Summer Reading

I’m working towards my goal of 100 books, but not sure if I will make it without a significant portion of the second half of the year being middle grade and young adult. Which really isn’t a problem considering I’m always on the lookout for books to recommend to my girls, and fishing in the pond of Newberry award winners and National Book Award winners is an excellent place to begin. Especially for my oldest, as she gets assigned “her choice” novel studies now. It makes it easier to study a novel that’s a little deeper than Dork Diaries…


I’ve kept meaning to write a reading post when June ended, then July, so my apologies that the list is so long. Here’s May to August!


Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (audio)

Not that I’ve ever done anything quite dangerous enough to land me in prison, but I connected with Piper and reading her experience made me wonder exactly how I would react. Prison through Piper’s eyes was both more and less frightening than I imagined.


Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Oh, this story of 3 adopted teens truly touched my heart. Family can take so many forms and following these teens on their journey to find their own meaning of family is just excellent. Best book I’ve read all year.


One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (audio)

A notorious cyberbully gets mysteriously poisoned in study hall, and the story develops around the people that shared the room just before his death. Are they co-conspirators/victims/murderers? I loved this one, and truly could not guess the ending.


Force of Nature by Jane Harper

This was creepy and great… once you get past the idea that none of these women wanted to go or were prepared to go on this hike through the Australian bush that left one member missing, but they all went anyway. So a little unbelieveable, but fun regardless.


Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Hilarious from start to finish. Every family has their quirks but hers is truly original and she writes with such hilarity that you will laugh out loud. I promise.


House Among the Trees by Julia Glass (audio)

Oh, I’m not sure if it was just me and I was really distracted, but this was sooooooo boring. I tried both the audio and the library copy and never could finish this one.  It developed so slowly for me, and I wondered it if was going to go in the direction of child abuse, so I just stopped reading. Life is too short for boring books (and books that make you mad-sad).


Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

This story of a friendship between two teen girls Halley and Scarlett showcases complicated parent/child relationships perfectly. I would have loved to have read this in high school, but can appreciate the perspective I have far from it as well.


The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

Creepy to the max, even after the ending. I can’t spoil it because I can’t explain it. I talked to this book- Don’t go out there!! Don’t talk to XXX!! Why did you do that!! Just read it!


The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This one has two wartime storylines- 1914 and 1947, and the former is more compelling than the latter. It follows Charley in 1947 on a search for more information about a family member, and I just felt Charley was a bit one dimensional. It wasn’t my favorite war story,  I would recommend The Nightingale or Sarah’s Key or Code Name Verity before picking this one.


We are Okay by Nina LaCour (audio)

This was also slow and just okay. The grief that centers the storyline is so amplified that I wanted out of this girl’s brain. Maybe that’s the point? I certainly felt trapped.


Our Little Secret by Roz Nay

This was very quick and tricky and exceedingly dark. This little story of a first love gone wrong surprised me. I didn’t guess the ending on this one either.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

So, I couldn’t finish this library copy before I had to return it, but I really wanted to. I had to return because there were others waiting on it. But I’m back on the holds list and promise to finish before the year is out.


Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

I like Bruce’s voice (and music) but didn’t really fall in love with this. I don’t understand enough about making music to follow it or be interested in the intricacies, and wanted to hear more “behind the music” relationship/inspiration details than what was offered. I didn’t finish it. I probably just should have forwarded on to a point in the book where I had a little personal context, but didn’t make the effort.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I loved this and would recommend to anyone. On the surface, this community is certainly strange, but as she dives into each character you swirl around into a web that is so fascinating and wonderful. The only thing I did not fully understand is why it was relevant to mention it was the 90’s?


One Second After by William Forstchen

This was recommended by a friend when we were talking about post-apocalyptic-type books that we’ve read (I mentioned Station Eleven, one of my favorite books ever). I am familiar with Black Mountain, and the Montreat College area, so this felt especially fun and interesting to explore. I can see why the author chose that area, and I’d like to be there as well if this type of attack happened. I didn’t fully understand the mechanics behind the attack, but it was very interesting nonetheless.


Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (audio)

This is the next book I’m buying for my oldest. I loved this little story of Abilene, digging into the mystery of connecting the town’s past with why she was abandoned with an old friend of her father’s, in a town called Manifest. Historical detail is amazing and once you are in the story, it’s hard to put down. Mystery, history, redemption, diversity, all excellent themes to explore in this one.


Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Another fast paced, thriller from Lisa Jewell. It’s official, I’m a big fan. This had its share of creepy characters and unsolvable mysteries. And I kinda loved the ending, even if it wasn’t what I expected (or turns out, what the author originally decided it would be).


A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

I found this on the Newberry list and although this was a lovely book, it felt more like a book that would be assigned to read versus one that I would be interested in reading.


The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

I felt this was so predictable until the twist at the end. I have liked Ruth Ware’s books, Woman in Cabin 10 especially, and this was a fun and quick read. I didn’t feel like Hal’s childhood and more recent past was developed enough, but I’m not sure if it could be without giving away the ending.


A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Again, good but not exciting or worthy to pass on as a recommendation for middle grade.


That’s it for now. September stack pictured above (all non-library, most borrowed from my mom and sister). Anything you’d recommend?




Have you ever read the introduction of a book and felt the need to shout to the world that EVERYONE HAS TO READ THIS?!?!

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood is so cleverly funny and has grabbed me from the very beginning, that I can’t help but share. I am seriously tempted to call in sick this afternoon just so I can keep reading!

Any other must-devour-in-one-sitting books you are reading?? Please share!



April Reading

I had trouble getting into reading this month. My brain has been going in a million directions and I am having trouble concentrating. Here’s the short list:

Blue Plate Special by Kate Christenson

I usually love memoirs laced with recipes (Molly Wizenberg, Gabrielle Hamilton, Julie Powell, Barbara Kingsolver, David Lebovitz my favorites) but this one didn’t cut the mustard for me. I stuck with it, but it was meandering and a bit boring at times. The only thing I was inspired to make when I finished it was a bean burrito. Whomp, whomp, whomp.

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

I really, really value the minimalist concept. But I just couldn’t wrap my head around taking it to this level. For now, I’ll just continue to use as little paper towels and prepackaged snacks as my young family will allow, and recycle what I can.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I listened to the audio version of this book. I loved Where’d you go Bernadette– honestly one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And this one was great, but not as great because she set the bar too high. Timby’s voice was also really, really whiney when you sped up the audio. It probably says something about my life that it took me 15 minutes to even remember that I listened to the audio version, or if I made the child’s voice whiney in my own head.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album, The Beatles, and The World in 1967 by Brian Southall

I enjoyed this, and it provided great entertainment to get me out of the house to exercise this month. I wish they could have played more of the music in the audio version, and I wish Brian had more background secrets about Beatles dynamics. This is the music of my childhood, as my dad is a big Beatles fan. I loved talking to him about this book, but it wasn’t anything he didn’t already know. Because of that fact, it is probably for the light rock history lover more so, than someone who lived through it.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This book saved April. Sounds dramatic, but I have a feeling this will rank in the top 5 of my best books of 2018. It was funny, and sad, and uplifting and such a worthwhile read. It grabbed me from the beginning, introducing me to a single woman named Eleanor and her daily routines, her quirkiness pulling you in like a character on The Office. While the tone is mostly light and hopeful, darkness seeps in as you read about her scars, the hint of a possible violent past, and her mother’s dark influence in her life. Eleanor’s life and heart is opened by an unlikely cast of characters, and she must journey through the past with them to welcome the future.

That brings me to 27, which isn’t going to help me get to my goal of 100 books this year unless I pick up the pace!

Did you grab a copy of Bookpage at your library this month? My holds list has been refreshed and amazon is sending me Amateur Hour by Kimberly Harrington as an early Mother’s Day gift. Where do you go for book recommendations? I’d love to find more sources!



March Reading

Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate
A fictionalized account of a real-life black-market adoption ring, run through the hands of Georgia Tann and Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a well-respected orphanage in the early twentieth century. Scandalized by being exposed as a front for a broad black-market adoption ring in 1950, Georgia Tann died before she could be prosecuted for the many kidnapping and murder charges of children who died or suffered in her care. The home provided the backdrop for this heartbreaking story of an impoverished river gypsy family that was splintered and very nearly destroyed by Miss Tann and her deadly operations. I would highly recommend reading this powerful story.

Miss You Kate Eberlen
This romance of near-misses was a fun read. While I had trouble identifying with the characters, and thinking that some of the encounters might be a bit unbelievable, it was a fun journey. The female character was very loveable, but she was consistently shorted in the good partner department. I’ll let the final match be yours to judge. I think this would make for a great spring break vacation read, perfect to leave behind for the next guest and free up some souvenir space in your carry on.

All Time Best Appetizers (Cook’s Illustrated)
I have to bring appetizers to a dinner party this month, so I was doing a bit of research. I need to be able to bring something that I can make ahead, but that can be kept at room temperature or chilled, and I’m having trouble coming up with something creative. Ultimately I think I will bring a cheese tray, so this book wasn’t resourceful for me. It was fun to flip through, but I wouldn’t recommend for a home reference.

Slow Knitting: A Journey from Sheep to Skein to Stitch Hannah Thiessen
I enjoyed every second of this one. If there’s one problem I tend to have with knitting (other than gauge), it’s choosing the right yarn for the project. The more I knit, the more I know that I need to consider more than just the weight and color of the yarn. Fiber content determines the price and softness, hello cashmere!, but it also can determine how much it snags or pills with wear, the halo or felting that might occur over time, or break easily during the process of knitting. This book was masterful in helping understand not just the design but the reasoning behind making a good fiber choice to get the product you want to keep forever. And with most hand-knit sweaters costing upwards of $100 in materials (and many months of time, if knitting is your meditation as well), you want a sweater that will wear well. I especially loved both the Grow and Spruce patterns.

Small Great Things Jodi Picoult
Racism is so important and difficult, so complicated and oversimplified. My daughter had to write a brief 1-minute presentation a week or so ago on how to solve terrorism, and her simple solution was as close to any oversimplified answer for any big, complicated “ism”. Listen with humility and understanding, and with resolve to be respectful and more tolerant in the future. This is a great story for that prescribed listening. Listening to the experience of an educated, loving, capable black nurse, and understanding just how precarious the ledge she is balancing on can feel. Also understanding who is vulnerable to these hate-building movements and how to support those future generations better. Resolve to change with one thought, one action at a time.

Educated Tara Westover
I heard Tara speak on NPR, and put myself on the hold list at the library. Then I read an editorial on the book in BookPage and knew I couldn’t wait, so Amazon delivered the hardcover to me. Tara grew up in remote Idaho, raised with radical theology and a family with mental health issues. I don’t feel this is a book about Mormonism, because I do not think the twisting mental issues that shaped her father’s fundamental Mormon theology reflect mainstream Mormonism, but it would be interesting to hear what Mormons think of the story. I know my own Christian beliefs are much less conservative than previous generations, but respect for the past and hope for inclusivity in the future is not always easy to balance (or for a congregation to navigate). Forced with choosing between the sucking vacuum of her family and an education, Tara takes us through her life as she finds a future of balance between respect and mercy for her family but withdrawn from the actual emotional and physical violence. I passed this title to my sister, whose book club is soon to feature.

My April stack is pretty tall, but work is pretty crazy in the spring, so I am happy to have the escape planned. What’s on your reading list this month?


February Reading

Sorry to have been silent for a couple of weeks! Here’s what I have been up to:

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman, Is it wrong to like the prequel better? I felt like it made more sense, the characters were more developed, and that overall it was just more. Maybe it’s the evolution of the author?
Whispers in the Mist Lisa Alber, I enjoyed this mystery. Set in Ireland, it had enough mystery and suspense but it was not gruesome or violent. It’s the second of the County Clare Mysteries, so it dips into the characters from the first (which I haven’t read), but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I might not go back to read the first one, but I will definitely check out the next two in the series.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon Kelly Barnhill, I enjoyed it, but it was a bit too fantastical and strange. It was described as a coming-of-age middle grade fairy tale. The characters were interesting but it was slow, and not enough content that I think a 5th/6th grader would enjoy. I wanted to love it, but I don’t think this is one for me to share with the girls.
I am Malala Malala Yousafzai, My oldest had the student version in her 6th grade language arts syllabus, and this is one that I wanted to read along with her class so that we could discuss. It is a story I will never forget, and makes me appreciate just how priviledged I am to be a female born in America. Malala helped me understand the background of the Middle East conflict. While I have grown up with this conflict, it is very easy as Americans to turn a blind eye. It helped me understand how the world views America’s involvement in the continued conflict and just how much international aid and diplomacy are needed for progress. But I also understand that our efforts as world citizens might not bring about progress as quickly as we all want to see it because the problems are centuries old.
Uncommon Ground Tom Hanks, I had the audio version and enjoyed it but I didn’t finish before it expired. Tom does the narration, and his voice is perhaps more interesting than the stories. I might try this again once the popularity dies down. I wouldn’t wait in line for this one.
America’s Test Kitchen (A Cook’s Illustrated publication) I love these publications, so perhaps I should subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated or Cook’s Country. I follow them on Instagram, and I love learning the development of the recipe, from equipment testing to ingredient mistakes and tweaks.
Victuals Ronni Lundy, This was such an interesting cookbook and story from start to finish. I plan to buy this for my uncle’s birthday, because he loves cookbooks and will appreciate the Appalachian history and local flair. The photography is stunning, and these recipes feel like home.

My March stack is featured in the photo above… I can’t wait to share! Are you reading anything great that I should know about?


January Reading

I hit my reading goal this month, easily! I know there are many January-haters out there, and as much as I do not enjoy freezing temps, I love how much I can accomplish this month!

Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon
Fourth in the Outlander series, this is set primarily in America before the American Revolution. Like the other Outlander books I’ve read, this installation in the series is exquisite in detail, romance and daring. And like the others, I always proclaim the last one I read to be the “best”. It’s just long, so carve out some time.

The Horse Dancer, Jojo Moyes
Let me preface this by saying I am a big fan of Jojo Moyes. But this one was slow. So slow in fact I had both the audio and digital version of this last fall, and never got past the first two chapters. But I persisted and borrowed a library copy and ended up loving it in the end. It is romantic in a realistic, modern way. Driving the story is Sarah, an orphaned teen, and her survival story.

Perfect Plates, John Waite
This is a perfect gift for a cookbook lover. The recipes are well-photographed and mostly simple, with known ingredients, yet he pulls together some very unique combinations. The Banana and Blueberry Dutch Baby Pancake is the perfect Saturday morning breakfast, and I’m bringing the Rye Soda Bread with Egg Butter to my next lunch meeting.

Gem & Dixie, Sara Zarr
This young adult selection certainly pulled at my heart. Gem & Dixie are neglected teens with a complicated family system. Both the mother and father do their fair share of loving these girls but yet they continually manipulate them for their own selfish gain due to their own flaws and addictions. My heart breaks for any adolescent that is robbed of the chance of adolescence. Her characterization and dialogue of the teens seem near perfect, and the book highlights the importance of the school support system in a vulnerable teen’s life (all the way from teachers, counselors, to even school cafeteria workers).

All Grown Up, Jamie Attenburg
Someone recommended this one as being funny. I don’t think funny would describe it well. It was ironically humorous at times, but I mostly found it depressive and narcissistic. The character’s lack of identity and struggle to find passion and purpose was insightful, but definitely not funny.

And we’re off?, Dana Schwartz
The premise of this story is a teen artist is offered the opportunity to study abroad, but the mother decides to tag along at the last minute. This one is funny and a bit nightmarish, at least from the teenager’s perspective. She gets an opportunity of a lifetime for some self-discovery, and her broken mother decides to both physically and mentally anchor her. The mother seems less like a helicopter mom, and more just discouraging, pathetic and lost.

Pioneer Woman Cooks, Come and Get It!, Ree Drummond
These really are normal, delicious recipes for a busy life. The Overnight Muesli is easy and delicious, and the Sheet Pan Tofu and Grilled Cheese & Veggie are my new favorite lunch favorites. I’ve never made salmon before, but my daughter and I are going to try to cook the Honey Soy Salmon together the next opportunity. Not all of the recipes are perfectly healthy, but in this cookbook Ree makes healthy also look easy and tempting, a considerable feat.

Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic (which I haven’t read or seen the movie, but I’m reading it next). I will be the millionth person to echo that you don’t have to read Practical Magic before reading this one, and it’s such a beauty that it can stand alone if you wish not to read how the family progresses, as hard as it might be to try. It’s the Owens sisters backstory set in 1950’s New England, and it’s masterful storytelling, capturing both the spirit of the time and the fantasy of magic. I’ve heard the audio version is outstanding, although I only had a library copy and was blown away. I loved it, and would put this on any must-read list.

A Letter to my Congregation, 2nd Edition, Ken Wilson
I believe that most Christians would agree that a defining issue for this generation of believers is the church’s path forward through embracing or excluding people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Whether you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions, I found it was a worthy journey. I was especially moved by his discernment process of prayer, counseling and research, and the afterword he wrote for the second edition, a true “what happened next.” His generosity of spirit and openness touched me. He wrote, “I can appreciate anyone disagreeing [with] me because I have lived long enough to disagree with myself.” I hope I can approach my calling with such humility.

Have you read anything wonderful that you would recommend?


November and December Reading


The Widow by Fiona Barton, I really enjoyed The Child and this was recommended to me before I had ever heard of Fiona Barton during my mystery kick last year. But I have to confess, this one isn’t my cup of tea. I only read about 10% of this one, then read the last chapter. As a 10 of 10 on a gritty scale, my momma heart couldn’t take it.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, loved it as much if not more than the last time I read it. I am having so much fun reading through this series again and catching details that I missed the first time around.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. The ending gave me mixed feelings, but ultimately I’m glad I read it. It’s a delightful tale of friendship, but maybe teen and young adult gay & lesbian fiction just isn’t for me.

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward- Had this book not arrived in the gift subscription that my sister sent me for Christmas, I feel certain that I would not have read this. It is gritty and centers around poverty, racism, drugs, and the child neglect and despair that can be at the center of this encompassing epidemic. With that said, this book stretched me and beat me up, and crawled into my heart. This gritty story of loss and hope that truly toes the line between thriller and ghost story is poetically told from the view of a mother and her young son who has to grow up too fast. It won the National Book Award for Fiction and I would highly recommend this one.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I was so excited to learn that our library selected this author and this book as part of their “Big Read” community reading event for the purpose of bringing neighbors together to be more empathetic, more aware, and more engaged. The culmination of the reading event was a lecture and open discussion forum with Emily St. John Mandel, and it was particularly insightful. She spoke of her inspiration for this story and her writing process, both in general and the research involved in writing this specific story. I was especially intrigued because she has somehow managed to live a successful, creative life on a balanced 9-5 work schedule. And she signed my sister’s books, which delighted my sister immensely.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green was exactly what I wanted it to be. While slow at first, John Green expertly weaves a tale of love and friendship around the mysterious disappearance of a local billionaire, through the eyes of an obsessive compulsive and anxious (and extremely loveable) teen. He just understands- all the feelings, the self-centeredness, the dialogue. John Green is a master of young adult fiction.


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin- Set in the untamed Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century, the author captures both the time and place with stunning clarity. Two girls escaping a violent life come upon this orchardist, who after losing his own family, takes them under his care and they journey to ultimately build a new family. It’s a rocky and distrustful relationship, and will challenge any version of a traditional family, but their journey is beautifully told.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. Surprised by how much I loved Sing, Unburied, Sing, I went back to the National Book Awards to find more titles to read. My sister recommended Far from the Tree, and she had a copy, and told me she would send it to me. In the meantime, I went back through Robin Benway’s backlist and chose a couple to keep me busy until it arrived. Emmy & Oliver is a must read, with characters that are real and funny, and like me, you will be sorry this story has to end. These kids were best friends in elementary school when Oliver disappeared. He is found many years later, and Emmy and Oliver have to deal with the consequences of his disappearance on both of their lives, and ultimately discover their friendship again in the process. I loved the parents too. Just loved all of it.

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart- I enjoyed We Were Liars and E. Lockhart’s twisty, trippy style of writing, and was excited when this popped up from my holds list at the library. It is written backwards in time, which can be confusing if you are the type to read multiple books at once. It’s a story of two girls, Jules and Imogen, but really just one girl with identity issues. I always think it’s a clever trick for the author to make you fall in love with truly unlikable characters. And I didn’t find it too confusing, because I couldn’t put this one down.

Audrey, Wait! By Robin Benway- This wasn’t as great as Emmy & Oliver, but a likeable story nonetheless. It’s cheery teen lit, unsurprising and sweet, and I enjoyed it.

That rounds out the 70 or so books I read in 2017. Mostly fiction, and pretty evenly divided between adult and young adult. It would be hard to rank my top five, but the one that most changed me was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I especially enjoyed Wonder by RJ Palacio and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, because I read them with my daughter. I enjoyed mysteries more than I had in years past especially I Found You by Lisa Jewell and The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. And I’m so excited to continue reading more of the Outlander series in 2018. I loved the quarterly book subscription and am excited to read those selections (although it will be hard to beat Sing, Unburied, Sing.)

Happy Reading!