Tag: All-Time Favorites

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

March 16, 2017 Book Lists 33

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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My All-Time Favorite Nonfiction Books

November 12, 2014 Nonfiction 14

Nonfiction November

This post is part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination. Since this is my first time participating, I figured what better time to share my all-time favorite nonfiction books. 

All Over but the Shoutin', Rick Bragg, memoir, alcoholism, alcoholic fathers, Southern memoir, Southern, Alabama, povertyAll Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
Memoir (Released December, 1991)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Bragg recounts his childhood growing up destitute, with an alcoholic and mostly absentee father, in rural Alabama.
My Thoughts: In his heart-breaking, but hilarious memoir, Bragg mixes stories of “young-boy-in-the-country” hi-jinks (i.e. the hilarious) with the impact of an irresponsible, alcoholic father on his family (i.e. the heart-breaking). Continue Reading…

Boomerang, michael lewis, finance, business, european debt crisisBoomerang by Michael Lewis
Business (Released October, 2011)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Lewis explains the European debt crisis by focusing on the culture and social norms of Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, and, because it has striking similarities to these European countries, the state of California.
My Thoughts: 
Who would have thought a book about the European debt crisis could be funny? Lewis’ social commentary on how each country’s culture brought about its downfall is hilarious and makes Boomerang appealing even to those who aren’t remotely interested in finance. Continue Reading…

Thank You for Your Service, David Finkel, Iraq war, Afghanistan war, PTSD in soldiers, Traumatic brain injury in soldiersThank You for Your Service by David Finkel
War (Released October, 2013)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
An exploration of mental and emotional trauma facing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s efforts to curb this group’s high suicide rate.
My Thoughts: Thank You for Your Service was named one of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly and one of the Top 10 Books of the Year by the Washington Post…and I wholeheartedly agree. This is a heartbreaking and moving series of stories about various members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion and their families dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) following war zone deployments. Continue Reading…

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown, rowing, 1936 olympicsThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Sports (Released June, 2013)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The true story of Joe Rantz and his University of Washington teammates’ quest to win gold in the men’s eight rowing event at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
My Thoughts: The Boys in the Boat was the best nonfiction book I read in 2013 (by far) and the best sports book I’ve read in the past few years! It reminded me a lot of Seabiscuit, not only because it’s set in the same time period, but also because Brown, like Seabiscuit‘s Laura Hillenbrand, managed to keep me fascinated by a sport that I have little interest in. Continue Reading…

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson, World's Fair, ChicagoThe Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
History/Crime (Released 2003)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The true story of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer masquerading as a doctor who cast a shadow over the proceedings.
My Thoughts: 
The suspense and drama of the search for H.H. Holmes (the serial killer) made The Devil in the White City seem like a thrilling fiction novel. Continue Reading…

The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls, memoirThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Memoir (Released 2005)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The true story of Walls’ childhood growing up with eccentric, nomadic, irresponsible parents.
My Thoughts: This was the first memoir I ever read that truly stuck with me. Walls writes about her bizarre childhood with humor, a sense of normalcy (not sure where she got this from!), and, amazingly enough, a bit of appreciation. And, the stories are just outrageous.

The Miracle of St. AnthonyThe Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
Sports (Released January, 2006)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The Miracle of St. Anthony chronicles Coach Bob Hurley (father of Duke basketball legend Bobby Hurley) and his nationally ranked high school basketball team.
My Thoughts: The Miracle of St. Anthony is far more than just a sports book. It’s about overcoming obstacles, shaping lives, supporting teammates and the community, and creating a dynasty in the process. Continue Reading…

The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe, navy pilots, space raceThe Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
History (Released January, 1979)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A portrait of the personality type that enthusiastically chooses a career with 1 in 4 odds of death: the Navy test pilot and the earliest participants in the U.S. manned space program.
My Thoughts: 
I figured a 350 page book about Navy pilots and the space race would bore me to tears. But, true to Tom Wolfe form, The Right Stuff is mostly (very funny, incidentally) social commentary on the personalities in these professions and the general public as a whole during that time period. Needless to say, I was far from bored to tears.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand, World War II, Louis ZamperiniUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
History/War (Released November, 2010)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Louis Zamperini, an ex-Olympic track star and WWII Air Force Lieutenant, is shot down over the Pacific and ends up in a Japanese concentration camp.
My Thoughts: Astounding is the only word I can use to describe Unbroken – there is a reason for the hype. This story is so amazing that my husband stopped reading it because he determined there was no way some parts were true. I didn’t agree with him, kept reading, and was so glad I did. Continue Reading…

Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer, mormonismUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Religion (Released July, 2003)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
An expose type account of life in extreme Mormon communities that still practice polygamy.
My Thoughts: I’ve never been particularly interested in Mormanism or religions in general, yet was still awestruck by this book. Krakauer takes you inside the history of the religion, as well as into numerous extreme modern-day situations (including a family murder where the killers said their religion directed them to do it). Under the Banner of Heaven is definitely a case of truth is stranger than fiction and Krakauer’s writing made it an even more exciting read.


Book Review: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

February 2, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Southern Fiction 4

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, The Citadel, Charleston, fiction, Southern fictionFiction
Released 1980
500 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of The Lords of Discipline:

Granting the wish of his dying father, Will McLean attends Carolina Military Institute (i.e.”The Institute”) in Charleston amid serious doubts about the military and must confront a secret organization that is rumored to exist on campus.

My Thoughts on The Lords of Discipline:

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and I would love reading his description of paint drying. I read most of his books when I was in high school and remember loving them, but now don’t remember enough detail to write about them on the blog. So, I’m now trying to re-read as many of his older novels as I can – lucky me! A few months ago, I posted my review of The Great Santini after a re-read.

Like The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline is somewhat autobiographical (it’s based on Conroy’s experience as a cadet at The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college) and deals with his love/hate (but, mostly hate) relationship with the military. This book is a study in contrasts between Conroy’s love affair with the city of Charleston and his hatred of its military college, The Citadel.

This book showcases Conroy’s signature writing style (absolutely perfect, in my opinion) with his gorgeous and sometimes hilarious descriptions of military life and of Charleston and its people (particularly the South of Broad “social elite”):

“[…] they do possess a municipal character that has a lot to do with two centuries of scriptural belief that they are simply superior to other people of the earth. [] The descendants of planters often found themselves with the bank accounts of sewing machine salesmen. But a modest income alone never denied access to those haughty parlors; and wealth alone could never insure it. If you were crass, lowborn, or socially offensive, it would have made no difference to the proud inhabitants South of Broad that you owned France; they would not invite you to their homes.”

Will McLean’s witty personality and status as an outsider to the Charleston South of Broad crowd and to “The Institute” (due to his decidedly lackluster enthusiasm for “The Institute’s” culture and traditions, particularly its treatment of freshman “knobs”) makes him a sarcastic  and entertaining narrator.

Usually Conroy’s novels are character rather than plot driven, but this one achieves both. And, that’s what makes The Lords of Discipline unique for Conroy and one of my favorite of books. The plot driven part of the book is the fascinating mystery of Will McLean’s pursuit of “The Ten”, a secret organization focused on ensuring that cadets “not fit to represent The Institute” get weeded out before graduation, which kept me on the edge of my seat in the second half of the book.

The mystery and drama of whether “The Ten” actually exists and is playing a role in “The Institute’s” extreme hazing of certain knobs adds an otherworldly element similar to The Illuminati’s in Angels & Demons. I obviously wondered if “The Ten” exists at the real life Citadel, but could not find anything on the Internet to suggest that it does. But, just the fact that it could possibly exist in real life make’s Will McLean’s interest in “The Ten” that much more exciting reading.

Finally, the fact that this is a story about boys in a military college during wartime (Vietnam) who have the sobering knowledge that most of them will be sent overseas shortly after graduation adds a certain poignancy.  

The Lords of Discipline is going on my Books for Guys List and is the first book I’ve added to my All-Time Favorites List since starting this blog.

You May Also Like:
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy




Book Review: The World According to Garp

June 21, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

World According to Garp

The World According to Garp
by John Irving, Fiction (Released 1978)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: T.S. Garp, a boy who was raised by his feminist mother, grows up to face horrific events in his life as a parent and writer.
My Thoughts: As I read Garp, I was struck by the connections to Irving’s life (Garp’s background of being raised without a father, his interest in wrestling, and his career as a fiction writer), causing me to wonder how much of this “fiction” is autobiographical.  This adds another dimension to an already fantastic story.  If you liked A Prayer for Owen Meany, you will love this one too. This is one of my All-Time Favorites and is also on my Time to Kill List.

Book Review: Nineteen Minutes

June 20, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

Nineteen MinutesNineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Fiction
Released March, 2007
438 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Summary

The story of a Columbine-esque school shooting told from the perspectives of various characters’ involved (the shooter and his mother, the high school jock, the judge presiding over the trial, and the shooter’s former childhood friend).

My Thoughts

Although Nineteen Minutes is a typical Jodi Picoult novel centered around a moral dilemma, I think it’s her best one. She makes you question what initially seems black and white and feel for characters you never thought you would. This is an especially interesting read since the documentary “Bully” has been in the news so much. This is one of my All-Time Favorites and is also on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: The Gold Coast

June 14, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

Gold CoastThe Gold Coast (John Sutter)
by Nelson Demille, Fiction (Released April, 1990)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: A mafia don invades the remnants of Long Island’s aristocratic Gold Coast society and turns his neighbors’ lives upside down.
My Thoughts: A review describing The Gold Coast as The Bonfire of the Vanities crossed with The Godfather convinced me to give it a try. John Sutter’s (the narrator) super salty observations of crumbling Gold Coast society are hilarious and remind me a bit of Tom Wolfe. And Frank Bellarosa, the mafia don next door is quite a character. He’s the fodder for some of Sutter’s funniest social commentary and also provides the element of unpredictability and danger that makes this book a page turner. I think what makes this book so compelling is the rare combination of social satire and suspense…not to mention genuine humor. There is now a sequel called The Gate House, and while I enjoyed finding out what happens to all the characters, it didn’t pack the punch that The Gold Coast did. The Gold Coast is one of my All-Time Favorites and is also on my Page Turners List.

Book Review: The Double Bind

June 12, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction 1

The Double BindThe Double Bind
by Chris Bohjalian, Fiction (Released February, 2007)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: Set in The Great Gatsby’s fictional West Egg, Laurel Estabrook’s attempt to recover from an assault leads her on a quest to understand how a celebrity photographer ends up destitute after finding a collection of his photographs in a homeless shelter.
My Thoughts: Bohjalian’s integration of real characters from The Great Gatsby is genius and, surprisingly, blends seamlessly into the story of Laurel’s struggle.  If you loved The Great Gatsby and The Sixth Sense, read The Double Bind.  You won’t be disappointed. The Double Bind is one of my All-Time Favorites and is also on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: The Devil in the White City

June 8, 2013 Books to Read, History, Mysteries/Thrillers, Nonfiction 0

Devil in the White CityThe Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
Nonfiction – History
Released 2003
447 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased
 

Plot Summary

The true story of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer masquerading as a doctor who cast a shadow over the proceedings.

My Thoughts

The suspense and drama of the search for H.H. Holmes (the serial killer) made The Devil in the White City seem like a thrilling fiction novel.  As an added bonus, I learned a lot about the 1893 World’s Fair, which Larson managed to make thoroughly entertaining. This book is one of my All-Time Favorites and is also on my Books for Guys List.

Book Review: Boomerang

June 5, 2013 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 0

BoomerangBoomerang: Travels in the New Third World
by Michael Lewis, Nonfiction – Business (Released October, 2011)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: Lewis explains the European debt crisis by focusing on the culture and social norms of Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, and, because it has striking similarities to these European countries, the state of California.
My Thoughts: Who would have thought a book about the European debt crisis could be funny? Lewis’ social commentary on how each country’s culture brought about its downfall is hilarious and makes Boomerang appealing even to those who aren’t remotely interested in finance. Boomerang entertained me from start to finish, but also left me more educated in the end. It’s on my All-Time Favorites, Book Club Recommendations, Books for Guys, and Business Books lists – I know, it made lots of lists, but it deserves to be on them all!

Book Review: The Bonfire of the Vanities

June 1, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

Bonfire of the VanitiesThe Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel
by Tom Wolfe, Fiction (Released October, 1987)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary:  Set in 1980′s New York, Sherman McCoy, a wealthy NYC bond trader, and his mistress are involved in a hit-and-run in the Bronx, sparking a racially charged trial and tabloid battle.
My Thoughts: Wolfe’s social commentary is at its best covering the go-go 1980′s of NYC finance, racial tension, and politics.  Though fictional, BOTV is a far more entertaining and all-encompassing version of Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker.  Wolfe goes beyond the financial focus of Liar’s Poker to explore the implications for other areas of society at that time. Bonfire is one of my All-Time Favorites and is on my Book Club Recommendations and Books for Guys lists.