)

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

Week 4 (Nov. 20 to Nov. 24)

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

Week 5 (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1)

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

Nonfiction Book Swap Sign-Ups  

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

Possibilities for my Nonfiction November Reading List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What I’m Reading Now (10/2/17)

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

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

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

#Buildsarahsbookshelves Library Update

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

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

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

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

I’m currently reading…

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

 by Dirk Kurbjuweit (October 3, 2017)

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

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Manhattan Beach, Lie to Me

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

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

Upcoming reading plans…

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

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

was reading…

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

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

How was your reading week?

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

October 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 10

Book of the Month Club October 2017 Selections

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

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

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

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

Book of the Month Club October 2017 Selections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Join Book of the Month Club…

Book of the Month Club is a subscription service for people who like to try new books from a curated selection and like to read in hardcover format. Through Book of the Month Club, you can get a hardcover book for generally significantly less than you’d pay in a bookstore or through Amazon. And, you get to try something new that has been vetted by one of Book of the Month Club’s well-read judges!

Sign up for any of the subscription plans below and you get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). Book of the Month Club will then mail your chosen book to your house with a cute note. You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want.

Sign up for a Book of the Month Club membership (NEW pricing below)!

New members will sign up for a membership that renews monthly:

A book of your choice for $14.99 / month
Add extra books to your shipment for $9.99 each
Skip any month you want
Free shipping, always

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

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*All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

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

September 29, 2017 Book Recommendations 12

Ultimate Guide to Book of the Month Club Judges

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

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

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

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

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

How to Join Book of the Month Club…

Book of the Month Club is a subscription service for people who like to try new books from a curated selection and like to read in hardcover format. Through Book of the Month Club, you can get a hardcover book for generally significantly less than you’d pay in a bookstore or through Amazon. And, you get to try something new that has been vetted by one of Book of the Month Club’s well-read judges!

Sign up for any of the subscription plans below and you get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). Book of the Month Club will then mail your chosen book to your house with a cute note. You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want.

Sign up for a Book of the Month Club membership (NEW pricing below)!

New members will sign up for a membership that renews monthly:

A book of your choice for $14.99 / month
Add extra books to your shipment for $9.99 each
Skip any month you want
Free shipping, always

The Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club Judges

Lighter Literary Fiction

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (author of The Nest)

Rachel Syme (Writer)

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

Serious Literary Fiction

Alexander Chee (author of The Queen of the Night)

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

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

Isaac Fitzgerald (Books Editor at Buzzfeed Books)

Laia Garcia (Deputy Editor, Lenny Letter)

Leigh Haber (Books Editor, O Magazine)

Maris Kreizman (Book of the Month Club Editorial Director)

Nina Sankovitch (Bestselling Author)

Morgan Jerkins (Writer)


Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

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

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

Young Adult (YA)

Dana Schwartz (Author)

Katie Cotugno (Bestselling Author)

Eclectic Judges

Kevin Nguyen (Digital Deputy Editor, GQ Magazine)

Kim Hubbard (Books Editor for People Magazine)

Steph Opitz (Book Reviewer at Marie Claire)

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

Tyler Coates (Culture Editor at GQ)

Kristen Iversen (Author)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Reading Now (9/25/17)

September 25, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 23

Last week, it was such a relief to read something easy and fast-moving following a couple sloggy September books…even if I didn’t think the book was that great. And, I’m now onto a book I think might pull me out of this awful reading slump.

On a logistical note, I’m investigating switching from Boardbooster to Tailwind for scheduling pins. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks!

#Buildsarahsbookshelves Library Update

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

My latest acquisition contained a little surprise. I ordered a hardcover of Black Chalk (one of my favorite books of 2014 and a book I still recommend all the time) from Amazon. The hardcover I ordered arrived signed by the author! And, little did I know that Black Chalk never came out in hardcover in the US, so I’d received the UK version. After a little Instagram chat, Christopher J. Yates (the author) informed me that he was fairly shocked I’d received an autographed copy, as he’d only signed hardcovers for one independent bookstore (and it was in the UK). A little bookish serendipity.

The latest book for my #buildsarahsbookshelves project (where I’m accumulating a very selective collection of beloved books to live on my first set of built-in bookshelves) arrived with a surprise! It was autographed…how fun and the author happens to be a delight on Twitter! _ BLACK CHALK was one of my favorite books of 2014…and here we are 3 years later and I still recommend it to people all. the. time! If you liked THE SECRET HISTORY or this year’s IF WE WERE VILLAINS, BLACK CHALK is your next book! PS – @christopherjyates has a new book (GRIST MILL ROAD) coming out in January! @picador _ Stay tuned to see what else makes the shelves! #bookstagram #amreading #bookshelvesofonstagram #bookworm #bookshelf #instabooks #bookblogger #booklover #booklovers

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Hosted by The Book Date.

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I finished reading…


Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair
 by Nelson DeMille (September 19, 2017)
Pretty standard Nelson DeMille. New main character, but it’s essentially the personality of John Corey with a different name and background. Now that I’ve been reading DeMille for a long time, his recent books have started to repeat themselves.

I’m currently reading…

Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

The Best Kind of People
 by Zoe Whittall (September 19, 2017)
I plowed through a quarter of this story about a beloved high school teacher who gets accused of sexual misconduct in an hour of morning reading. I’m interested to see where it goes.

Upcoming reading plans…

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
 by Jennifer Egan (October 3, 2017)
The author of A Visit from the Goon Squad (which I haven’t read yet) is back with some historical fiction set in NYC during the Great Depression. It’s already been long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award…let’s see if it lives up to that honor!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was involved with lots of hugely popular books at one time!

Two Years Ago: I was reading two books I remember almost nothing about.

How was your reading week?

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When Questionable Editorial Decisions Torpedo Books

September 21, 2017 Discussions 17

Have you ever read a book and come upon a particular part that made you wonder, to borrow from Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir title, “who thought that was a good idea?!” 

Especially frustrating is that I absolutely adored specific parts of these books, meaning questionable editorial choices tarnished what would otherwise have been winners for me.

I realize things like this are strictly a matter of taste. Something that makes my head explode might totally delight another reader. But, why pull a stunt when you’ve already got something great? And, that’s what happened with the three books I’m going to talk about today.


Sourdough by Robin SloanSourdough is a quirky book melding the technology and food (baking, to be exact) worlds. I was immediately interested in the story and Lois, the main character. She receives a sourdough “starter” as a gift and dives headfirst into the art of bread baking as an escape from her soul-crushing computer coding job.

Sloan had me feeling actual emotions towards the starter itself…almost as if it was a human character. I was rooting for it like it was a sports team and I was thrilled about this! 

BUT…literally a few pages later, he made the starter sing. I first thought this was an exaggerated way to describe a realistic sucking or bubbling sound a starter could make. But, then he started comparing it to actual music. And, had it make faces. And, pit it against another starter as if it were an American Gladiator competition. Wha?! Too much. Who thought this was a good idea?

*For me, the starter’s over-the-top antics didn’t fully torpedo this book. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to others, I just could have done without the eye roll-inducing moments.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise WolasI loved the first half or so of this story about a woman whose life dream was to be a writer. At a young age, she decided she would forego marriage and children to focus on her goal. Yet, she got married and had children anyway. It’s a beautifully written, introspective story about Joan’s inner struggle between her very real love for her family, her continued desire to achieve literary success, and her resentment of the choices she’s been forced to make. 

BUT…this book is 544 pages. That’s long for an introspective story. And, at least 100 and probably more (I didn’t actually count, but this is my estimated guess) of those pages are excerpts from Joan the character’s writing. I admit that I generally hate what I’ll call “stories within stories.” They pull me out of the central storyline and kill a book’s momentum for me.

This case felt particularly egregious because of the sheer quantity, the overall length of the book, and Joan’s writing’s lack of relevance in helping the reader gain more insight into her life. Who thought this was a good idea?!

*For a more comprehensive review, Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books captured my thoughts on The Resurrection of Joan Ashby perfectly.

The Twelve Mile Straight

Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor HendersonAfter reading the first chapter of this doorstop of a historical fiction novel, I thought I was going to love it. It had a great first line, was hard-hitting, and hooked me immediately. 

But, the story just went on and on and on. I felt like I was reading this book for weeks (it was actually 10 days). Henderson told the extended backstories of seemingly almost every character in the book, which could have been cut back. I just wanted the story to be tighter, because it certainly had good bones (to use a real estate term).

And, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t care about the answers to most of the major questions…I just wanted to be done. Who thought this was a good idea?

*To be fair, I didn’t have much time to read during the first half of The Twelve-Mile Straight and I wonder if I would’ve felt differently had I been able to invest more time and mental energy to it up front.

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle ZevinI’ve already reviewed Young Jane Young here, but it’s a perfect example of today’s topic, so I’m going to talk about it again. I loved the first half of this one and particularly the focus on the reverberating impact of a public cheating scandal on the female cheatee…and how different it is from the impact on the male cheater. 

BUT…part of the second half was written as a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Not only that, it was a FAKE Choose Your Own Adventure story! Choices were indicated at certain points in the story, but there was never an alternate path to actually go down. This whole thing felt like a kids’ comic book to me and didn’t fit at all with the style or tone of the first half of the book. Who thought this was a good idea?!

Has a book ever left you wondering “who thought this was a good idea?” Tell me about your experience!

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Was 2017 the Summer of Overhyped Books?

September 19, 2017 Discussions 22

Was 2017 Summer of Overhyped Books


I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger season of reading disappointment than this past summer. And, I’ve been hearing similar things from other book bloggers and on reading-related podcasts.


Many of the books that didn’t work for me this summer had been hyped up by publishers and the book media…making the crash hurt that much worse. At the end of every year, I write a post called 5 Books That Deserved the Hype…and 5 That Didn’t. Y’all, 5 books isn’t enough to account for all the overhyped books this summer, much less an entire year! Let’s review the offenders…

Books Blurbed by Beloved Authors

I’m a sucker for books blurbed by authors I love. But, I also fall into the trap of thinking that means the blurbed book will be similar to said beloved author’s books. While this does occasionally pan out for me, it generally didn’t during the 2017 summer of overhyped books. I quickly DNF’d both of these examples…

Hyped, But Disappointing Debuts

I’ve historically had good luck with debuts. But, this summer brought us a crop that were hyped by publishers as well as traditional book media (and some podcasters), but that I don’t think have connected on a large scale with regular readers (i.e. people not enmeshed in the book world)…and, they didn’t connect with me.


Book of the Month Club Selections

I have to preface this by saying that I have read countless Book of the Month Club selections that I’ve adored and I anxiously await the announcement of their picks every month. But, I’ve read a couple of Book of the Month Club stinkers this summer. Let me repeat again…this is an anomaly overall!


  • The Windfall by Diksha Basu (July selection). I know some people that liked this one, but I wasn’t one of them and I’ve heard of a number of others who thought it was completely inane.
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager (July selection). Also, Stephen King called it the “first great thriller of 2017.” This book is not universally disliked by any means, but I thought the ending completely jumped the shark. And after publication, there was the minor scandal surrounding Riley Sager being a male using a pen name that many assumed referred to a female author.

Here’s what I’d like to know about the traditional media’s new release preview lists: how are they put together?

Has someone at the publication actually vetted the books that are included on the list? Do the journalists compiling these lists do their own research to determine which books they’re actually interested in? OR, do the journalists merely talk to people in the book industry, who tell them which books to include?


It’s kind of like including the methodology in a summary of survey results or findings of a study. This information really impacts the way the results are interpreted! And, it would certainly help me determine which new release lists to pay the most attention to.


I do have to commend Publisher’s Weekly for linking to its reviews of all the books on its Fall Preview list, meaning someone at Publisher’s Weekly has actually vetted these books. The Millions occasionally links to an internal review and publicizes the name of the staffer that recommended each book included in its Great 2017 Book Preview. But, Buzzfeed, Elle Magazine, and Bookish need to get a little more transparent.


If any of you know insider details about how the traditional media’s new release preview lists are put together, I’d love to hear them in the comments!


As for me, I obviously personally research every book I include in my “Most Anticipated Books of X Season” posts and indicate specifically when I’ve already read a book I included. That being said, I know from my own experience that it’s hard to pick winners in advance. I haven’t always been successful (I average about 50% or so per season). I’d like to get more successful and will be even more explicit about how I’ve compiled my list after the summer of overhyped books.


How do you feel about the books of Summer 2017? How do you feel about hyped books in general? And, how do you feel about hyped new release lists?


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What I’m Reading Now (9/18/17)

September 18, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

And my September reading continues to be choppy and unfulfilling. I spent last week desperately trying to finish a book I thought I’d love, but ended up getting sick of. Over the next few weeks, I need to get my hands around our new school/activity routines and how to fit in some good reading.

On a better note, I re-started physical therapy for my back/SI joints/abductor injury after aggravating it a bit unpacking boxes during our move. I tried a new-to-me therapy called dry needling that involves inserting a needle into my pain points and jigging it around to release the muscles. Sounds awful, but it’s doing wonders.

#Buildsarahsbookshelves Library Update

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

So many new books are coming in every day now for the bookshelves! I’m now starting to think about how to organize the shelves and am sifting through all the advice I’ve received. The Havenly has a simple guide for “styling” your bookshelves (I kind of hate this term, but it’s apparently what interior designers use) that recommends arranging your books by color. I have a pretty awesome red pile coming together…

Hosted by The Book Date.

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I finished reading…

Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile Straight
 by Eleanor Henderson (September 12, 2017)
Man. This book. I think I could’ve loved it, but it took me so long to read it that I just wanted to be finished by the end. More to come in a discussion post.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair
 by Nelson DeMille (September 19, 2017)
I’m about 25% through DeMille’s latest novel about the Cuban Thaw, which also debuts a new main character (Mac McCormick). So far, McCormick is pretty similar to DeMille’s old main character (John Corey) and The Cuban Affair is pretty standard DeMille. We’ll see how things progress.

Upcoming reading plans…

Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

The Best Kind of People
 by Zoe Whittall (September 19, 2017)
I’ve already peeked at the first few pages of this novel about a well-liked prep school teacher who gets accused of “sexual impropriety” and the initial writing drew me in! I’m hoping it can save my September reading.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading one of the biggest hits of 2016, but it was kind of a slog for me.

Two Years Ago: I summed up my Labor Day vacation reading.

How was your reading week?

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Has Broader Appeal Than Everything I Never Told You

September 14, 2017 Fiction 24

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgFiction
Released September 12, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Complimentary from Publisher (Penguin Press)









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


Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You.

Plot Summary

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

Why I Read It

Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit with me and others (it was Amazon’s Best Book of 2014), so Little Fires Everywhere might be the 2017 book I’ve been anticipating the most!

Major Themes

Family Life, Secrets / Betrayal, Motherhood, Teen Angst, Art, Suburbia

What I Liked

  • Little Fires Everywhere‘s premise didn’t jump out at me initially. It’s not entirely clear what this book is about. Yet…the way Ng told this story had me engrossed immediately. It’s the kind of story where you sink right into the community and the characters’ lives. I’m a bit hard-pressed to pick out specific things I loved about it…yet, I loved the book as a whole. Little Fires Everywhere is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • The set-up for this story reminded me a bit of the tv show The O.C. – an outsider sort of infiltrates a wealthy family and supposedly idyllic community with far-reaching consequences (Pearl Warren = Ryan Atwood).
  • It starts out as a story of a family and a community…and then takes an interesting turn. Ng presented a Jodi Picoult-esque situation (i.e. one with valid arguments for both sides and where there is no clear right answer) and forced me to think about what I’d do in a similar situation
  • Ng painted a vivid picture of the Shaker Heights community while making you feel that it was the only place this story could play out the way it did:

    In fact, the city’s motto was – literally, as Lexie would have said – “Most communities just happen; the best are planned”: the underlying philosophy being that everything could – and should – be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous.

  • Little Fires Everywhere is more action-packed than Everything I Never Told You and, I believe, has the potential for even broader appeal.
  • And, the debate-starting issues it deals with make it a great book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I had to suspend belief and just roll with some of the plot points…the coincidences were a little too big. But, while I recognized this as I was reading, it didn’t bother me or influence my opinion of the book as a whole.

A Defining Quote

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, Secrets/Betrayal, Motherhood, Engrossing Plot & Characters, Suburban Life

Other Books You May Like

More stories about families facing unconventional situations:
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (my review)

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Another story about what it means to be a mother:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

And, of course, Celeste Ng’s debut novel:
Everything I Never Told You (my review)

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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

September 12, 2017 Book Lists 25

Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

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

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

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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your old favorites?

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