Nonfiction November 2017 Mini Reviews and New Additions to my TBR

November 28, 2017 Blogger Events 16

Nonfiction November 2017


Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Julz at Julz Reads, and me) is in the books! And, it was a good one. I read/listened to eight books and only two were stinkers (and, I was shocked about one of them).

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

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

2017 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

After the Eclipse by Sarah PerryAfter the Eclipse by Sarah Perry
Nonfiction – True Crime/Memoir (Released September 26, 2017)
371 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Plot Summary: Perry’s mother was murdered when she was 12 years old…and Perry was in the house when it happened. Years later, she tries to find out who her mother was and who killed her.

My Thoughts: After the Eclipse is part true crime with a little The Glass Castle thrown in. Sarah grew up poor with an absentee father and had a close bond with her mother. The publisher’s blurb says the book is about Sarah getting to learn more about her mother following her death, but I thought it was more about finding peace in the aftermath of the murder and closure (i.e. finding out who killed her). It’s an incredibly powerful story with multiple eye-widening moments, but the story dragged a bit through the middle (between the murder and its immediate aftermath and finally finding the killer).

Black Dahlia Red Rose Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Marie Eatwell
Nonfiction – True Crime / Investigative Journalism (Released October 10, 2017)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Liveright)

Plot Summary: Eatwell investigates the famous and still unsolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder (young, aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short was found virtually bisected on a residential sidewalk in Los Angeles) and poses a theory about who the murderer was based on evidence that was suppressed at the time.

My Thoughts: The Black Dahlia murder occurred during a time when Los Angeles was rampant with corruption (including in the LAPD) and gangsters. And, this vivid setting and culture is very much a part of the murder and the book, making Black Dahlia, Red Rose feel like more than just a true crime “genre” book. The case itself is fascinating, as is the corruption that went on at the time and the re-examination of the evidence now…but, I did get bogged down in details a bit through the middle when the focus turned to corruption in the LAPD. If you liked In Cold Blood or American Fire, I think you’ll like this one!

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie SpenceDear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released September 26, 2017)
256 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Flatiron Books)

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

My Thoughts: I recently tried reading My Life with Bob (the New York Times Book Review editor’s memoir of her reading life) and DNF’d it during the first half because it talked too much about esoteric books and got intellectually snobby one too many times. Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned.

Forty AutumnsForty Autumns by Nina Millner by Nina Willner
Nonfiction – History/Memoir (Released October 4, 2016)
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: William Morrow)

Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.

My Thoughts: Forty Autumns was my favorite book of Nonfiction November! It’s a look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain (a topic I’ve been fascinated with ever since seeing the East German women’s swim team dominate the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. I recently paired it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing post. They’re similar stories about families fractured by war and an oppressive regime, just different countries and different wars. Like Hunter’s novel, Forty Autumns is highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson.

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna QuindlenHow Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1998)
96 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Ballantine Books)

Plot Summary: Quindlen’s thoughts on her reading life and books she’s loved.

My Thoughts: This memoir was kind of all over the place and didn’t feel much like the Anna Quindlen I know and love. Some parts (personal memories of growing up a bookworm) were warm and relatable (typical Quindlen), while others read like an academic term paper. The silver lining is that it’s chock full of amazing, famous quotes about books and reading. I never thought I’d be recommending you skip an Anna Quindlen, but I am.

Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russell HochschildStrangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Nonfiction – Politics (Released August 16, 2016)
351 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: New Press)

Plot Summary: Liberal sociologist Hochschild went deep into Louisiana Bayou country to get to know some of the people who politically identify with the Tea Party.

My Thoughts: I’m really glad I read Strangers in Their Own Land, but it was different than I expected. It does delve into the reasons these particular people support the Tea Party (and hate the idea of government intervention and support, though they theoretically could benefit from it), but a large chunk of the book is about the environmental pollution of this area of Louisiana. The environmental piece was interesting reading, but I thought was a bit overdone given it was somewhat of a tangent. A logical “next book” if you liked Hillbilly Elegy.

Happiness Project by Gretchen RubinThe Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Nonfiction – Life Improvement (Released December 29, 2009)
301 Pages (Audio: 10 hours, 15 minutes)
Bottom Line: Read it / Listen to it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper)

Plot Summary: Rubin dedicated a year of her life to focusing on the things that matter…thus her “Happiness Project.”

My Thoughts: The Happiness Project is a relatable exploration of figuring out what makes you happy and how to focus on those things in your daily life (her motto is basically sleep, workout, declutter…in my words). It’s filled with actionable, manageable, common sense tips that are easy to integrate into your life, but that we often forget to focus on (i.e. get more sleep). Plus, she throws in memorable quotes to keep you on track (i.e. “sleep is the new sex”, “take pleasure in an atmosphere of growth”). Sometimes she comes across as a “happiness bully” (her words) and I think she could drive me nuts to have as a friend, but overall it’s a great tool to help you hit reset on on your life.

UnbelievableUnbelievable by Katy Tur by Katy Tur
Nonfiction – Politics (Released September 12, 2017)
301 Pages (Audio: 7 hours, 46 minutes)
Bottom Line: Skip it

Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Dey Street Books)

Plot Summary: NBC News Correspondent Tur’s behind the scenes look at what it was like to cover Donald Trump’s political campaign.

My Thoughts: I’m always interested in the behind-the-scenes dirt from political campaigns…from either party…and you’d think the dirt from the Trump campaign would be exceptionally entertaining (maybe not the right word, but close enough). But, funnily enough, I don’t feel like I learned anything new from this book. Maybe because so much has already been reported by the media along the way or tweeted about by Trump himself, but I felt like Unbelievable was a re-hash of things I already knew…except maybe getting a better appreciation for the perpetual exhaustion of those involved in political campaigns.

New Nonfiction to My TBR

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (November 1, 1987)
Recommended by Melissa Firman…this one caught my eye because she paired it with The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review) in her fiction / nonfiction book pairings.

Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (January 25, 2015)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing (via my comments section).

Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America–why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman (May 16, 2017)
Recommended by Joann at Lakeside Musing.

Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen’s and Fazio’s, and his memories of his father’s love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (March 5, 2013)
Recommended by Tara at Running N Reading.

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history (the Manhattan Project).

On Writing by Stephen King (June 27, 2017)
Recommended by my friend and author of the fantastic book We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter (along with a number of other people in the comments section of my Books about Reading and Writing post).

On Writing begins with King’s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade and culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King’s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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What I’m Reading Now (11/27/17)

November 27, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 22

Nonfiction November (get all the details here!) is still going on, but I’ve gotten burned out a bit on nonfiction. I snuck in a novel last week, then a nonfiction I’d been waiting for forever came in from the library, so I knocked that out. With that done, I think I’m officially retiring from this year’s Nonfiction November. I’ll be sharing mini reviews for all the nonfiction I read this month plus the new books I added to my TBR list tomorrow!

I posted my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 guide on Black Friday! I’ve got you covered with book recommendations, a special Cyber Monday deal for Book of the Month Club (the gift for book lovers that keeps on giving!), and bookish gifts. Best of all, you can get all this stuff without leaving your couch!

A Way to Help Victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Maria AND Knock Out Some Holiday Shopping

Online retailer zulily (they have adorable children’s clothes at great prices, among other things!) is teaming up with Penguin Random House to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria through their “first-ever interactive book fair, running now through December 10.”

“Six sales events will feature a curated selection of children’s books, and each book purchased will trigger a donation from Penguin Random House to First Book (a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books and other essentials to children in need).

Shop the Book Fair for holiday children’s classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Christmas Story, The Velveteen Rabbit, Goodnight Baby Jesus, Madelline’s Christmas, and current favorites (at least in my house) Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, and Thomas the Train…and much more! Or, visit zulily’s social media channels (FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest) and comment on or like their posts to trigger additional Penguin Random House donations to First Book.

Sponsored by zulily.com

Hosted by The Book Date.

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

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I finished reading…

Unraveling Oliver, Strangers in their Own Land


Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent (August 22, 2017)

After reading that eye-opening first line, I thought I’d be getting a dark thriller. It’s dark, but it’s not a thriller. It’s a story told from different perspectives, a character study that peels back many layers, and all the pieces came together like a symphony. You’ll be seeing this one pop up on a future recommendation list!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild (August 16, 2016)
Different than I expected. Didn’t realize so much of it was about environmental pollution in Louisiana. Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umbigar


Everybody’s Son
by Thrifty Umrigar (June 6, 2017)
This pick from my Must Try Before the End of 2017 TBR list was available for immediate download at the library…plus, I was totally drawn in by the Prologue, in which a young boy is abandoned in a sweltering apartment with no air conditioning for a couple days. I’ve only just started it, but I have a good feeling about this one.

Upcoming reading plans…

If no library holds come in, I’ll be reading something from my Must Try Before the End of 2017 TBR list. Likely The Rules of Magic.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just finished my inaugural Anna Quindlen, who has now become a favorite author!

Two Years Ago: I took the week off!

How was your reading week?

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The Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 (including book recommendations)

November 24, 2017 Gift Guides 20

Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017

 

Welcome to my 2017 Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers guide!

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!

Every year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. And, this year I’m also recommending a fabulous book subscription service and some bookish goodies that aren’t actual books!

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 (20162015201420132012).

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

Book of the Month Club: The Gift That Keeps on Giving for Book Lovers

You know those book lovers that have read everything under the sun and you’re kind of scared to pick out a specific book for them? Or, the kind that enjoy finding out about new and interesting books? Or, the kind that love beautiful hardcover books? Or, the kind that read so much that a gift of just one book won’t last them past New Year’s? 

A subscription to the Book of the Month Club is the perfect holiday gift for these types of readers!

How it Works

On the first of every month, members get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want. Book of the Month Club will mail your chosen book (along with any extras you ordered) to your house for free. 

HOLIDAY GIFT PRICING

 3 Months for $44.99, 6 months for $79.99, 12 months for $149.99
Buy a Book of the Month gift subscription and get a free book for yourself.

Special Black Friday Deal (valid through Sunday, 11/26): 
Use code GIFTBOTM to get $10 off a 6 or 12-month gift subscription.

Special Cyber Monday Deal (valid on Monday, November 27 only):
New members can use code 2FORYOU to get 2 months for just $7.50 each and a free tote.

And, you can top off the perfect book lover gift by including a tool that will help your book lover choose the best Book of the Month Club selection for his or her personal taste every month…my easy-to-use template that helps find readers’ go-to Book of the Month Club judges (i.e. the judges whose taste most perfectly matches your book lover’s). When you know which judges to trust the most, choosing your perfect book is a breeze!

I am a Book of the Month Club Affiliate and will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my affiliate links, but I’m also a paying customer.

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

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

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

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing its residents have to be proud of. It’s also a story of the privilege bestowed on star athletes, even at the youth level. Beartown is an absolutely explosive story and is one of my favorite books of 2017!  Full Review

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Fiction (Released January 17, 2017)
287 Pages
Affiliate Link: 

Plot Summary: While taking a walk around her beloved New York City on New Year’s Eve of 1984, eighty-five year old Lillian Boxfish, the highest paid female advertising executive in the 1930’s, reflects on her life.

My Thoughts: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is the unique kind of historical fiction (which appeals to me far more than the run-of-the-mill kind) and is a delightful, quintessentially New York City book. Lillian herself was the Peggy Olson (Mad Men) of 1930’s advertising. She’s both old school (i.e. in her manners, her hatred of TV) and progressive (an unapologetic career woman in a time when it was more acceptable to get married and have babies). She’s smart, playful, and whimsical…and Rooney mirrors this in her writing style.  Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers.

Little Fires Everywhere Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fiction (Released September 12, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

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.

My Thoughts: 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 YouLittle Fires Everywhere is my go-to recommendation for book loving friends whose reading taste you’re not quite sure of…it’s a book that most everyone will love. Full Review 

Shadow of the LionsShadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann
Fiction (Released August 1, 2017)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After his life spirals out of control following the success of his first novel, Matthias returns to teach at his old boys’ boarding school, where his best friend (Fritz) vanished from campus during their senior year.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m a sucker for boarding school novels and Shadow of the Lions is a good one! It’s been described as a “literary thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a literary “mystery” than a “thriller.” It’s a story about male friendship…the kind of bond that can only be developed in extremely close quarters with shared experiences (i.e. living together in dorms, in the military, etc). Bonus for fellow Virginians: the author is a Woodberry Forest grad and the story is set at a fictional version of the school. Full Review

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

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

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

We Were the Lucky Ones We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Historical Fiction (Released February 14, 2017)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: World War II “annihilated over 90% of Poland’s Jews and […] all but about 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom,” Georgia Hunter’s ancestors’ home. Yet, her entire family survived. We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the story of how they did it.

My Thoughts: The Kurc family’s experience during World War II, beginning in Poland and stretching to Siberia, Italy, and Brazil is nothing short of a harrowing odyssey, the outcome of which defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. It feels like a “quick read” in a page-turning sense, even though it’s not a short or light book. Excellent choice for anyone who enjoyed The Nightingale or All the Light We Cannot See. And, pairing it with Nina Willner’s memoir, Forty Autumns, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift! Author Interview

Edgy Literary Fiction

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

Dead LettersDead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach by Caite Dolan-Leach
Fiction – Debut (Released February 21, 2017)
353 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.

My Thoughts: This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one my most recommended book of the year. It has a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. And, it’s one of those rare books that I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” Full Review

If We Were VillainsIf We Were Villains by M.L. Rio by M.L. Rio
Fiction – Debut (Released April 11, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts.

My Thoughts: If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017! It’s a sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down! Special Note: references to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. But, you do not have to read them closely or understand them to love it! Excellent choice for fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret HistoryFull Review

QuicksandQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito by Malin Persson Giolito
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
513 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: In a nutshell, Quicksand is the movie Cruel Intentions (elite prep school, lots of money, partying, drugs, neglected high schoolers, and an intense love affair), if Sebastian (PS – Quicksand‘s main character is also named Sebastian…it’s almost too perfect!) had shot up his school and Annette had gone to trial for helping him.

My Thoughts: I “5 star adored” this Swedish “courtroom thriller” and am amazed it hasn’t gotten more buzz in the U.S. since its March release! This story is about far more than just a school shooting…it’s about friendship, family, a wealthy community, the complicated entanglement of young love, the law, and a slight bit of politics. I couldn’t put it down. If you like dark, twisty high school books, this is one of the best I’ve ever read! Full Review

Heart's Invisible Furies The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Historical Fiction (Released August 22, 2017)
582 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After Cyril Avery was born out of wedlock to an Irish country teenager and given up for adoption to a wealthy, Dublin couple, he wrestles with his sexuality and how he fits into an Ireland that’s run by an overreaching Catholic Church over the course of his life.

My Thoughts: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the first big, immersive novel that’s really hit me since A Little Life and is hands-down one of my favorite books of 2017! It spans Cyril’s entire life in 7 year segments and it’s heartfelt and emotional, yet unexpectedly funny and reads like juicy gossip at times. Don’t be afraid of the length…this one is not a slog at all. Excellent choice for fans of A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Little Life (minus all the heart-wrenching violence). Full Review

Introspective Books

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

Lots of Candles Plenty of CakeLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
182 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!

My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read! Excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…scratch that, It’s perfect for pretty much any woman you know.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

Plot Summary: Ann Patchett’s (author of one of my 2016 favorites: Commonwealth) essay collection covering all kinds of topics from her life. Buy from Amazon

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

Page Turners

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

Emma in the Night Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released August 8, 2017)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.

My Thoughts: Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read it in one day. Full Review

Fear by Dirk KurbjuweitFear by Dirk Kurbjuweit
Fiction – Translation (
Released October 3, 2017)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After a stalking campaign by Randolph Tiefenthaler’s downstairs neighbor, Randolph’s father lands in prison for shooting the neighbor.

My Thoughts: Fear is what I like to call a “why book.” It starts with the main event and the suspense lies in discovering the how and why. It was marketed as a “gripping thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a slow burn. The overall feel is very European (logical since this is a German translation). Think Herman Koch (more Dear Mr. M than The Dinner) and Based on a True Story, with the tension simmering and crackling beneath the surface rather than exploding in a more traditional, action-packed way. Full Review

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy. They read easy, but their stories still have great depth.

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid
Historical Fiction (Released June 13, 2017)
391 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.

My Thoughts: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in the brain candy class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. And, you might be surprised by where this story goes. Full Review

Trophy SonTrophy Son by Douglas Brunt by Douglas Brunt
Fiction – Sports (
Release Date May 30, 2017)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.

My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on the coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents, and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through. Excellent choice for sports fans.

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, books and reading (duh!), the Cold War, running, personality types, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of politics.

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeBooks for Living by Will Schwalbe
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 27, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.

My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. Full Review

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

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

My Thoughts: Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob (which was a similar book, but got too esoteric and intellectually snobby for my taste)! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned. Excellent choice for big-time bookworms.

Forty Autumns by Nina WillnerForty Autumns by Nina Willner
Nonfiction – History/Memoir (Released October 4, 2016)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.

My Thoughts: Forty Autumns is a fascinating look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. It’s highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson. Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers…and, pairing it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift!

My Year of Running Dangerously My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Nonfiction – Memoir/Sports (Released October 6, 2015)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.

My Thoughts: Not only is this memoir the story of an impressive running feat (prior to Foreman’s year of races, he hadn’t run since he was much younger), but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. It would make a great gift for a father or daughter that’s getting into running…and it’s great on audio!

Reading People by Anne BogelReading Peopleby Anne Bogel
Nonfiction (Released September 19, 2017)
226 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A primer on the major personality type frameworks including Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, and the 5 Love Languages.

My Thoughts: If you’re interested in personality types and how to apply your personality types to your own life, Reading People is an approachable place to start. It doesn’t go deep into any of these types, but it’s a good overview that can help you decide where you might like to go deep. Excellent choice for anyone interested in personality types or psychology.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Nonfiction – Memoir/Politics (Released March 21, 2017)
257 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.

My Thoughts: This is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! Excellent choice for women newly embarking on their careers or behind-the-scenes of politics junkies.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories…I find these books make great Dad gifts!

Ranger Games by Ben BlumRanger Games by Ben Blum
Nonfiction (Released September 12, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link:

Plot Summary: Alex Blum was a gregarious, athletic, popular teenager (think Pat Tillman) until he joined the U.S. Army Rangers and, within four months, robbed a bank. Written by Alex’s cousin, Ranger Games is the story of how this happened.

My Thoughts: While Alex’s story is pretty outrageous, Ranger Games goes deeper into the Army’s training methods, specifically for the Rangers. And, how the Ranger methods and philosophy could help turn a happy-go-lucky kid into a bank robber. It’s a little overly long, but would make a perfect Dad, Husband, or Father-in-Law gift.

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

Plot Summary: The true story of the hunt for a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) who burned down abandoned buildings in Accomack County, a small, declining town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

My Thoughts: The story behind the hunt for this arsonist (actually, arsonists), who they were, and why they couldn’t stop burning down abandoned buildings is ultimately about a unique community and a love affair gone very wrong. It’s a well-told and engrossing story with a broad appeal beyond the true crime genre and is a perfect “gateway book” for those interested in dipping their toes into the true crime genre for the first time. Excellent choice for Virginians. Full Review

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

Plot Summary: The true story of the systematic murder of many members of the Osage Indian Nation for their oil rights and the subsequent investigation into the killings.

My Thoughts: Killers of the Flower Moon is about the history of the Osage Indian Nation, oil drilling in America in the 1920’s, 1920’s law enforcement and the FBI’s first homicide case. Then, overlay all that with a murder mystery involving a stunning level of corruption that captivated the public interest at the time and you get a flawless blend of history and mystery. Excellent choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

Something Outside of the Box

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

Goodbye Vitamin Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Fiction – Debut (
Released July 11, 2017)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Ruth returns to her parents’ home in the L.A. area to help care for her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

My Thoughts: Goodbye, Vitamin is the type of book that could get overlooked because it’s all about the intangibles, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking this one! Though this story is about a sad and serious topic, it has a lightness to it and is amusing at times. The story is told through Ruth’s journal entries that read like little vignettes, a format that worked for me in this case because I absolutely adored Ruth’s endearing, witty, real, and relatable voice. Excellent choice for young professionals. Full Review

Grit by Angela Duckworth Grit by Angela Duckworth
Nonfiction – Life Improvement (
Released May 13, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Duckworth uses examples from the military, sports, education, and business to illustrate how perseverance (rather than talent) is the best predictor of success. 

My Thoughts: The primary message seems like common sense, but Duckworth supports it with entertaining real life examples and multiple studies. It reinforced to me that you have far more control over your destiny than you think. Excellent choice for parents and anyone with a big-time goal in mind.

Mothering Sunday by Graham SwiftMothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Historical Fiction (Released April 26, 2016)
177 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.

My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all. It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from her Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey. Full Review

The Stranger in the WoodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel by Michael Finkel
Nonfiction (Released March 7, 2017)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes.

My Thoughts: This is one strange, but completely captivating story. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait, coupled with a look at today’s extraversion-oriented society. Christopher Knight is one of those people who makes you want to figure out what makes him tick. This is a quick read (or listen, in my case!) that’s perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Excellent choice for Dads, Father-in-Laws, brothers, and husbands.

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey by Meg Howrey
Fiction (Released March 14, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

My Thoughts: The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year. It’s first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. Full Review

Bookish Gifts

Kindle Oasis E-Reader (the latest Kindle upgrade)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Amazon has come out with its latest and greatest Kindle upgrade. Y’all know how devoted I am to my Kindle…I’d be reading far less without it. Its convenience can’t be beat. The Oasis has a couple fancy, new features: it’s waterproof  (yes, bathtub, pool float, and wine drinking readers rejoice!), you can listen to Audible audiobooks via Bluetooth directly from your Kindle, it’s battery lasts 9 weeks when paired with the leather cover it comes with, and it has a thinner and lighter sloped design that’s supposed to mimic a book’s spine.

Lit Chat (a literary discussion game)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Created by literary media company, Book Riot (I’m a big fan of their blog posts and podcasts!), Lit Chat is a game intended to get people talking about books and reading. It comes with 50 cards containing all kinds of bookish questions (such as “what book would you want with you if you were stuck on a desert island?”) designed to spark debate about books. A few rounds of Lit Chat would be a great addition to any book club gathering!

“F Off, I’m Reading” Socks 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

A friend gave me these amazing socks earlier this year and I burst out laughing! They pretty much perfectly reflect my state of mind about 80% of the day. Excellent stocking stuff for any bookworm not afraid of a little F bomb! But, if you’re averse to the language, the same company also makes cute “Stop Talking” and “I Heard You and I Don’t Care” versions.

Happy Holidays!

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My Must Try Before the End of 2017 TBR List

November 21, 2017 Book Lists 28

Must Try Before End of 2017 TBR list

 

Throughout the year, I keep a running list of all the books I missed right when they came out, but that I want to fit in at some point during the year. I call this my Must Try Before the End of 2017 TBR list.

Some of my best reading this year has come from this list (BeartownDead LettersThe Heart’s Invisible Furies)…probably because these books had been vetted by multiple readers I trust before I actually read them.

I generally devote mid/late November to mid-December to trying to find at least one more book to sneak into my Best Books of the Year list. We now have about 3 weeks until I share my Best Books of 2017. I obviously can’t read all the books on this list in that time (do you think I’m a magician?!), so I want y’alls help.

If you’ve read any of the books below, tell me which ones you think could be Best Books of the Year candidates! And, which ones I shouldn’t waste time on. And, any others you think I’d absolutely love.

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

My Must Try Before the End of 2017 TBR List

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber (August 1, 2017)
Recommended by Off the Shelf’s 5 Best Books I Read This Month (November)

Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge (April 4, 2017)
Recommended by Renee at It’s Book Talk and Susie at Novel Visits

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive.

Everybody’s Son by Thrifty Umgar (June 6, 2017)
Recommended by Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books and Reading & Eating

The bestselling, critically acclaimed author of The Space Between Us and The World We Found deftly explores issues of race, class, privilege, and power and asks us to consider uncomfortable moral questions in this probing, ambitious, emotionally wrenching novel of two families—one black, one white.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (June 27, 2017)
Recommended by Michelle at That’s What She Read

A generations-spanning family of psychics–both blessed and burdened by their abilities–must use their powers to save themselves from the CIA, the local mafia, and a skeptic hell-bent on discrediting them in this hilarious, tender, magical novel about the invisible forces that bind us.

The Break by Marian Keyes (September 7, 2017)
Recommended by Eva at Paperback Princess

Amy’s husband Hugh isn’t really leaving her.

At least, that’s what he promises. He is just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. For six-months Hugh will lose himself in south-east Asia, and there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.

But a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallan (June 27, 2017)
Recommended by The Readerly Podcast

A searing debut novel […] about jealousy, the unpredictable path of friendship, and the secrets kept in marriage, all set within the U.S. expat community of the Middle East during the rise of the Arab Spring.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton (August 8, 2017)
Recommended by Annie Jones at From the Front Porch Podcast

A wildly entertaining debut about a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother who has embezzled a small fortune from her children’s private school and makes a run for it, leaving behind her trust fund poet husband, his maybe-secret lover, her two daughters, and a school board who will do anything to find her. 

The Party by Elizabeth Day (August 15, 2017)
Recommended by Michaela at The Ardent Biblio and Born and Read in Chicago

A gripping story of obsession and betrayal, privilege and hypocrisy, set in the unassailable heart of the British establishment.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (October 10, 2017)
Recommended by Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books and Susie at Novel Visits

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda (November 7, 2017)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits

When a teen runs away from his father’s mysterious commune, he sets in motion a domino effect that will connect six characters desperate for hope and love, set across the sun-bleached canvas of Los Angeles.

Tell me, which ones should I read first?

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

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What I’m Reading Now (11/20/17)

November 20, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 21

Nonfiction November (get all the details here!) is still going strong (last week, I shared my favorite Books on Reading and Writing) and I’ve still got some posts to come! But, I’m starting to burn out of actually reading nonfiction. I’ve switched to reading fiction for a bit, though I’m still listening to nonfiction on audio.

I’m also hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever, so will be stressing out about that all week! Hosting parties is not my forte. But, my family’s Thanksgiving gathering is always laid-back and informal, so I’m banking on that to cover up my inevitable hosting flubs!

Finally, my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 guide is coming on Black Friday! I don’t know about you, but I never go to stores on Black Friday. Can’t think of anything worse. With my holiday gift guide, you’ll be able to knock out your shopping for all your book lover friends and family without leaving your couch! Something I’m always thankful for…

Hosted by The Book Date.

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

Favorite Instagram Post
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️It’s a 5 star Alcohol & Advil pairing…possibly the first 100% 5 star one I’ve ever done! The Heart’s Invisible Furies will slay every emotion you have…you’ll laugh and cry and everything in between. And, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo will fix you right up afterwards…it reads easy, but the story has lots of depth. You’ll probably start out hating Evelyn, but don’t be sure you’ll end up there. Also – you have no idea how truly perfect a pairing this is until you’ve read both books. LINK TO MY REVIEWS IN BIO.⠀ _⠀ ⠀ How do you recover from a book that absolutely slays you?⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Alcohol & Advil is my feature where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s the former.⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ @johnboyne @hogarthbooks @tjenkinsreid @atriabooks @bookofthemonth #bookstagram #amreading #bookworm #instabooks #bookblogger #booklover #booklovers #booksofinstagram #bookgram #bookblogger #bookaddict #bookaddiction #fiction #bookofthemonth #bookofthemonthclub #BOTM #heartsinvisiblefuries #sevenhusbandsofevelynhugo

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I finished reading…

How Reading Changed My Life, Black Dahlia Red Rose
How Reading Changed My Life
by Anna Quindlen (January 1, 1998)
It pains me to say this, but this is the first Anna Quindlen I’ve ever not liked. I hope it will be the last. Mini review to come.

Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Marie Eatwell (October 10, 2017)
This investigation into the still unsolved Black Dahlia murder in 1940’s L.A. hit my true crime spot. It’s not perfect, but a pretty fascinating and maddening read for true crime or L.A. history buffs. Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent


Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent (August 22, 2017)
My library hold for this dark and demented story came in at just the right time. It’s exactly the change of pace I needed after lots of nonfiction. I’m 25% through and still not quite sure where it’s is headed, but I can’t wait to find out!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Senator's Children by Nicholas Montemarano


The Senator’s Children
by Nicholas Montemarano (November 7, 2017)
DNF at 49%. This story about the two daughters of a U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate came recommended by one of my go-to book gurus and it was fine, but I’m never in the mood for “just fine” during the last 2 months of the year. It’s a time when I’m looking for a latecomer to sneak into my Best Books of 2017 list. So, on to the next…

Upcoming reading plans…

I’m not sure. I have a bunch of library holds that could come in any day. I also have a list of 2017 books to at least try before the end of the year, which I’ll be sharing on Tuesday.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was hosting last year’s Nonfiction November Book Pairings and didn’t do a Monday update.

Two Years Ago: I’d just read one of my favorite Nonfiction November reads of 2015.

How was your reading week?

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

November 16, 2017 Book Lists 13

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


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

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

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

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

Fiction that Grabs You from the Very First Page

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

Recent Examples:

Engaging, Easy to Read Novels

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

Recent Examples:

Essay Collections

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

Recent Examples:

Light and/or Juicy Memoirs

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

Recent Examples:

Re-Reads of Old Favorites

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2017 Book Lists 30

Nonfiction November 2017


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

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

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

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

books about the reading and writing life

Books about the Reading and Writing Life That I Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What I’m Reading Now (11/13/17)

November 13, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 20

You’re getting 2 weeks worth of updates today since I skipped last Monday to host the Nonfiction November (get all the details here!) Fiction / Nonfiction Pairings Link-Up. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this focus on nonfiction reading that I tend to neglect throughout the year!

I also got to meet Tara from Running N Reading, one of my favorite book (and running) bloggers, in person for the first time! She was visiting my town to run our local Half Marathon, so we grabbed tea/cider and froze while we caught up outdoors. She is just as darling in person as she is online and I was so happy to put a name with a face. PS – if you like my book recommendations, you’ll also love hers and should follow her blog!

#Nonficnov Instagram Challenge

I’ve been participating in the #nonficnov Instagram Challenge at least a couple times a week, spotlighting some of my favorite nonfiction in a number of categories. And, let’s be honest, the nonfiction I happen to have in physical book form! Follow me (at sarahsbookshelves) and the #nonficnov hashtag on Instagram to follow along!

The winning post so far is…

Nonfiction November Instagram Challenge Day 2: Favorite Recent Nonfiction⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Does last year count as recent?! Hope so… Hillbilly Elegy was one of my favorite nonfiction books of last year AND one of my overall favorites of 2016! I read it well before it blew up following the election (and accumulated a ton of backlash), so had a cleaner slate going in. I thoroughly enjoyed it as the straightforward memoir it is. And, who doesn’t love a bada$$, trash-talking grandma?!⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookgram #booktography #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #bookblogger #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #goodreads #nonficnov @kimthedork @doingdewey @catchmybookbreath @harperbooks

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Hosted by The Book Date.

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I finished reading…

Forty Autumns, After the Eclipse, Dear Fahrenheit 451


Forty Autumns
by Nina Willner (October 4, 2016)
This memoir about Willner’s German family being torn apart by the Berlin Wall is fantastic. It’s highly readable and the story reminded me a bit of We Were the Lucky Ones, just during a different war. Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry (September 26, 2017)
This memoir is a bit true crime and a bit The Glass Castle. It’s a powerful book, but unnecessarily long. Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence (September 26, 2017)
A welcome delightful and funny read following the intensity of Forty Autumns and After the Eclipse! Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen


How Reading Changed My Life
by Anna Quindlen (January 1, 1998)
I’m over halfway through this 98 page rumination on the reading life. I adore Anna Quindlen and generally love her ruminations on anything, but this one isn’t working for me. It feels like she wrote it for some term paper…

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul


My Life with Bob
by Pamela Paul (June 13, 2017)
DNF at 42%. I loved the beginning where she focuses on her reading life. However, she started moving more into straight memoir and talking less about books and reading. I started to lose interest and got annoyed by her increasing lapses into intellectual snobbery.

Upcoming reading plans…

Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan (September 26, 2017)
I’ve been seeing this story about the Biltmore castle in Asheville, NC around a lot lately and rarely turn my nose up at some “behind the scenes of rich people” reading!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading a long, but fast paced book about Hurricane Katrina.

Two Years Ago: I finished an eye-opening nonfiction about women in Afghanistan.

How was your reading week?

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Nonfiction November 2017: Fiction / Nonfiction Pairings Round-Up

November 10, 2017 Blogger Events 10

Nonfiction November 2017


I was thrilled to host this week’s Nonfiction November topic: fiction/nonfiction book pairings:

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.

Pairings like this are one of the best ways for me to find new books to add to my TBR and I hope you all found some great new-to-you books this week!

Your Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings

Next week, Sophisticated Dorkiness will be hosting 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).
Join us and hashtag your social media posts with #nonficnov!

 

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Alcohol & Advil: The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

November 9, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 23

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style
Welcome to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s the former.

In the case of today’s pairing, you won’t know how truly great a match it is until you’ve read both books. I’m not going to spoil anything by telling you anymore than that.

The Alcohol

Heart's Invisible Furies by John BoyneThe Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Historical Fiction (Released August 22, 2017)
582 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Hogarth Books)

Plot Summary: After Cyril Avery was born out of wedlock to an Irish country teenager and given up for adoption to a wealthy, Dublin couple, he wrestles with his identity and how he fits into the country of Ireland over the course of his life.

My Thoughts: I’ve been looking for a big, immersive novel for a long time now and The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the first one that’s really hit me since A Little Life (my review). It was exactly what I’d been looking for and is hands-down one of my favorite books of 2017! It spans Cyril’s entire life in 7 year segments and, along with Cyril’s story, tells the story of Ireland growing from an intolerant country run by an overreaching Catholic Church in the 1940’s to the first country in the world to legalize same sex marriage by popular vote in 2015. It’s heartfelt and emotional, yet unexpectedly funny (Cyril’s adoptive parents are so ridiculously over-the-top that they’re hilarious). It’s highly literary, yet reads like juicy gossip at times. And, it’s filled with the kind of pointed social commentary that confirms John Boyne is an astute observer of life.

But here’s the thing, and I think everyone secretly believes this if they’d just let themselves admit it: the world would be a much healthier place if we allowed each other to do exactly what we wanted, when we wanted, with who we wanted, and didn’t lay down puritanical rules for how to conduct our sex lives.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel that has heart and will stick with you long after the final page. And, don’t be afraid of the length…this one is not a slog at all. I could have read it for hours at a time and, while it’s not a page turner, I was still on the edge of my seat dying to know what would happen to these people next. If you loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and/or A Little Life (minus all the heart-wrenching violence), grab this one immediately!

The Advil

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid
Historical Fiction (Released June 13, 2017)
391 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Atria Books)

Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.

My Thoughts: One of my favorite literary finds is a book that’s light and easy to read (I call them Brain Candy), but that’s also extremely well-done and has substantial depth. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in this class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out.

I’m not saying the gossip columnists printed what they knew to be a lie. I’m simply saying they were all too happy to believe the lie I was selling them. And of course, that’s the easiest lie to tell, one you know the other person desperately wants to be true.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo goes behind the curtain about how the Hollywood machine really works and exposes how much of what the general public sees is orchestrated for appearances. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. You may not like Evelyn (she’s completely unapologetic about all the ruthless moves she made during her career), but you kind of have to admire her guts, and I did feel sorry for her by the end. It’s not often that a Brain Candy book can make me cry, but this one did. It’s a book I’ll be recommending to tons of people and is going on my Best of the Brain Candy list.

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