Tag Archives: what I read

Everything I read in August (my TBR challenge)

In August, I set myself a challenge to only read the books languishing on my TBR bookshelf. And to read as many as possible.

What’s a TBR bookshelf you ask? Well, I have a bit of a book buying habit. I pick up books all the time with no real plan of when I’ll get to them. Those books go to live on a small two-shelf white bookcase that lives in my office. Meanwhile, I get books from the library and buy other books that I read right away. Leaving some books unread, sometimes for years.

I needed to make a dent in the shelves on this little bookshelf before I ran out of space…and so I could continue buying more books, let’s be honest.

Here’s what I was able to clear off my TBR bookshelf this August:

The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Rom-Com
Ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, Leena escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Newly single and about to turn eighty, Eileen would like a second chance at love. But her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen… So Leena proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love, and Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire.

My Review:
4 stars
A genuine and absolute delight! This book follows Eileen Cotton and her granddaughter Leena as they switch places for two months – Eileen moves into Leena’s posh warehouse flat in London and Leena takes up residence at Eileen’s cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. The story is told in dual POVs and because of that we have two whole casts of characters to fall in love with – each of them unique and fully realized. If you like found family, Gilmore Girls vibes, or wacky British village shenanigans – pick this one up!

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
Mystery
When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.

My Review:
2 stars
Danya Kukafka writes beautifully. Unfortunately, for me, this particular story was just super slow and not that memorable.

The Round House Louise Erdrich
Literary Fiction
One of the most revered novelists of our time – a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life – Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.

My Review:
5 stars
It’s 1988 on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota and 13-year-old Joe’s world is turned upside down when his mother is sexually assaulted. Sadly, she doesn’t know exactly where she was when the attack occurred, making it difficult to determine whose jurisdiction the case falls under – state, federal, or tribal. This sets up the mystery at the heart of the novel. Joe and his friends, as well as his father, are trying to figure out the perpetrator – and once they do, they grapple with how justice will be served and by whom.

While the book is set in the 80s, Erdrich notes in the afterword that, at the time of writing, a third of Native women will be raped in her lifetime; 86% of sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted. The story is a commentary on the need to restore sovereign justice and ensure safety for Native women, and it is beautifully done.

The plot is exciting and well-developed. The characters are well-drawn. But my favorite part was the strong sense of place. I highly recommend this to any literary fiction lovers, especially if you like books about family dynamics or are interested in reading about Native issues from an own voices perspective.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Short Stories
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.

My Review:
4 stars
This collection of short stories is beautifully written. Lahiri is a master of her craft. Her book ‘The Namesake’ is one of my favorites so I was excited to give her short form prose a go – and it did not disappoint! Most of her stories focus on the Indian immigrant experience, and even more specifically – the experience of immigrating shortly after an arranged marriage to work at a university in the Greater Boston area. Even with this niche subject matter, each of the stories holds universal appeal. Lahiri shows us a lighthearted and hopeful side of the human spirit, even as her characters face challenges, which makes for a very readable little book. Pick this one up!

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Historical Fiction
On a summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

My Review:
4 stars
I found the middle third to be a bit slow-going, but well worth pushing through to get to the latter part of the book. Really enjoyed this one!

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Rom-Com
Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three-year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates – Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material – and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.

My Review:
4 stars
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a sweet rom-com full of the smart, fast-paced dialogue style Lauren Graham is known for in her shows (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) and lots of fun NYC settings. I also have a weird love of books that take place in 1995. It’s just a great year

Throughout the book, we get to see pages from our main character’s Filofax. I love seeing other people’s planners (even fictional people) so I thought this was a fun element. My nitpick is that the handwriting the pages are written in is really hard to read! Cool that the pages are realistic (I’m guessing it’s Lauren Graham’s actual writing?) but I was sad I couldn’t enjoy them more.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Historical Fiction
The year is 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.

My Review:
2 stars
This may have been a me thing… This book just did NOT hold my attention! I am a self-proclaimed know-it-all so it pains me to say this, but I just didn’t “get it,” and the plot didn’t do enough to make up for the fact that I wasn’t vibing with the subject matter. On a sentence level, the writing is very nice. However, I’m happy to be done reading it.

Since She Went Away by David Bell
Thriller
Three months earlier, Jenna Barton was supposed to meet her lifelong best friend Celia. But when Jenna arrived late, she found that Celia had disappeared—and hasn’t been seen again. Jenna has blamed herself for her friend’s disappearance every single day since then.

My Review:
3.5 stars
I knew this book was written by a Western Kentucky University professor but had no idea going in that it was actually SET in Kentucky. That was a welcome and fun surprise. Not a mind-blowing thriller but an enjoyable read with a couple unexpected moments/twists. Definitely want to pick up some of Bell’s newer titles now that I’ve read this one!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Literary Fiction
The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives. One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

My Review:
5 stars
I love this book so much. We follow the Cousins and Keating children from childhood to adulthood, starting with a kiss between the mother of one set of siblings and the father of another that sets into motion all the ways these two families will blend and disperse over the coming decades.

Patchett has written a pitch perfect family saga that explores divorce in full – beginning to end, an entire cast of blended family characters represented and fully realized. Each character in this tender narrative searches for connection while grappling with the damages of loss. They all share a bond that’s simultaneously painful and powerful. This is a truly brilliant, touching story.

The Round House and Commonwealth were real stand outs this month and I’m so happy that this challenge brought them to me!

I can’t wait to do this challenge again in the future. (I think I’ve decided that I’m going to make it a biannual occurrence.) But for now, it’s on to my FALL TBR!

What was the best book you read in August? xoxo

P.S. If you’re planning your “spooky season” reading, check out – 3 Spooking Books to Read this Halloween.


My Top 20 Books of 2019

Here’s a look at the best books I read in 2019 (in no particular order)…

The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney by Justin Lloyd

Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe by Tom Krattenmaker

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Less by Andrew Sean Green

Have you read any of these books? What were YOUR favorite reads of the year? Tell me in the comments below! I’d love to add new titles to my 2020 list. 🙂

List 9: Favorite Websites & Blogs

I started a LIST SERIES in Summer 2018 and decided to keep adding to it here and there. These posts are kinda like an introduction (or a reintroduction for those who’ve been with me since the jump!). A nice to meet ya, so glad you stopped by, now STAY AWHILE! Why lists? Because I love making ’em! Enjoy…

My favorite websites and blogs…

Instagram
YouTube
Cup of Jo
A Beautiful Mess
PicMonkey
Amazon
Nursing Clio
Yes and Yes
Podbean
MailChimp
Basecamp
Outside Online
Unsplash
Slate
Cupcakes & Cashmere
The Anna Edit
oh, and blogging Facebook group pages…
but not so much Facebook itself, lol

Tell me a few of your favorite websites and blogs in the comments below! xoxo

[And in case you’re curious…

LIST 1
LIST 2 
LIST 3
LIST 4
LIST 5
LIST 6

LIST 7
LIST 8]

What are you reading this summer?

reading summer travel

Everyone loves a good beach read, right? (I certainly do!) There always seem to be a few that get a ton of buzz during the season. For example, I keep seeing Into the Water and A Window Opens pop up on beach-y Instagram posts. And several people have told me they’re packing The Marriage of Opposites as a road-trip read. But there are so many great options out there! What about the beach reads that go unnoticed? Not everyone reads what everyone reads…if you know what I mean.

So, I’d love to know, what are you reading this summer? Is it an Instagrammable title or a little more off the wall? I just finished The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser…and while it might not be everyone’s beach read cup of tea, it is certainly mine. I couldn’t. put it. down. And to me, that’s the mark of a truly perfect beach read.

P.S. I’m off to Kentucky on Wednesday and still can’t decide what book(s) to pack. I was planning to read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan next but that seems a little intense for travel. Decisions, decisions!

Tracking My Reading: An Update

how i track my reading

As I mentioned in this post, I’m tracking my reading in 2016 in order to illuminate trends and identify potential holes in my reading habits. Since a quarter of the year has now passed (WHAT?!?!), I thought I’d pop on and do a quick update of my selections from the year thus far. Already I’m getting a clearer picture of the type of voices I’m missing out on as well as honing in on the subjects I find most fascinating. Here’s a breakdown of my first few months…

  • I have read 10 books so far in 2016.
  • The oldest was published in 1998, the most recent in 2015.
  • These 10 books were comprised of 3,137 pages.

Author Info

  • 6 authors were female and 4 were male. (Better than I thought!)
  • All authors were white; 1 Jewish born of immigrant parents. (YIKES! Definitely something I need to work on!!!)
  • 6 authors were American, 3 were British, and 1 was Canadian.
  • Only one identifies as LGBTQ. (Another area for improvement.)

Genre Info

  • I read 3 memoirs, 3 works of fiction (1 thriller, 1 historical), and 4 works of non-fiction.
  • A few themes that were encountered throughout several books included; travel, stories of financial struggle/low-wage work, the effects of oppression/patriarchy on women, and mental illness. (Uplifting, eh?)
  • 5 of the books took place in America.
  • The historical fiction novel I read took place from 1791-1810.
  • These books expanded my knowledge in environmental science, cultural anthropology, nutrition, Southern history, Indian politics, ethnography, mental health, and religion.

Fiction Info

  • Of the fiction books I read, all 3 utilized a female narrator.
  • All 3 passed the Bechdel Test (although one BARELY passed).
  • While only 1 had characters who were identified as POC.

With that information in mind, here are the 10 books I’ve read so far in 2016:

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

January First by Michael Schofield

Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home by Leah Lax

Now, over to y’all…what have YOU read in 2016? Have you noticed any trends in your reading selections over the years? And finally, can you recommend some books for me to start filling in the gaps of missing voices in my reading lists? I’d love suggestions and recommendations! Thanks in advance. 

How I Track My Reading

how i track my reading

The title of this post is a bit deceptive. I’ve been considering ways to track my reading for some time now. While I’m only just beginning, this post is what I’ve finally landed upon. 2016 seems as good a time as any to put new systems into practice!

I’ve always loved reading. My tastes in material have certainly changed over time. I read less fiction than I did in my youth, for example. Typically a good memoir is my go-to. But a few trends remain constant. I prefer female voices to male. I love books which provide windows into another culture, country, or person’s reality.

But are there voices I’m missing out on? Someone’s reality I’ve over-looked, unknowingly, for as long as I’ve been flipping pages?  I’d like to find out.

While I think tracking my reading for a period of time will encourage me to diversify my selections going forward, both genre and voice, I’m also just curious. Is there any significance in my natural literary leanings? Where do the words that find their way nestled into the crevices of my brain waves come from?

Starting from this point I’ll be recording information about what I read into a spreadsheet. I’ve chosen some categories to track based on my own interests but I’m open to suggestions if you can think of anything else that may be fun or enlightening to record.

Capture1

Capture 2

Above are screenshots of the spreadsheet I came up with starting with entries from my first book of 2016. As you can see, I want to track the types of voices I’m reading– What’s the ratio of male to female? How many minority voices am I incorporating into my reading list each year? Etc. Hopefully by keeping better track of this information I can identify holes and better expand my horizons in the future.

I’ve also chosen to take note of the areas of interest that drew me to the book. This will help to track any sort of interesting trends which could emerge regarding my own interests but also will make it easier for me to recommend certain books to others down the road. Last but not least, I thought it might be neat to know how many pages I’ve read at the end of the year. So I set up the spreadsheet to add up all the cells in my # OF PAGES row. Once I have more data, I’ll play around with other “Totals to Date” features.

Do you have anything you would add to my spreadsheet before I set off on this nerdy journey? I’m just getting started so now’s the time!

Let me know if you track your reading too (or find yourself inspired to start in 2016!). I would love to compare notes.

Finally, If you’re interested, I’d be happy to do posts with some updates on the data I collect throughout the year. Would you be into that? Posting about this project will definitely hold me accountable about keeping up with this new pet project! Yay for new years and new projects!!! Let’s DO THIS 2016.

P.S. I’ve had to make a lot of spreadsheets at various jobs over the years and people are always telling me I make them in the “wrong” orientation (ie. I make them vertical when they would prefer horizontal or vice-versa.) I make them the way my brain wants them! If your brain wants your Track My Reading 2016 spreadsheet to exist differently than mine… GO FOR IT!