Books and Reading

What I've Been Reading This Winter

What+I%27ve+Been+Reading+This+Winter

It’s time for Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share short and sweet book reviews of what I’ve been reading lately. This is a juicy list, y’all — it’s not a stretch to say that there is at least one title on this list for nearly every kind of reader.

We have a twisty tale set on the river Thames, a strange epidemic, a mormon murder mystery, two immersive historical novels, a gorgeous coffee table book and a pair of must-read political picks for non-political people.

Fiction:

Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

This is a delicious novel. “Old fashioned storytelling” is what immediately came to mind when I thought about how to describe it. Set on the river Thames in an indeterminate period in history, there is a mystery involving an old pub, three missing girls, and one child who appears to be dead and then lives again. A wee bit spooky and utterly transporting — perfect for cozying up with on a cold night.

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

I fully admit that the cover blurb by Emily St. John Mandel (author of Station Eleven) sold me on this book. In it, a mysterious sleeping sickness starts in a Southern California college dorm, and spreads to epidemic proportions. The storyline kept me frantically turning the pages, and I found myself thinking about it well after I put the book down, which is always a good sign.

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Not of This Fold by Mette Ivie Harrison

This book was recommended on the Indie Next list, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked it up — but I’m glad I did! A Linda Wallheim mystery set in mormon Utah, this felt like a comfort read (if cozy mysteries are a comfort read for you) but also illuminated Mormon culture in a way that, as an outsider, I would never have access to otherwise. If you’re at all curious about what it’s like to be a Mormon woman in the modern world, read this book. The protagonist is married to a bishop and is a feminist, which leads to some really thoughtful examinations of the intersection of beliefs, family life, gender roles and power structures.


Unread Shelf Project:

This year I am embarking on an intentional quest to winnow down my unread shelf a bit. If you’d like some guidance to do the same, I recommend checking out Whitney Conrad on Instagram and her interview with Anne Bogel on the What Should I Read Next podcast.

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To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

The January Unread Shelf Challenge was to read any unread book on your shelf. I chose a title by Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child. Like The Snow Child, this story is set in the wilds of Alaska, with a few strange and magical twists. Ivey follows a Colonel Allen Forrester, a Civil War hero, on an exploratory mission to map the interior of the Alaska Territory by way of the Wolverine River. Told in alternating perspectives, we see the Colonel’s adventures as well as his wife back at camp, who is learning about the photographic art. The rich descriptions of nature swept me away, and I loved learning about this slice of history I knew very little about.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

For February, the Unread Shelf Challenge was to read a book that was gifted to you. I chose Manhattan Beach…which was gifted to me by my mother in-law and has been on my TBR pile ever since! This is historical fiction with a twisty little mystery, family drama, beautiful writing, and diving. It was fascinating to learn about the (scary!) early days of diving through our protagonist Anna, who works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as a diver during World War II. I’ll definitely be adding Egan’s other works to my TBR!


Nonfiction:

Restoration House

Restoration House: Creating a Home that Gives Life and Connection to All Who Enter by Kennesha Buycks

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this coffee table-worthy book from the publisher. It is gorgeous and just one of those books that makes you feel all warm and cozy and cared for. Buycks is a Christian, and you should know that this book is centered around a Christian perspective. That said, I see a lot to appreciate here, whatever your faith tradition. The core purpose of the book is to help the reader create a home that nourishes on all levels, from your senses to your soul, a message I believe anyone can get behind.

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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Five million stars. Can I just leave it at that? Hah. This was my first Goodwin, and I can see now why people love this author so much. I wouldn’t have guessed that reading a presidential biography could be so compelling! Deep-diving into the life of Abraham Lincoln was a hopeful, inspiring experience worth savoring — and certainly worth the page count (which is not small).

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I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers

Necessary reading for every human being in 2019. I’m a huge fan of Sarah and Beth’s podcast, Pantsuit Politics, where they gather each week to talk politics from different sides of the aisle with “No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.” But you don’t have to be a fan of the show to appreciate the book. It’s filled with the duo’s trademark insight, depth of understanding and empathy, while at the same time challenging each of us to do better — to make the effort to have tough conversations about politics with people who don’t agree with us, without falling back on the comfort of our own well-defined party lines.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments.


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2018 Reading Challenge Recap

This was the first year I a) tracked my reading and b) took part in the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, and both ended up doing good things for my reading life. As the calendar year is winding down, I thought it would be fun to take a peek back at what I read for my 2018 reading challenge.

Reading Challenge 2018

To be clear, these were not the only books I read this year — after looking back over my reading log, I’m on track to have read 52 books before January 1! Since this was my first year tracking my reading, I’m not sure how many books I usually read in a year, but it seems likely this was more than I’ve read in at least a few years. The simple act of tracking my reading helped keep books in the forefront of my thoughts throughout the year…which led to watching less Netflix and picking up more books. Hah!

Now, on with the books…

Persuasion

A classic you’ve been meaning to read.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I was gifted a big stack of Austen’s novels last Christmas, and I’ve been slowing making my way through them.

Little Fires

A book recommended by someone with great taste.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Was I the last person to read this book? It sure felt like it considering the number of people (both online and off) who recommended it to me! When I finally picked up my mother in-law’s copy, I devoured it.

The Odyssey

A book in translation.

The Odyssey by Homer, as translated by Emily Wilson

This is the one book from 2018 that I want to press into everyone’s hands. Emily Wilson’s translation of this classic work is shimmering in its simplicity, and the story reads like a thrilling page turner.

There There

A book nominated for an award in 2018.

There There by Tommy Orange

This was already on my TBR, and we scored a copy for Christmas, so it just moved to the top of my list. I’m currently reading it, but I expect to be done by Jan 1!

Holidays on Ice

A book of poetry, a play or an essay collection.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

A few of the stories in this collection are worth the price of the entire (slim) volume.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

A book you can read in a day.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

In preparation for writing my NaNoWriMo story (a YA novel which involved time travel) I gulped down this book in a single afternoon and then moved on to Rovelli’s recent release, The Order of Time.

The Witch Elm

A book that’s more than 500 pages.

The Witch Elm by Tana French

French is one of my favorite authors, and while I didn’t love this as much as the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series, it still came together in that signature twisty way of hers that I love.

Kingdom of the Blind

A book by a favorite author.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Reading Louise Penny feels like coming home to a cozy house with the fire blazing and a big mug of something hot to drink. This year’s book was quite possibly my favorite of all.

I'll Be Your Blue Sky

A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

When the indie bookseller squeals as she hands you a copy of a book, saying, “I loved this so much!!!” you know you’re on the right track. This was my first de los Santos, and it didn’t disappoint.

Twilight

A banned book.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I read this as part of my prep for writing a YA NaNo novel…I swear!

I Am I Am I Am

A memoir, biography or book of creative nonfiction.

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

One of the best books I read this year, I couldn’t put O’Farrell’s memoir down for a second.

Americanah

A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had to step away from this novel about halfway in, but when I picked it up again I was so glad I did — the second half had me completely engrossed.


Have you ever participated in a reading challenge? If so, what was your experience like? Are you planning any challenges for 2019? I’d love to hear!

October Quick Lit & Harry Potter Party Planning

Hello friends! It’s time for Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share a few of the books I've been reading lately. I have a nice stack of spooky October reads to share today — it’s been a good reading month! Up ahead we have a dark fairy tale, peculiar children, cozy minimalism, mysteries and one very unusual bookstore.

October Quick Lit and Harry Potter Party

And in other bookish news, my household has been very busy planning a Harry Potter halloween party — hence the Gryffindor banner and in-progress DIY chopstick wands pictured here (we used extra-long chopsticks, in case you’re wondering!). You can find some of the DIYs and ideas I’ve been pinning right here. Now, on with the list!

First, a pair of spooky YA titles perfect for getting in an October mood:

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I’ll just say it: I didn’t want this book to end. The Hazel Wood is a dark and creepy fairy tale that begins in modern day New York, but soon detours into very strange country. This is officially YA, but it leans towards an older audience. The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Alice, and her mother have been on the run her whole life for unclear reasons — but having something to do with her grandmother, who authored a cult-classic book of very dark fairy tales. When Alice’s mother is kidnapped, she and a friend must travel to her grandmother’s fabled house, The Hazel Wood, to find out what has happened.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

The third book in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series, this picks up with sixteen-year-old Jacob discovering a new ability, and culminates with an epic battle to save his fellow peculiars. I’d had this title on my bookshelf for ages, and it felt just right picking it up in October. After diving in I found out that Riggs has just released book 4 in the series, A Map of Days.

If you’d like to catch up on the plot quickly, may I suggest screening the Miss Peregrine’s film on a stormy October evening with popcorn and apple cider? I really enjoyed the film — even though it takes some major liberties (main character and love interest Emma has a fire ability in the books, but she was swapped with a peculiar who floats in the film).

Next up, three mysteries for every taste…

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This title has been out since 2013, but somehow I missed reading it when it was first released — so I was thrilled to be reminded to pick it up when it appeared on my library’s recommended books shelf. Set in San Francisco just after the Great Recession, an out-of-work graphic designer takes a job as a night clerk in a 24-hour bookstore in a seedy neighborhood.

Soon, Clay realizes that more is going on in those stacks than first meets the eye, and he follows a trail of clues that lead him into a secret bookish society that has spanned the ages. I was whisked right into the story, and especially loved reading about this particular setting because I lived in San Francisco during those years, and it was a treat to revisit places I know and love. Anyway, he had me at magical bookstore! :-)

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

I’ve been making my way through the Station Eleven author’s back catalog, and I loved this earlier work. Disgraced and out of work journalist Gavin Sasaki goes to stay with his sister in Florida, and ends up investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding a child who turns up with Gavin’s ex-girlfriend’s last name and bearing a striking resemblance to Gavin.

The girl soon disappears again, and Anna, the child’s mother, is nowhere to be found. This novel was atmospheric and transporting in a way that reminded me of Station Eleven — next I’ll be reading Mandel’s The Singer’s Gun.

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

I scooped up this Book of the Month Club pick at my local used bookstore and gulped it down in two nights. It’s a tense, slightly creepy domestic mystery that unfolds the night after a bunch of mom friends drink wine around a backyard fire pit — and in the morning, one of them is missing, along with her young twins. This wasn’t my favorite of the bunch this month, but it captured my attention while I was reading it.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy to review of this lovely title — and since my full review is still coming, I’ll be brief here. Suffice to say, this is a beautiful, relatable decorating book that offers real, practical solutions for those of us who feel trapped between wanting to simplify our homes and also embrace beauty and objects we love. A must-have for home lovers.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This September

It's time for another edition of Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share bite-size reviews of what I’ve been reading lately. I am so excited about the books I'm sharing this month. We have inspiring handcrafts, an ancient Greek love story, balm for a divided America, and one very resourceful Marsh Girl.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This September

First, a pair of fiction picks I adored (for very different reasons):

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This lush story follows Kya, a sensitive, intelligent girl who has been abandoned by one after another family member until she is left alone to fend for herself in the wild marshes of coastal North Carolina. Called the “Marsh Girl” and shunned by folks in town as “swamp trash”, Kya must learn to make her own way. I wanted to stay out there, “way out yonder where the crawdads sing,” with Kya a little longer — even after turning the last page.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller — Quick Lit September

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I finished this book and felt completely heartbroken (in the best way). The central focus of Achilles is a love story between Achilles and Patroclus. As I’ve heard the author, a classics scholar, tell it, this story is not meant to be a retelling of The Iliad, but an imagined backstory and complement to the Trojan epic. Since finishing this book, I read a review that complained the plot felt more YA than classical.

I agree that the story, told from Patroclus’s point of view, is a romantic one, but I can't help but wonder whether the same critique would have come up if the protagonists were not a same-sex couple. For me, the love story felt authentic, and the perspective breathed fresh life into an age old tale. I can’t wait to get my hands on Miller’s new book, Circe…maybe next month!


Next up, two nonfiction titles I loved:

Print Pattern Sew by Jen Hewett

Print Pattern Sew by Jen Hewett

I am relentlessly drawn to craft books, blogs, and enticing workshops — even though I don’t often carve out time to actually make the projects. Hah! Jen Hewett is one of my absolute favorite people to follow, and since she is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s actually a chance I could take a workshop from her not too far from home. Her new book, Print Pattern Sew, is beautiful, and filled to the brim with clear instructions for projects featuring her trademark block prints. I’d love to come back to this one over my next holiday and dig into a few of the projects.


Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown — Quick Lit September

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

This was my first Brené Brown book, and I have to admit it was sitting on my shelf for a year before finally making the time to read it — and I’m so glad I finally did. With chapter titles like “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” and “Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.” the messages in this slim book feel like exactly what our country needs to hear right now. If I could, I would totally beam this contents of this book into the heads of everyone on the planet!

Pro tip: the audiobook is read by Brené Brown, so that could be a great way to get it into your life — if you’ve ever heard one of Brené’s TED talks, you know her delivery is fantastic.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) This September

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments, or just share the title of one of your recent favorites — I would love to hear about it!

hugs, Laura

Quick Lit: August Picks

Welcome to another edition of Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share a few of the books I've been reading lately. This month I have six titles to share that I love (and hope you will, too).

Quick Lit August Picks

August has been a good reading month, in more ways than one — I got in extra reading time on our beach vacation to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and I happened onto a string of fantastic books that I plan on keeping on my shelves for a long while. Unless, of course, I'm shoving them into the hands of a friend and insisting they read this now. Hah!

First, three titles I would recommend to anyone:

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

What I most love to read about in World War II novels are the ordinary domestic details of life on the home front in Britain during the war — and Dear Mrs. Bird has got that in spades. Despite taking place in London during the Blitz, the focus of this novel is squarely on the everyday life of its delightful heroine and her small circle of friends and family. Emmy desperately wants to be a Lady War Correspondent, but instead ends up typing up the advice column for a women's magazine, and volunteers in the call center of the local fire brigade at night. The tone reminded me of I Capture the Castle and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in all the best ways. Utterly charming, this is a novel I zipped through and wished I could keep reading forever.

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I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

This is the August pick for the Modern Mrs Darcy book club, so I was already planning to read it — but it moved to the top of my reading pile when I spotted a copy with not one but two "staff pick" stickers on the cover while browsing The Island Bookstore in Corolla, North Carolina. This is an uplifting, beautifully written novel that feels like a beach read with soul. Set in the 1950s and the present day, it follows the intertwined stories of two women navigating love, life choices, and loss. Blue Sky House is a character in itself, a lakeside cottage that became a stop in a secret relocation system for women fleeing domestic violence in the 1950s.

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

Don't say I didn't warn you: this memoir by the author of Glitter and Glue and The Middle Place will break your heart. This was the first Corrigan I've read, and I immediately felt like scooping up all of her previous work because she is so obviously a kindred spirit. Tell Me More is about family, motherhood, marriage, and the deep bond between friends, told in a series of stories about the 12 hardest things she is learning to say. 

Next up, three titles that I thoroughly enjoyed, but might not be for everyone:

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Teenage girls suddenly discover they have the power to shoot lightning from their hands. What happens next is nothing less than a complete restructuring of the powers that be. This is a strange, intense story, masterfully told. Be advised: there are several very graphic, violent scenes that sensitive folks will want to skim over. That said, this is sci-fi that I think even readers who don't usually dip into this genre could enjoy. And with so much to talk about, this would make an excellent book club pick.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read the first half of this book and set it aside for about a month before coming back to it — to be fair, it clocks in at over 500 pages! But when I did come back to it, I flew through the rest of the book, and I'm so glad I did. Adichie is a keen observer of cultural differences, racism, class, national identity, and hair (to name a few). The protagonist of Americanah is Ifemelu, a smart, independent Nigerian woman who comes to America to do postgraduate work, and ends up starting a popular anonymous blog called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." Equal parts wise, funny, and painfully true, as soon as I put this book down, I knew I would be an Adichie fan for life. 

 

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

This is historical fiction set in Albany, New York, and Washington, D.C., at the outset of the Civil War, featuring a smart, determined midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. There are a few gruesomely detailed scenes of battlefield surgeries (*cough* amputations *cough*), so if you are squeamish about blood, this may not be the book for you! I read this as we traveled through Washington, D.C., and loved reading about the early days of the city (in the novel, the National Monument was only partially built) with the real thing right in front of me. It was also fascinating to learn about how the war influenced the advent of modern medicine — what seems like common sense today (like washing hands between patients) simply wasn't done, and the effects of unsanitary conditions were horrifying.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments.

Quick Lit: August Book Picks

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This Summer

I'm on a mission to get more good books into my life this year, and to that end, I've been sneaking in reading time wherever I can find it. Part of what has been working well for me is being a part of this bookish community, and listening to Anne Bogel's delightful podcast, What Should I Read Next. If you're at a loss for what to read, or simply want to spend more time around fellow book lovers, I'm telling you, check these resources out. You won't regret it. Now for the books...

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This Summer

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy in sharing a few of the books I've been reading — and loving — so far this summer. In early June, my little family took a trip back to the east coast, which meant I've had an extra-helping of reading time this month. So I have six titles to recommend! Hooray!

First, three titles I would recommend to anyone:

This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

This nonfiction book had been on my radar for a while, so when I recently stumbled upon a signed edition at my local used bookshop, I snapped it up. As I read the introduction, I found myself nodding along with everything Warnick had to say about always being on the lookout for the next "perfect" place to live. So much of our identity and happiness is tied up in our sense of place, so what happens when you're not thrilled with where you're living? This Is Where You Belong gives us practical tips — like walking instead of driving, and getting to know your neighbors — that can help root us more deeply in our communities, and boost our happiness in the process. 

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

I read this for the first time a few summers ago and loved it so much that I'm reading it again — and I rarely reread. This perfect summer book is about a cook who is kidnapped by a female pirate, and it's filled with good (if bizarre) food, swashbuckling, high seas adventure, and romance. And I love that it's written by an author who lives in my town, a fact I didn't even realize until after I got the book home!

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

After reading my first O'Farrell novel (This Must Be the Place) in book club, I was hooked. I Am I Am I Am is a memoir told through seventeen brushes with death, and it had me so spellbound that I neglected making dinner, and in fact hardly looked up from the book until it was over. And can I just say how gorgeous that cover is? Read it

Next up, three titles that I thoroughly enjoyed, but might not be for everyone:

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods (The Themis Files trilogy) by Sylvain Neuvel

I'm not a science fiction junky, but every once in a while I find a sci-fi book that grabs me and won't let go — the last one I read that fits this category (smart writing, mind-bending plot) was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. In this trilogy by debut author Sylvain Neuvel (the third installment was recently published), giant robot body parts from outer space are discovered buried on earth. At first, no one knows what they are or how they got there — the first person to find one was a young girl named Rose, who rode her bike into a hole and landed in a giant metal hand. Rose grows up to be a physicist, and works on putting these parts together to make something... Whether this something is good or very, very bad quickly unfolds in this unputdownable series.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

I adored this family saga from the author of Maine and Commencement about two sisters who journey from their small village in Ireland to America in 1957. One sister ends up the matriarch of a large family; the other, a cloistered nun in rural Vermont. Family secrets, lush writing, and revelations about the human spirit abound.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This book has been talked up everywhere, but for some reason I didn't feel confident that I would enjoy it. So I'm grateful I spotted it on my mother in-law's bookshelf just at the moment I needed a new book in my hands — because I loved it. This is compulsively readable literary fiction, with characters you can root for and a twisty little mystery. Ng offers an insightful perspective on belonging, adoption, culture, the lure of perfection, and what makes a family.

 

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month!