Mini Reviews: Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner and Before the Wind by Jim Lynch

December 8, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 15

Can a mini review include not one, not two, but three quotes, thus making it look more like a full length review?! Yes, I’m going with it. There’s no other choice when the writing is as glorious as Jim Lynch’s in Before the Wind.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Avery Books)

Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows young chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture. Running a new restaurant clearly takes courage and a steady hand and I was frighteningly nervous for Miller and his team as they approached each new milestone (applying for a liquor license, awaiting a New York Times review, etc). I realized how much I respect people who run small businesses and I’m fairly certain I couldn’t pull it off without an emotional breakdown.

Specific to the restaurant business, Generation Chef highlighted how hard a new restaurant has to work to get noticed amidst the NYC clutter. Stabiner provides illuminating color about the frenzied restaurant environment of the early 2000’s and the impact of social media. She also compares Miller and Huertas’ story with that of other famous chefs including David Chang, Stephanie Izard, April Bloomfield, and Gavin Kaysen. Generation Chef reminded me of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, minus all the drugs and sexual angst, and is a great choice for people interested in the business side of opening a new restaurant. Plus, it made an appearance on my 2016 Books That Make Perfect Holiday Gifts List!

Before the Wind, Jim LynchBefore the Wind by Jim Lynch
Fiction (Released April 19, 2016)
306 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

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

My Thoughts: Behind the Wind is 100% up my alley and I have no idea why I’d never heard of it until Catherine at Gilmore Guide shoved it into my hands recently. It plops the dysfunctional family element of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into a sailing environment with brilliant results.

For years, sailing bound us. We were racers, builders and cruisers. It was our family business, our sport, our drug of choice. Yet eventually, sailing blew us apart, too.

Within the first five pages, Lynch delves into the psyche of sailors and boaters in general and his writing about sailing is filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” moments. 

Sailboats attract the loons and geniuses among us, the romantics whose boats represent some outlaw image of themselves. We fall for these things, but what we’re slow to grasp is that it’s not the boats but rather those inexplicable moments on the water when time slows.

His sense of humor sparkles when making fun of sailing (i.e. a hilarious rant about the ridiculous sailing lingo) and when describing his family’s quirks (of which there are many), but a genuine love for both shines through it all.

Nobody forgets meeting my father. Loud, tall and meaty, he invades your space and claims the right-of-way. There is nothing moderate about him. A leader and a lout, a gentleman and an ass, he never concedes a weakness, admits a sickness or says he loves anybody. Yet the flip side is that when you please him, your body temperature climbs a degree or two.

As with many books I love, the suspense lies in what ends up happening to these characters. The questions of what made Josh’s sailing prodigy sister (Ruby) abandon the sport, what shady antics are most of the family members up to now, and what incident figuratively blew up the family decades ago drove the novel’s suspense. Lynch does go on sailing tangents fairly often, but I found them interesting because he adopts the tone of the rare tour guide that uses dry humor to make something you’re not that interested in come alive. Before the Wind is an underrated gem that you should read immediately if you’re a fan of dysfunctional family stories…and, I can’t wait to read more of Lynch’s work.

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Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2016

December 6, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 24

New-To-Me Authors I read in 2016
Today, I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) and A Month of Favorites (hosted by Traveling with T, Estella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO). My list does NOT include debut authors… since I will honor them in an upcoming Best Debuts of 2016 list.

Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2016

Ramona Ausubel (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty)
Her commentary on the habits of the wealthy made this summer read shine.

Jennifer Close (The Hopefuls)
She won me over with her hilarious skewering of douche-y DC politicos.

Delia Ephron (Siracusa)
Though I’ve loved her movies, I had never read any of her books…until Siracusa became my favorite book of summer 2016.

Kent Haruf (Our Souls at Night)
I’m sad that the first book of his that I read was also his last (he’s since passed away), but thankful that he left behind a solid backlist.

Janice Y.K. Lee (The Expatriates)
Lee hit my hot button of running thin threads of darkness through an otherwise light story.

Jim Lynch (Before the Wind)
Lynch brilliantly plopped a classic dysfunctional family novel into the world of sailing…which provides endless fodder for social commentary. Thankfully, he’s got a backlist waiting for me!

Anthony Marra (The Tsar of Love and Techno)
Marra’s writing and delightfully subversive tone made this short story collection sing.

Susan Perabo (Why They Run the Way They Do)
This underrated gem of a short story collection has that whole “darkness simmering just beneath the surface of mundane life” thing going on. And, Perabo has a novel (The Fall of Lisa Bellow) coming out in March 2017!

Anna Quindlen (Miller’s Valley)
Why did I wait so long?! Catherine, thank you for pushing me! Ms. Quindlen, thank you for having such an extensive backlist waiting for me!

Rufi Thorpe (Dear Fang, With Love)
What an endearing heroine in Vera! And, I’ve got my eye on Thorpe’s previous novel, The Girls from Corona del Mar.

What new-to-you authors have you read this year?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (12/5/16)

December 5, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 27

Hosted by The Book Date.

I took last week off from this post to share my Books that Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016 list, but you can check out what I read in my November Monthly Round-Up.

Our house is still a disaster zone from the flood, but we did find out that work will begin this week on repairing the basement and upper floor walls and ceilings. And, the best news is that the main and upstairs floors won’t have to be redone for awhile, so we won’t have to temporarily relocate. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel! On the reading front, I spent the last two weeks sneaking in a final few 2016 releases before moving onto my annual December backlist TBR reading and 2017 releases. I’ll also be participating in some of the A Month of Favorites events through the end of December.

I finished reading…

Miller's Valley, Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley
 by Anna Quindlen (April 5, 2016)

Believe it or not, this is my first foray into Anna Quindlen – thanks to Catherine at Gilmore Guide for giving me the push! This quiet, uncomplicated, yet satisfying coming of age/family saga and story of small-town life reminded me of a less hard-hitting version of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth with a touch of girl power for good measure. The writing was chock full of wise observations about life, filling my notes with passages labeled “so true.” Miller’s Valley would also make a great holiday gift for mothers, mother-in-laws, grandmothers, aunts, etc.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter (February 14, 2017)

I’m jumping the gun a bit here, but that’s because the author of this debut novel is a friend of mine from college! The book is based on the true story of Hunter’s Polish Jewish family’s efforts to reunite after being separated during World War II. I’m only 25% in so far, but the story has already gotten incredibly intense and I’m invested in the fates of these people.
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Undoing Project, Michael Lewis

The Undoing Project
 by Michael Lewis (December 6, 2016)

I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan, so of course I have to squeeze his latest book into my 2016 reading (this will probably be the last 2016 release I read this year). This time around, he’s focusing on two Israeli psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), whose research into the human decision-making process drove much of today’s behavioral economics field (which I’ve been delving into on audio a fair amount this year).

How was your reading week?

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A Month of Favorites: Five 2016 Books That Deserved the Hype…and Five That Didn’t

December 2, 2016 Blogger Events 54

A Month of Favorites
This post contains affiliate links.

For the third year in a row, I’m participating in A Month of Favorites (hosted by Traveling with T, Estella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO) throughout the month of December! I love “Top X” lists and that’s what this event is all about. Today, we’re talking about hyped books, which is one of my favorite lists to put together every year.

It’s hard to define what makes a book “hyped.” Does this mean a book was nominated for or won awards? Was being breathlessly chattered about in the book blogging world? Was getting big marketing dollars or a huge advance from its publisher? Was on many “most anticipated books of X” lists? Had glowing early reviews? Based on an author’s previous work? I landed on any and all of these for this post.

Sadly, when I was compiling the first draft of this list (which included well over five books for each category), I came up with considerably more books that didn’t deserve the hype than those that did. Based on how my reading has felt all year, this doesn’t surprise me. This isn’t to say I haven’t read some great books this year, just that they weren’t necessarily the ones I expected them to be. 

Five 2016 Books That Deserved the Hype

2016 Books That Deserved the Hype

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (review)

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (review)

The Girls by Emma Cline (review)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (review)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

You’ll be hearing more about these books later, so no commentary just yet!

…and Five That Didn’t

2016 Books that didn't deserve the hype

American Housewife by Helen Ellis (review)

Books that are billed as “laugh out loud” rarely live up to the hype for me and that was the case with this short story collection. However, I suspect some others would put this one in the top half of this post.  

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon (review)
I’m not sure if this book was actually hyped or if I’d just hyped it in my own head because I loved Lawhon’s debut, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (review), so much. Sadly, I was bored with this one and turned off by a focus on romance.

Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips (review)
I’m not sure this short story collection was overly hyped in the broader world, but the small corner of the book blogging Internet I hang out in was anxiously awaiting Phillips’ follow-up to The Beautiful Bureaucrat (review). Bureaucrat was completely bizarre, but I got the point and loved the weirdness; while most of the stories in Some Possible Solutions left me scratching my head.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang 
This debut novel was one of the most hyped books of Fall, but I was completely annoyed with the characters and their conversations. I bailed at 24%.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota 
This British novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, but I felt like I was watching the story with a hazy view from high above, rather thank sinking into it. I bailed at 12%.

What books do you think deserved their hype this year? Which ones do you think didn’t?

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November 2016 Monthly Round-Up

December 1, 2016 Monthly Round-Ups 23

November 2016 monthly round-up

November Reading / Life

  • This month was all about Nonfiction November and I was reminded that this really is my favorite blogging event out there! I love taking a break from my regular reading patterns and ARCs to focus entirely on nonfiction. And, I love discovering new blogs and new books. Check out all my Nonfiction November discoveries here.
  • Despite all this nonfiction, my favorite book of the month was a novel I tacked on right at the end (Before the Wind) thanks to Catherine at Gilmore Guide.
  • But, I was thrilled with all the nonfiction I read and listened to and there wasn’t a single disappointing book in the bunch….my favorite being Five Days at Memorial.
  • On a less positive note, we’ve been dealing with serious water damage at our house. We’re living in a construction zone and devoting more time than I would like to the repair process, which means less time for reading. Boo!
  • On Thanksgiving, I ran my first running race (a hilly 5K Turkey Trot) in a year. Since I started focusing more on triathlon, I haven’t entered pure running races nearly as often as I used to. But, I’ve been working on my running technique this Fall and was anxious to see how it would translate to a race. My time was about 25 seconds faster than last year’s and just 5 seconds off my all-time best on that course (which was set right after training for a half marathon, when I was running a lot more than I am now), which was good for 3rd in my age group! But, the best part was that the run felt easier and smoother than ever before. Progress, ya’ll.

Best Book of the Month

Before the Wind by Jim Lynch (April 19, 2016)
Fiction, 309 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Review coming…

Most Popular November Posts

Nonfiction November 2016: Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings Link-Up
Books That Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016
Nonfiction November 2016: Be the Expert…Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

  • It’s Best Books of the Year list time and Books are my Favourite and Best is compiling all those lists in one place. Plus, she’ll be sharing the books that pop up again and again under #allthelists.
  • Since I haven’t seen a movie in at least five years, Rory at Fourth Street Review‘s The Cinematic Glory of My Teenage Years post was right up my alley. Blue Crush, Sweet Home Alabama, She’s All That; yep, yep, yep.
  • Ya’ll know I have a soft spot for dysfunctional family books…so, Susie at Novel Visits‘ list of 10 Novels About Families grew my TBR list.
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Nonfiction November 2016: Summary and New Additions to my TBR List

November 29, 2016 Blogger Events 18

Nonfiction November 2016
I had a blast co-hosting and participating in Nonfiction November this year. A big thank you to Katie at Doing Dewey for leading this charge and to Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, and Julz at Julz Reads for co-hosting along with me.

This year, I was hoping to read some great nonfiction, find new nonfiction books to add to my TBR, and discover new-to-me blogs. I managed to do all three.

Books Read / Listened To

Nonfiction November 2016 Books Read

I truly did not read a single disappointing book this month, so that alone makes Nonfiction November a success. I read two backlist titles (Five Days at Memorial, We Should All Be Feminists), listened to one audiobook (Run the World), knocked out an ARC (Generation Chef), read the final book from my all-time favorite author (A Lowcountry Heart), and took a fellow blogger’s recommendation (Darling Days thanks to Eva at Paperback Princess). If I have to pick a favorite, I’d say Five Days at Memorial.

In addition to reviewing Five Days at Memorial and A Lowcountry Heart, I shared my thoughts about some of these books on Litsy (@sarahsbookshelves) and have a review of Generation Chef coming.

Books Added to my TBR

Thanks to Julz Reads:

Thanks to Unruly Reader:

  • Chasing Water by Anthony Ervin (U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalist, 2000 and 2016)

Thanks to Paperback Princess:

Thanks to Beth Fish Reads:

Thanks to Catherine at Gilmore Guide:

Thanks to Exurbanis:

Thanks to The Novel Life:

  • Spark by John J. Ratey

Thanks to A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy:

New-To-Me Blogs Discovered


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Books that Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016

November 28, 2016 Gift Guides 29

Books that make perfect holiday gifts 2016
A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift! Each year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

Commonwealth, Ann PatchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Fiction (Released September 13, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An ill fated christening party is the catalyst that ruins the Keating and Cousins marriages…and creates a blended family trying to navigate their new world.

My Thoughts: Commonwealth is a simply and perfectly told story of a cobbled together family…and is one of my favorite books of 2016! Every member of the blended Keating/Cousins family behaves dreadfully, but I was somewhat sympathetic towards all of them. Continue Reading…

Only Love Can Break Your HeartOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Southern (Released January 5, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
When Richard (aka “Rocky”) was eight years old, his rebellious older half-brother, Paul, disappears without explanation, setting off a chain of events that impact their family and community in rural Spencerville, Virginia.
My Thoughts:
The awkward and innocent, yet calculating voice of Rocky made this Southern coming of age story sparkle…and reminded me a bit of My Sunshine Away, one of my favorite books of 2015. While I wouldn’t call this debut novel “Grit Lit”, it is a top-notch Southern coming of age story. And like My Sunshine Away, there is “action” and suspense in this story, but it really serves as a vehicle for Rocky’s coming of age, not the other way around. Continue Reading…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd involvement with an older teenager named Suzanne and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life on a dilapidated ranch.
My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, was one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Continue Reading…

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker and/or tackle more fraught issues than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!  

Dear Fang With Love, Rufi ThorpeDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
303 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a psychotic break at a party, seventeen year-old Vera accompanies her father (who has been absent for most of her life) on an European history tour to Lithuania, where her paternal grandmother grew up.

My Thoughts: It’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is truly about because it’s about teen angst, mental illness, and family history and relationships without being overly about any one of those things. They all kind of balance each other out into a story that ends up being about the people (mainly Vera and her father). I adored Vera. She’s precocious, insightful, quirky, troubled, yet sometimes comes across as the surprising voice of reason. Continue Reading…

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.
My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Continue Reading…

Sweetbitter, Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When twenty two year-old Tess comes to New York City looking to start her adult life, she lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a fictional Union Square restaurant that sounds a lot like Union Square Cafe…and experiences an unimaginable education in food, wine, life, and love.

My Thoughts: Sweetbitter was my fourth 5 star book of the year! This is one of those books where the cover and premise could deceive you into thinking you’re getting “brain candy”. What you’re actually getting is a smart, exquisitely written coming of age story set in the rough and tumble world of top-notch restaurantsContinue Reading…

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Continue Reading…

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir is short, sweet and hopeful…and focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works. Continue Reading…

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth StroutMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: During a long hospital stay, Lucy Barton has a heartfelt conversation with her mother spanning topics from her difficult childhood to gossip from her hometown to her marriage and motherhood.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was an unexpected winner for me. The story focuses on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, but it feels more about Lucy’s own life: her childhood, what it was like to grow up poor and never quite fit in, and her adult life. This is one of those books that has all the intangibles. Continue Reading…

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction – Essays (Released July 10, 2012)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of the best of The RumpusDear Sugar advice columns, authored by Cheryl Strayed (anonymously at the time).

My Thoughts: I usually find advice columns cheesy and not particularly relevant to my own life. Trust me when I tell you these advice columns are nothing like that. Strayed is warm, relatable, and non-judgmental in her counsel and most people will find something in this book that pertains to their own life past or present. If you have friends or family members who have had tough years, this is the book for them (as long as they don’t mind a few F bombs).

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Continue Reading…

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos.
My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. Continue Reading…

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy.

The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. LeeThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction (Released January 12, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
A story about life as an American expat in Hong Kong told through the eyes of three women: Margaret (a married mother of three recovering from a tragedy), Mercy (a twenty-something Korean American Columbia grad trying to get her life on track), and Hilary (a housewife struggling with fertility).

My Thoughts: The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary. I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances. Continue Reading…

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.
My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Continue Reading…

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Released: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.
My Thoughts: 
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. Continue Reading…

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, restaurants, entrepreneurship, running, and global travel.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows you chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture.

Originals, Adam M. GrantOriginals by Adam M. Grant
Nonfiction – Business / Social Analysis (Released February 2, 2016)
326 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An analysis of how to get ahead by being a non-conformist…using real-life examples from the worlds of business, politics, sports, and Hollywood.

My Thoughts: This combination economic / social analysis, business how-to guide, and “life lessons” book is a must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and contains tons of Malcolm Gladwell-esque data analysis. In that sense, it’s far more engaging than your average business book. It also has a strangely motivating quality, which left me wanting to try out a new idea for the blog…and having a better understanding of how to go about it. Plus, it’s great on audio!

Run the World, Becky WadeRun the World by Becky Wade
Nonfiction – Running (Released July 5, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Following a successful career at Rice University, elite runner Becky Wade used her Watson Fellowship to travel the world learning about running cultures in nine different countries.

My Thoughts: Run the World is part travel memoir, part sports memoir…with a bit of practical advice for recreational and competitive runners mixed in. I loved learning about different countries’s widely varied approaches to training and about the local “athletes’s” diet in each of them. An excellent choice for friends with the running bug or general wanderlust.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories.

American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin, Patty HearstAmerican Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin
Nonfiction – Crime/Biogossip (Released August 2, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and her subsequent trial for bank robbery.

My Thoughts: As it turns out, I knew way less about this saga than I thought I did! It’s a truly fascinating story that goes far beyond kidnapping and bank robbery. It covers the political climate of the 1970’s, class warfare, race, Stockholm’s Syndrome, and the media, among other themes. This thing was basically the OJ Simpson debacle of the 1970’s.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Continue Reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.

My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobilityContinue Reading…

Love Loss and What We Ate, Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 8, 2016)
324 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi shares the story of her global upbringing, her love of food, her career as a model and television host, and her personal life.

My Thoughts: This memoir has a little of everything: celebrity gossip (including the literary kind), behind-the-scenes Top Chef scoop, her struggle with finding a balance between her Indian upbringing and her American life, her struggle with weight (believe it or not, she actually had one), and her struggle with fertility and endometriosis. This lady is not just a pretty face!

Why They Run the Way They Do, Susan PeraboWhy They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Short Stories (Released February 16, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of short stories featuring the darker undertones of daily life.

My Thoughts: Short stories have historically been a tough sell for me, but I’m trying to be more open to them after loving Nickolas Butler’s Beneath the Bonfire last year. I’m so glad I gave Why They Run the Way They Do a shot because it’s now only the second short story collection I’ve truly enjoyed from start to finish. On the surface, these stories are about mundane daily life…a harmless middle school prank, a child’s toy, spending time with your mother after some bad news…but, they have a darkness simmering just underneath. Continue Reading…

Gift-y Books

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyA Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released October 25, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts: This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces. As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Continue Reading…

Natgeo Instagram Photos@NatGeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photographs by National Geographic
Released October 25, 2016
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: A collection of the most “liked, commented on, and favorite photos” from the @Natgeo Instagram account.

My Thoughts: This coffee table-type book would make a fabulous gift for travel, nature and/or animal lovers…big or small (we’re getting it for our 5 year old animal fanatic son).

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A Lowcountry Heart: An Homage to Pat Conroy

November 25, 2016 Nonfiction 8

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyNonfiction – Memoir/Essays
Released October 25, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re a Pat Conroy fan.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Nan A. Talese) via NetGalley


A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a huge Conroy fan and will gobble up pretty much anything he writes. I’ll even forgive him the occasional divergences into over-the-top writing. So, after his death earlier this year, I was thrilled to hear we’d get one last collection of Conroy nonfiction. This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces.

As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Here are some of my favorites.

On South Carolina…

South Carolina is not a state; it is a cult.

On sports…

Sports can teach you everything you need to know about yourself.

On literary taste (no fantasy, dystopian, or sci-fi for him, except Margaret Atwood and George R.R. Martin)…

Literary taste is the defining thing in all of us. It is as unpredictable as it is fascinating.

On promoting his books (and I suspect this is rare for authors)…

I got out to sell books and it has become one of the greatest things about being a writer during my lifetime. No writer should turn down the chance of meeting the readers of his work.

On specific books and authors…

Yes to The World According to Garp by John Irving, Ann Patchett, Anne Rivers Siddons, Leo Tolstoy, Richard Russo, Jonathan Franzen, Serena by Ron Rash
No to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Martin Amis

On writing style…

Tim never liked anything I wrote. As an English teacher, he insisted the prose be spare, unadorned, unflashy, but hard-hitting and severe. From the beginning of my career in Beaufort, Tim found my writing overcaffeinated, pretentious, and blowsy.

On the Citadel’s plebe system…

It let me know exactly the kind of man I wanted to become. It made me ache to be a contributing citizen in whatever society I found myself in, to live out a life I could be proud of, and always to measure up to what I took to be the highest ideals of a Citadel man – or, now, a Citadel woman.

A primer for his most famous novels…

In The Great Santini, it was – why did I hate my father? In The Lords of Discipline – why I hated the plebe system. In The Prince of Tides – why did my sister go crazy?

On My Losing Season…

It might be the best book I will ever write.

On the first line of The Lords of Discipline (“I wear the ring.”)…

I think it is the best line I have ever written and best English sentence I am capable of writing. I love that phrase; I love that sentence.

On his career overall…

Though I wish I’d written a lot more, been bolder with my talent, more forgiving of my weaknesses, I’ve managed to draw a magic audience into my circle. They come to my signings to tell me stories, their stories. The ones that have hurt them and made their nights long and their lives harder.

A Lowcountry Heart is a book for Conroy fans and feels almost like a commemorative artifact. It has a gift-y feel, so would make a perfect holiday gift for Conroy fans this Christmas/whatever you celebrate.

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Nonfiction November 2016: Be the Expert…Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

November 22, 2016 Book Lists 25

Nonfiction November 2016
This week’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Julz at Julz Reads, and me) topic is Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

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).

Hop on over to Julz Reads to link up your posts!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love books about dysfunctional families. And, lucky for me, there’s a plethora of those in the world of fiction. But, turns out heartbreaking childhoods, for better or for worse, lend themselves to fantastic memoirs as well. Here are some of my favorites…

Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
An abusive and emotionally distant father.

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
Extreme poverty in the deep South, an alcoholic and volatile father, and a mother trying to hold her family together through it all.

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright
Wright’s tough upbringing on New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 80’s/early 90’s…including poverty, her parents’s addictions, and her struggle with gender identity and sexuality.

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst
An alcoholic mother and a father forever trying to publish the “Great American Novel” at the expense of providing for his children…and Darst’s struggle not to repeat her parents’s mistakes in adulthood.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Growing up poor in Appalachia with an erratic mother plus social analysis of the Appalachian poor’s struggle to achieve upward mobility.

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner
Overcoming body image issues and managing life with an erratic father.

Still Points North by Leigh Newman
Navigating Newman’s parents’s divorce and disparate lifestyles.

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy
Reflections on rebuilding a relationship with literature’s most famous abusive father.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A vibrant, yet destructively alcoholic father and an eccentric mother averse to domestic stability.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (11/21/16)

November 21, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 24

Hosted by The Book Date.

I’ve been immersed in Nonfiction November over the past few weeks and it’s been fantastic…not a single disappointing book in the bunch! That’s the good news. The bad news is we had a large flood in our house two weeks ago, so have been dealing and living with the clean-up and repair work since then. This will go on for at least a few more weeks, maybe more and it’s definitely eating into my reading time. But, I’m trying to stay the course and fit in at least one or two more 2016 releases before I settle on my Best Books of 2016 List!

I finished reading…

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat Conroy

A Lowcountry Heart
 by Pat Conroy (October 25, 2016)

This final collection of Conroy’s essays and most popular speeches and interviews is a fitting farewell to a legend and would make a fantastic holiday gift for Pat Conroy fans. Review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Darling Days, iO Tillett Wright

Darling Days
 by iO Tillett Wright (September 10, 2013)

I’ve almost finished this memoir of a tough upbringing on New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Her story is a brutal one and the writing, though a bit uneven, shows glimmers of brilliance. 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

I think it’s time to switch back to fiction, which means I’ll be fitting in a last few 2016 releases before I put together my Best Books of 2016 list. Here are some I’m thinking about. Which would you recommend? What were some of your favorite books of 2016 that I should try to fit in? 

Tuesday Nights in 1980, Imagine Me Gone, The Guineveres, The Ramblers, Story of a Brief Marriage

Tuesday Nights in 1980
 by Molly Prentiss (April 5, 2016)

A debut novel about the 1980’s NYC art scene.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (May 3, 2016)
A novel about depression.

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (October 4, 2016)
A debut novel about four girls named Guinevere raised in Catholic school.

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley (February 9, 2016)
A coming of age friendship novel set in NYC.

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (September 6, 2016)
A novel about a marriage set in Civil War-torn Sri Lanka.

How was your reading week?

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