Greetings from what we're hoping is the tail end of a sticky, sweaty heatwave here in central Illinois! A new development: I purchased a car last week and with it, Audible! Now I can listen to books AND read books! Does it count when you listen? I'm not sure, but I'm going to be getting through my stack of TBR at a much faster clip!
August has been filled with amazing pages, both read by me and read to me. Here are a few of my thoughts:
Maureen: A Harold Fry Novel by Rachel Joyce
This was my first audiobook with Audible (in my new car!) - I was trying to go with something less plot-intensive in case I got distracted, which has been my problem with audiobooks in the past. Although the second half of the book was definitely full of plot, how could I get distracted with this amazing book read to me by an Englishwoman? It was as lovely as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and had me choked up more than once as the novel concluded.
I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro
I confess I know nothing about Tig Notaro. Somehow this was recommended to me, and I love stand-up comedy and was captivated by the idea that someone was able to do a set centered around her recent cancer diagnosis. I absolutely loved this book. It centered solely on her upbringing, her health issues, her career, her relationships, and how they all intertwined - with humor scattered throughout. As a gay woman in comedy, she could've penned any number of pages about other "difficult journeys" but she didn't, and I love her for it.
The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon
We read this for work, and I'm glad we did. This book is both cheesy as hell and exactly what you need to read. I'm not sure how the author does it, but I would read a few chapters and roll my eyes AND pump my fists with excitement. If you need a lift in life, hop on the bus with Joy!
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
Although O'Farrell is a must-read author for me, I probably could've used an actual instruction manual for a heatwave this month as opposed to this tedious and forgettable family drama full of unlikable characters. That said, she will remain a must-read author for me, because her gorgeous writing style is actually worth pushing through otherwise crappy books.
True Biz by Sara Novic
I finished True Biz and wanted to curl up and die because the pages ran out. Modern Mrs. Darcy highly recommended this book and I was excited to read about a boarding school for the deaf. I was right to be excited! It was so awesome and illuminating and if she doesn't give it a sequel then my life is over.
My Real Children by Jo Walton
I only just finished this a few days ago and I'm still processing how I feel about it. On one hand, I really love the idea of an old woman remembering two totally different adulthoods with different sets of children and different world events. On the other hand, the execution was underwhelming in terms of how each life was described and in its resolution. I'd love to chat with someone who has read it!
What have YOU been reading this month?
We've had a busy and fun summer and have just returned from an awesome cruise! I find myself with a little time to reflect on my recent reads. Since I have six to review, I will challenge myself to keep my musings to two sentences.
Alone with You in the Ether by Olivie Blake
I only need once sentence for this one: beautiful and romantic and complex and I recommend it if you're looking for something romantic but gritty.
Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes
I'll be stepping foot in Hawaii for the first time next month and was therefore super interested in this much-hyped new release. I enjoyed learning more about the history and culture, but I found the story difficult to follow and felt pretty deflated by the end.
The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer
...Yet the book about the death doula was uplifting! I thoroughly enjoyed this unique, sentimental, and fun novel about death and life lived to the fullest and I highly recommend it!
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
If not for this being a book club recommendation, I'm not sure I would've broken my no-cartoon-covers rule (again!), but I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed this novel about a sassy gay uncle and his equally sassy charges, but it was certainly heavier than the playful cover would have you believe.
No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister
I present to you No Two Persons, another unique read totally worth the hype! I *loved* this imaginative story of how a variety of characters intersected with an incredible book.
Community Board by Tara Conklin
I have found Conklin to be a solid really-good-but-not-five-stars author for me, and Community Board served as another example. Come for the quirky posts written on the virtual community board, stay for the re-awakening of a relatable woman in the midst of a mental health crisis.
What are YOU reading these days?
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This was a cute book, fun and sweet and full of some delightful workplace revenge. I complained to my book club that it was also full of crappy male characters. They helped me see that I might've been a little bit sensitive to that - not ALL of the men in the book were awful. But, I stand by my firm belief that we can have female characters to be celebrated without a backdrop of a continuous stream of men behaving badly. Soapbox aside, I was pleasantly surprised by Lessons in Chemistry!
Pew by Catherine Lacey
Pew is worth reading because it's metaphorical, thought-provoking, and a quick read. Dive into this curious novel that explores what happens when someone of unknown gender, race, and background is found sleeping in a pew at a church in a small town the week before a bunch of shady stuff is clearly about to go down at a forgiveness festival. The ending left me totally stumped, but if you figured it out, let me know!
Gifted by Jorden Templeton
My son has been occasionally dropping into conversation that his friend Jorden was about to be publishing a book - an impressive feat for early high school - and I was excited to give it a read. Gifted takes the reader from high school drama laced with supernatural fun quickly into a wacky magical world full of goddesses and werewolves. While this isn't my typical genre, I enjoyed it and certainly hope that Jorden continues writing and honing her craft. She's already good. She's going to be amazing!
Invisible by Paul Auster
I like Auster, and I will continue to read his novels. I really love his writing style so far (I'm only two books in). However, I didn't enjoy Invisible nearly as much as I enjoyed 4321. There was a brother/sister situation kinda like Flowers in the Attic, except more revolting. Also, why was everyone okay with all of us reading Flowers in the Attic at 13 years old? Anyway, I wouldn't recommend Invisible, but I would still definitely recommend 4321 if you're not afraid of a BIG book.
I'm not totally sure how to go from incest subplots to just wrapping up and wishing you well, so I'll just say this: I have started what I think is going to be a solid FIVE STARS. So I'm going to get back to reading it so I can tell you all about it!
Lately when I'm in the car, listening to tunes and feeling the sun on my face, I've been fantasizing about how close we are to poolside reading season! Bring on the rum drinks, the coconut-scented sunscreen, and the five star reads! I'm already there....mentally, anyway.
Here's what I've been reading lately:
The Portrait of a Mirror by A Nathasha Joukovsky
If you're the type who loves books about marriage and career drama of the ultra-rich high society types, and it's okay that most all of the characters are insufferable, you'll love this. Well written, tons of sexual tension, and an added bonus of fun explorations of artwork. If you read it, let's discuss the "wait, what?" ending.
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
This novel seems to be super hyped right now. The cover alone was good enough for me, plus I love sibling dynamics. Once again, the reader is subject to a story beautifully crafted but with few lovable characters AND an added bonus of lots of artwork thrown in. The ending is almost too satisfying and some stronger editing could've tripped 40-50 pages, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed The Latecomer. Also, a big wow for how Korelitz occasionally fairly showcases multiple viewpoints on divisive issues.
Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta
A late sequel to the book/Reese Witherspoon movie Election, I feel like high school teachers could certainly relate to this! Books about small town politics are of interest to me, but this was just okay and pretty forgettable in my opinion.
A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
Following visits to Hilton Head and Charleston, I'm in love with "lowcountry" and therefore in love with brilliant author Pat Conroy. I'm still working my way through his collection, but loved this compilations of blog posts, letters, and speeches compiled following his death some years ago. He mentions tons of authors and books, which had me toggling between the book and Goodreads nonstop. Quick and mostly lighthearted- a perfect plane read!
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
In addition to Pat Conroy, I'm also working my way through Maggie O'Farrell's masterpieces. Esme was a quick read but my goodness, there was so much packed in. Points deducted for not being able to figure out what the hell was going on for the first twenty pages, but points added for "holy smokes!" ending. Heavy but so well-done, because everything O'Farrell touches turns to gold.
What are YOU reading now?
Great news! My reading has picked back up! I'm not sure what is falling by the wayside to make time for that, but hopefully it's just mindless scrolling on social media and maybe a little housework. Also, I've been reading some work that book review rags might tag as "compulsively readable." I can't wait to share most of them with you. Among the list, though, is a major page-turner that I feel so weird about recommending. Let's talk.
Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes
I find Moyes' books to be so much more serious and thought-provoking than they seem like they should be. Lately the covers have even been made over to be bright and cartoonish and more in line with what LITERALLY ALL ROMANCE NOVELS LOOK LIKE TODAY. That must be in caps. Can someone please explain to me...why the cartoons?
At any rate, I know anything by Jojo Moyes is going to be a solid choice when I consider her other novels like The Giver of Stars and Me Before You. Someone Else's Shoes was just awesome, and a great think-piece about viewing life through different lenses. Some mystery, some romance, some workplace drama, a riches to rags story, and of course a deep dive into female friendship rounded out this lovely read that was not the fluffy brain candy it looked like it could be.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
With the exception of one annoying and repetitive THING the author kept doing, I loved this book. Suspense isn't usually my genre, but when a time loop is part of the equation, I'm much more intrigued. I loved the premise of a mom witnessing her son killing someone and keeps waking up further in the past to try to stop the murder. Naturally, she makes all sorts of fun discoveries along the way. Happily, McAllister provided lots of fun nods to the changes in music, fashion, and ever-clunkier cell phones the further back in time we went. This was one of those books I picked up whenever I found myself with even a minute or two to spare.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
After Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow AND the Storied Life of AJ Fikry, can you blame me for making it my mission to read everything Zevin has ever written?
I read it in a day. One of my favorite talents these days is the ability for an author to convey teenage life and strike just the right balance between plenty of drama but not over-the-top angsty. Additionally, teenage characters tend to be so one-note. Zevin brings layers to the jock, the nerd, the artist. Read and enjoy this love story in triplicate and recognize the self-love that edges out all the rest in such a gorgeous way.
Verity by Colleen Hoover
All I knew about Colleen Hoover was that she has learned how to market herself extremely well, is deemed as kind of a crap writer by readers I follow, but I know lots of readers with great taste who just love her. So, I had avoided CoHo thus far, but when my book club suggested Verity, I thought it might be a good opportunity to actually see what all the hype was about.
What makes a good book? A great story? A well-crafted tale, a beautiful turn of phrase, layered characters, a show-don't-tell writing style? Can something "compulsively readable" still be good even if it's kinda bad?
That said, I liked the story. It was quite the page-turner. The writing definitely made me wince from time to time, and I'm not sure I'll be returning to CoHo as a result. Still, that's just me! Now at least when people rave about these books, I totally get why.
There's no comparison, certainly, to the Fifty Shades mania. Content aside, those were just *bad.* The Fifty Shades era reminded me that people need to be reading more books!
What are you reading that is *compulsively readable*? Preferably with no cartoons on the cover.
Poolside reading is fabulous, reading by the fire is lovely, but can anything really beat a good thunderstorm reading session? Tis the season, and I have a few recommendations for your next stormy read.
Actually, this is just a run-down of my latest reads, briefly reviewed for you. I did not select these with thunderstorms in mind. You can read any book during a storm! The threat of ,your power going out only adds to the drama!
The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
This was hands down one of the best books I have ever written. Could someone please read this so we can talk about it? The premise itself is interesting but nothing new - the kid shows signs of being different, oh, whoops it looks like he's remembering his past life and wants to go home and see his mom... but you've got to see how Guskin weaves this story. Amazing. I was in a daze for days.
The Maid by Nita Prose
Maid finds a dead man in his hotel room, she's the suspect, she's a few bricks short of a full load but a lovable protagonist... this is a fun quick read but kinda unbelievable, kinda forgettable.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Well, this book is a million pages, so it's an investment of your time. There are as many characters as there are pages, so it's also an investment of brainpower. But hey, it's a Man Booker winner and it's super intricate and interesting and yet.... I'm starting to wish I would've skipped it and read three other good books instead.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
This coming-of-age novel set simultaneously in 1980's Chicago and present-day Paris. One of the main characters from the 1980's thread was a Development Director, which was loads of fun. Aside from that, I can't say that the book was loads of FUN, but it was definitely a captivating and raw peek into the height of the AIDS epidemic in the city, as well as an ode to lost family members and friends who function as family.
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
I still can't decide if this book was worth the hype. In regards to a rags to riches story, a mystery, a total page turner, a symphony of a tale - absolutely yes. As a book about race relations, perhaps not so much in my view, but then again I'm not really a person who can to speak to that. It's certainly thought-provoking.
The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
You know going in you're going to cry. When the description involves terminally ill patients, it's going to be a tear-jerker. But I jumped in and I'm here to tell you it was worth every tear. Go meet Lenni and Margot and Father Arthur and *definitely* Humphrey and give in to the beautiful story of two lifetimes. Have that cry, you need it.
I call out to you from the depths of the longest week of the year of the longest month of the longest winter ever. Can you hear me? Is it only Thursday? Is it still 30 degrees?
Booking summer vacations only slows everything down. Christmas is over, and there's next to nothing exciting on the immediate horizon. Reading helps! Here are my most recent five finished books:
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes
Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) recommended this book several years ago and I’ve been sitting on it for almost as long. What a pleasant surprise to learn that this brain candy is smart, funny, fashionable, relatable, and truly enjoyable from start to finish. No romance to it whatsoever, this fun novel was about fashion, tech “dinosaurs”, Instagram, workplace drama, revenge, gossip, New York, and nightmare bosses. While I admit it could’ve been tightened up here or there, I still loved every page. It’s been a long winter – this might be just the bubble bath book you’re needing right now.
Dying of Politeness: A Memoir by Geena Davis
Geena Davis is an amazing actor and has an interesting life. If you want to read a memoir that details how she got her start in the business, how she secured various roles, a smidge about what she’s done to advocate for women’s representation on screen, and various examples of all of the idiotic things the unwashed masses have said to her – go for it. If you want any sort of raw and true insider scoop on her actual life, you won’t find it here.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
This gem made my 2022 Five Star reads list. I wholeheartedly recommend this incredible modern version of David Copperfield. It’s just amazing.
A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella
I can’t help but love novels where the reader is following the stories of various characters and they all inevitably converge. Reflecting on this sweet book, I’m sorry I didn’t add it to my five-star reads list as well. It was so well done and ultimately uplifting. It’s initially sad, though, as the three characters who converge are dealing with loss. So it’s a little melancholy in parts but a lovely read.
The Office BFF’s by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey
If The Office is on your TV at almost all times like it is at our home, you’ll probably enjoy this fun book written by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. I really loved all of the great pictures included and all of the background scoop. A chapter or two might’ve gotten a little tedious with psychoanalysis on the evolving of their friendship (spoiler alert: it was hard when only one of them was a mom but then when the other one became a mom, it was all better again.) Otherwise, I’d suggest this as a palate cleanser between heavier material.
(The best scoop on The Office is found in The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene.)
What is helping you see your way through this long January?
Each year I look forward sharing my five star reads of the year with you. To make the grade, the book must have been excellent AND memorable.
Though I love reading as much as ever, the amount of books I’m able to knock out each year has decreased considerably in the past few years. In 2022 I read 58 books, but most of them were very good. Eight were GREAT – and here they are!
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: I *just* finished this one up a few days ago and it was MIGHTY. A modern re-telling of David Copperfield (which I never read)- it has drugs, foster families, football, hard work, romance, deep friendships, mentorship, hitting rock bottom and satisfying hope. This was my first Kingsolver, not my last.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: This one came highly recommended and I devoured this thoughtful character-driven novel about an elegant elderly lady out for a walk on New Year’s Eve and reflects on her amazing New York City life, and naturally meets a few characters along the way.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue: These pandemic novels hit different these days, but that makes for good reading when the author is a rockstar like Emma Donoghue. We set our scene in Dublin 100 years ago in the maternity ward designated especially for expecting mothers with the flu. Is this book sometimes as sad as you think it might be? Yes, but only just, and it’s such a wonderful page-turner that you can’t miss this one. I almost took a pass for that reason, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: Take it from me – and the entire Goodreads community – that this coming-of-age novel about video game designers is amazing, and so what if you don’t like video games? You’ll like this because you like a well-told tale of love and life and friendship and envy and rags-to-riches and bad decisions and all the rest.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni: Okay, I like coming-of-age stories. I like stories that basically start at birth and then just bring us through a person’s whole childhood and adolescence and beyond. If you’re with me, grab this one and learn about Sam Hill – Devil Boy, due to his ocular albinism – and I hope you’ll love it like it I did. I read this early in the year and still remember it well.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt – Yes you DO want to read this story where one of the main characters is an octopus! I’m not even going to tell you anything else, just trust me on this one.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: First off, everything Mandel touches turns to gold, and Sea is no exception. This work of art jumps around many hundreds of years and has lots of fun time travel and sci-fi elements but is a wonderful and easy-to-follow read that fans of all of the genres have loved it. I’d like to provide the disclaimer that the first chapter is a little wtf, but keep going, it’s phenomenal.
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: In addition to coming-of-age novels, I like a good time travel novel if it isn’t stupid and clunky. Why is Emma Straub so awesome? Not only is this so well executed, but the protagonist is also my age! So her time travel back to age 16 pushed me right back in time along with her, which was loads of fun. Want something lighthearted but thought-provoking? Or are you an elder millennial like me? Read this one!
How about you? Did you have any five star reads from 2022 you would recommend?
Hello out there and welcome to my tiny corner of the online world! I just finished a fantastic book, so I figured I'd better hop on and tell you all about it!
But first, a life update. I'm proud to now be the Director of Philanthropy at Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal. October of 2022 was a strange month of change and transition. Strange, but luckily not difficult.
A thought: We want to teach the next generation both that it's okay to feel their feelings and take a beat to recuperate, but we also want them to be resilient and know when it's time to push forward. That seems like a fine line to me, but important. What do you think?
Enough naval gazing! You're here for the book talk!
If you're ready to read about pandemics again, you MUST grab The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (the author of the fabulous Room). She actually finished this up just prior to the onset of COVID-19, so I'm sure she dealt with many potential readers holding off until they could even approach the topic (like me!) A shame, as this was a solid gold fast read about a maternity ward in Ireland during the height of the 1918 flu. Plus, look at that cover!
Since we last talked, I also finished:
Lessons by Ian McEwan - McEwan is an acquired taste, and this was both depressing and incredible.
Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson - Read it for the setting of 1920's London, but I was expecting more from Atkinson.
The Socrates Express by Eric Wiener - This author charmed and fascinated me in The Geography of Bliss, but mostly bored me in this one.
Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman - Cheesy romance done well. Not usually my genre, but it's nice to insert some fluff here and there!
Next up, I'm going to tackle the final book in Backman's Bear Town trilogy. What are YOU reading?
I thought my blog had faded into oblivious and no one noticed.
But, as it happened, at least a few of you noticed. I was asked what the deal was with the disappearance of my posts at book club a couple of days ago.
I explained that it was starting to feel like one more thing to do, and if it's more like a diary entry than anything else, then why mess?
Their responses made me realize that perhaps there are still some readers out there. Maybe I wasn't shouting into the void after all!
So... here's a tiny little corner of the Internet that is our own. We can talk about books and whatever else, but I'm not going to try to sell you things and I'm not going to say things like, "Wow, what a week, ya'll!" Paradise!
While I haven't been reading at quite the clip I used to, I'm still reading whenever possible. A few books that have stuck with me in recent months have been:
- I'm Glad by Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy: What a title! I had minimal exposure to this actress outside of being annoyed by her tweeny-bopper sitcoms blaring on my tv from time to time. I was interested in learning more about her child stardom and generally crap young adult life. I think all of her readers are delighted to find that in addition to having captivating content, McCurdy is a terrific writer.
- The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick: This is also an interesting title, but enormously misleading. Still, I stayed up until 12:30 am to finish it! Grab this one if you're looking for some light-but-not-TOO-light reading with some mystery and a bit of romance. Do not grab it if you're dead set on reading about the messy lives of book people.
(Sidenote: Titles exasperate me. I hate that so often they are clearly chosen by publishing houses as a driver of sales and really have nothing to do with the story. I assume that's why we (EVEN STILL!) see so much of the clockmaker's mistress and the watchmaker's wife and the mapmaker's daughter. Or why books about fully grown women inevitably have "girl" in the title. I missed ranting about this.)
I read some great time travel novels! My flight home from Puerto Rico was consumed by Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, which was the PERFECT choice for a flight - a quick read, totally engrossing, and best read in one sitting. Plus, the story spanned many hundreds of years, which was fun. A couple of months ago I finished This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, which was a flawlessly executed time travel novel featuring the do-over, something my dad and I both love to read about. There's just something so satisfying about watching a character go back in time and right some wrongs. (I wouldn't mind a shot at a do-over or two...)
Oh, and of course I had to read the new Taylor Jenkins Reid. I like to say that everything she touches turns to gold. With Carrie Soto is Back, I think I might amend that to gold - or at least silver. Carrie Soto was a great story but a hair predictable and a hair forgettable. Come on, TJR! Do something crazy next time!
Also I'm seeing all this stuff about Colleen Hoover ruling BookTock and some of my fellow readers are reading everything she's got like they're obsessed. What's going on? Then I saw her quoted as basically saying she kind of sucks, she doesn't get the deal either. Help me out, if you're out there? Is this romance? Is it good, though?
I don't want to learn about BookTock.
Okay that's all for now. What are YOU reading?
Mom of four, wife of one. By day I fund-raise with coffee, by night I read with wine and chocolate.