September – November 2106 Must Reads

Driveway reading

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How is your reading coming along these days? We’ve had such a gorgeous fall here in the Midwest, and that’s translated into more reading time for me. How so? Well, I treated myself to a camping rocker from REI in September. As we’re not a camping people, the rocker has taken up residence in my garage. On the many mild and sunny afternoons and balmy early evenings, I’ve pulled my rocker out to the driveway and read. I set a goal of reading 80 books this year, and I’m thrilled to see that I’ve hit that goal with a month and a half left to go in 2016!

This year I’d like to share a few posts in December reviewing my Best Books of 2016, and so I’m going to wrap up my monthly reviews with this post and share December Must Reads after the first of the year. One more quick aside before I delve into the reviews …

If you read and loved A Man Called Ove as much as I did, I highly recommend the movie. They did an absolutely wonderful job with it, and I think readers will be pleased. Makes me want to read the book again! Ove and his motley crew of neighbors are some of my favorite characters of all time. FYI: the movie is in Swedish, so be prepared for subtitles.

Must Reads

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This was my pick for the MMD Reading Challenge in the category of “A book published before you were born.” Published in 1969, Slaughterhouse Five was Vonnegut’s unique way of sharing his experience as a witness to the bombing of Dresden during WWII. Vonnegut was a prisoner of war, as is the character of Billy Pilgrim. Unlike Billy Pilgrim, I don’t imagine Vonnegut experienced time travel or was captured by aliens. After my previous experience with science fiction (Sleeping Giants) and my tendency to not enjoy the “classics” as much as I enjoy contemporary fiction, I was hesitant to pick up Slaughterhouse Five. But I’m a slave to my Reading Challenge picks, and I also felt quite guilty as a Hoosier not ever having read anything by Indianapolis native Vonnegut. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the novel. It was clever, witty and felt quite modern.

The Girls by Emma Cline

I almost chose this as my Book of the Month Club selection in July, changing my mind at the last minute. I had a feeling it would be one of those books I either loved or hated. Instead, I’d put it solidly in the category of good. I found myself eager to read the story of young Evie each night, but wasn’t mesmerized or wowed. Set in California at the tail end of the 60s, Evie is lost, looking for companionship, and longing to be known. Her parents are newly divorced and consumed with their new found freedom. A rift between Evie and her girlhood friend leaves Evie open and vulnerable. When she sees the girls from the ranch outside of town, Evie is immediately curious and attracted. After just a few visits to the ranch, spending time with the group’s leaders Suzanne and Russell, Evie is hooked. Without anyone to notice her girlish edges begin to harden, Evie edges toward a path of darkness and danger. I enjoyed the writing, especially Cline’s observations about girls, their power, and their shortcomings. And a warning: there are some hard parts in this book, including graphic descriptions of sex and murder. If you enjoy coming-of age stories with less violence and more hopeful endings, I’d pick up How to Build a Girl instead. If fiction based on true crime is in your wheelhouse (The Girls is based loosely on the Manson murders), then don’t miss this one.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Do you believe that the secret to great achievement is talent, and that some people are just destined for greatness while the rest of us slog along? Or is it possible that talent is only one part of the equation, and that effort, skill, passion and perseverance are far greater predictors of what one can achieve? These are a few of the questions that Angela Duckworth explores in Grit. I was initially curious to read Duckworth’s book out of a desire to nurture grit in my own kids. And while I learned a great deal about what grit is and how to foster passion and perseverance in my children, I was even more inspired to rethink my own attitude towards work and living a grittier life. We all have the potential to do meaningful, interesting and powerful things, according to Duckworth’s research. What we do with that potential is something entirely different. I love non-fiction that reads like fiction, and through Duckworth’s highly readable research and anecdotes, I felt like I was reading a personal journey through self-discovery as opposed to a dry book about how to be more successful. I found myself sharing snippets of the book often, both with Mike and the kids, which is a sign that a book is a game-changer for me. This book will stay with me for a long time, and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In the modern day, we like to think nothing short of a nuclear war could end the world as we know it. But in Emily St. John Mandel’s beautiful and haunting book, all it takes is a fast-moving virus. The Georgian Flu explodes around the world, killing anyone who contracts it within 48 hours. Highly contagious, it wipes out 99% of the world’s population. The few survivors suddenly find themselves in a world without transportation, communication, or electricity. Entire cities are deserted, leaving behind only corpses and the remains of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Twenty years later, a troupe of artists, actors and musicians known as The Traveling Symphony wander from outpost to outpost, entertaining the survivors and trying to bring beauty into a bleak world. Welcomed by most, they are disturbed and frightened to come across a violent and controlling prophet who seeks to end their existence. As they travel to escape the prophet and bring missing Symphony members back to the safety of the fold, the author weaves together the past and the present to reveal the things that connect us even as the world falls apart around us.

The dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if you’ve written them off as not for you I would encourage you to give Station Eleven a chance. I like to think of it as dystopian for the discerning reader. I was riveted from beginning to end.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Like many of you, I went through the same arc of emotions when Lee’s highly anticipated novel came out. I was giddy with excitement while ambivalent about whether she wanted us to actually read the book. And then came the feedback from other trusted readers: not good, a book they hated, don’t bother. Several times I saw it on my library’s bookshelf and passed it by. Two things convinced me to pick it up finally: it was my book club’s pick for December and I found out the audiobook is narrated by Reese Witherspoon. I don’t know if it was my extremely low expectations, Reese’s magical voice, or a combination of both, but I truly enjoyed it. I wasn’t expecting it to be on the level of To Kill A Mockingbird, and I was prepared for Atticus to let me down. I think knowing those things allowed me to appreciate the novel for what it is: a chance to revisit a place and characters that I love and the sweet pleasure of a little more time with Harper Lee. I strongly feel that Witherspoon’s voice enhances the reading experience a great deal, so if you’ve been putting it off due to poor feedback I encourage you to give the audiobook a try. Personally, I found the characters’ struggles and flaws as they aged believable and thought-provoking (although I do wish Lee had explored Scout’s adult relationship with Calpurnia more deeply). I’m really looking forward to discussing this book with other readers. (And if you want a great insight into the reclusive Lee, definitely pick up The Mockingbird Next Door.)

Honorable Mention

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Mysterious, nuanced, sad and relatable … those are just a few of the words that come to mind after finishing When You Reach Me. I read this aloud to Eli, and we both found ourselves wanting to read just one more chapter to get us closer to figuring out the many mysteries in Miranda’s life. Will her mom win the $20,000 Pyramid? What’s up with the Laughing Man? Why does her best friend, Sal, suddenly want nothing to do with her? And most troubling, who is leaving letters for Miranda and what will happen if she ignores them? I remember Elena trying to read this one on her own in 4th or 5th grade and declaring it “too creepy” to finish. It does have a dark side, but when read aloud and given the opportunity for discussion I think it’s perfectly appropriate for 3rd grade and up (although Eli did groan at the mention of kissing).

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

I’m a big Sarah Vowell fan, dating back to her early days on This American Life. I’m not a huge history buff, but Vowell has a way of making the past fun to revisit. In this title, Vowell takes a deeper look at Revolutionary War icon the Marquis de Lafayette. This has been on my TBR list for over a year, but my recent obsession with Hamilton finally convinced me to pick it up. We all know that what we learned in school about history is never the whole story, but I’m still amazed at how much I assumed I knew about the Revolution that is completely false. Vowell takes a deeper look at the people, including Lafayette, George Washington, John Adams and many other movers and shakers of the Revolution (yes, that includes Alexander Hamilton). Her researched insight, mixed with her wry humor, pop culture references and restrained snark, make for a fun read. I absolutely love Vowell’s voice (if you’ve never heard it before, listen to a sample somewhere), so the audio version is a must. Warning: not everyone feels the same way.

The Optimistic Child by Martin E. P. Seligman

This is an extremely niche book, so I won’t give it a lot of space. As a decidedly optimistic person, my son’s temperament can give me fits. Eli is prone to complaining, and we sometimes tease him that his Eeyore is showing. So I was intrigued by a book that promised to help kids fight pessimism and problem-solve instead of complain. It’s a bit dated in parts and somewhat of a dry read, but quite helpful. It includes a detailed questionnaire for kids to help determine their level of pessimism, followed by a treasure trove of exercises and useful advice to help them navigate difficult situations.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

The third book in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. I don’t believe you need to read them in order, as I think they’d all stand alone well. However you’ll miss some great character development and some subtle backstories if you read them out of order. In this installment, a well-loved woman who returned to Three Pines to reunite with an old friend is literally scared to death during a seance. Freak accident? Or had someone finally had enough of the Madeline Favreau that could do no wrong? This was probably my least favorite of the series so far, but that only means it took me 4 days to read it instead of 2!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

As in Sarah Vowell’s book, Salt to the Sea taught me about yet another historical event I knew little about. In this historical fiction novel for young adults, we learn about the terrible tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Arranged by the Germans, the ship was to be salvation for over 9000 German refugees fleeing the Soviet army. Instead it was sunk by Russian torpedo, resulting in the largest loss of life in a single ship history. And I’d never even heard of it. Told in alternating viewpoints as several characters make their way to the ship, it’s a riveting and heartbreaking story. It came highly recommended and I now know why.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

The classic from your childhood … or at least mine. #iamold I read this aloud to Eli. I think it stands the test of time, Eli thought it was just okay. I’m not sure it would hold his interest if he read it himself, but it worked well as a read aloud.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Billed as “the funniest book you’ll ever read about death,” this is no Fault in Our Stars. But that’s okay. Even though Andrews handles teens with cancer in a completely different way than John Green, he’s able to do the same magical thing as Green: write realistic, relatable teenagers. It’s good, entertaining YA. (Although I’d wait on recommending it to tweens, there’s lots of swearing and talk about sex and drugs.)

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

This sat on my nightstand for months before I finally made myself pick it up. Fun fact: I’m great at reading library books, horrible at reading books others pass on to me to read “when you get the chance.” So much so that I made a category in my monthly reading log for “Books I Already Own or Have Been Loaned to Me.” I’ve enjoyed other books by JoJo Moyes (Me Before You and After You), and was surprised to find myself struggling with the story of a French woman, Sophie Lefevre, struggling to keep her family safe during the German occupation of World War I. A portrait of Sophie, painted by her husband, ties the story together between past and present. It took me 130 pages or so until the story clicked for me, and from that point on I enjoyed it. Don’t let the war as a backdrop turn you off if you feel as if you’re over that story line right now. Love, letting go, and the question of who art really belongs to are much stronger themes here.

Didn’t Like and/or Couldn’t Finish

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: This was my selection for “A book that was banned at some point” in the MMD Reading Challenge. Persepolis is Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. I enjoy graphic novels (Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant is one of my favorite books of all-time), and I appreciate the depth of pain and emotion in Satrapi’s novel, but it wasn’t the right book for me.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton: I’m a big fan of Glennon Doyle Melton’s popular blog, Momastery. She’s a phenomenal blogger and a wonderfully motivating speaker, but I didn’t find that it translated well in book form. I’ll still read her first book, Carry On Warrior, because I like her so much as a person, but I won’t be pushing this book into lots of hands.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonsson: I so wanted to love this book. I kept feeling like I’d get hooked in the next chapter, or I’d fall in love with a character when they were developed just a teensy bit more. And then the book was over. I do wonder if listening to the book (if it was done well with the accents) would have enhanced my reading experience enough to push it from just okay to a must read.

Since She Went Away by David Bell: I tolerated this one for book club. It wasn’t a slog – I got through it rather quickly, and was curious to see how the mystery/crime thriller played out. But I figured it out before it ended and I rolled my eyes a lot.

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky: An advanced reader copy from Netgalley, this title is getting lots of attention – as in on lists of best books of 2016. I finished it, but it annoyed me the entire time.

What have you been reading and loving lately?

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June – August 2016 Must Reads

Parnassus Books Nashville

On our road trip to the beach this summer, we had the chance to visit two independent bookstores: Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN and Sun Dog Books in Seaside, FL. When we lived in Nashville I used to spend hours in the old Davis-Kidd bookstore. It was my happy place, and once I became a mother I loved taking Elena there as well. Sadly, Indianapolis doesn’t have an independent bookstore in the vein of Parnassus or Sun Dog. I’d love to see one open up and thrive in my community.

I may not have been blogging much over the summer, but there was one thing I was definitely doing: reading! This summer I made dedicated reading time a part of our daily routine most days. It’s not always easy or fun modeling good behavior and habits as a parent, but modeling the importance of reading? That I can do. I mean, it’s for the kids!

Because I’m covering three months worth of books in this post, I’m going to save the detailed reviews for the best of the best. I’ll list honorable mention reads and the books I just couldn’t finish. If you’d like to see my thoughts on those, connect with me on Goodreads. I’ll post reviews there. On to the good stuff!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Must Reads


Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Jessie is floundering. In less than two years her life has been turned upside down: her mother died and her father eloped with a widow he met online. And now, in an effort towards new beginnings, her father moves them from Chicago to LA to live with their new family. It’s all going wrong and Jessie can’t fit in to save her life. Then she gets an email from someone calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN seems kind and helpful, offering to be Jessie’s guide to her new school and everyone in it. But should she trust SN? Does SN really have her best interests at heart, or is this just another cruel trick played by classmates? Things get complicated as Jessie begins to have feelings for SN, just as she’s getting a small foothold on her new life.

This is exactly the kind of YA I love: smartly written, but not too serious; funny, but not silly. I’m also finding I have a new appreciation for books set in LA now that I’ve been there. I took this book to the beach with me and it was perfect for reading in short bursts in between sunning and swimming.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Plumb siblings (Leo, Bea, Jack and Melody) have spent years dreaming, planning and getting themselves into financial trouble with only one thought in mind … it will all be fine after “The Nest.” The Nest is a trust set aside by their father long ago, meant to be nothing more than a modest midlife supplement, available to the children when the youngest turned 40. But thanks to some shrewd investing, The Nest is worth more than any of them could have imagined. At least it was, until Leo’s accident. With Leo facing an expensive divorce, a stint in rehab, and an injured young girl that needs shush money, the once glorious Nest is in danger of being depleted. You won’t believe this is Sweeney’s first novel. It’s juicy, filled with family drama, greed and lust. You’ll be sucked in immediately, pulling for some characters and shaking your head in exasperation at others. We just discussed this at book club this month and it was a lively and interesting conversation about siblings, relationships and money.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

This was the first book I received in my Book of the Month subscription and I couldn’t wait to dive in (bad pun for a book that revolves around a plane crash into the ocean). I’m not typically a book-buyer, and I live by my To Be Read list, so it’s not often that I read a new much-hyped book at the same time or before most people have read it. That needs to change, because man-oh-man, is it fun to read a book as captivating as this one and then push it onto every reader you come across!

Scott Burroughs is a struggling painter and recovering alcoholic living a quiet life in Martha’s Vineyard when Sarah offers him a ride to the city on her husband’s private jet. Joining them on a Sunday evening flight are Sarah’s husband, head of a cable news network, her two children, Ben, an investment banker on the verge of indictment for fraud and his wife, the family security guard, the stewardess and two pilots. When the plane crashes into the ocean without warning 16 minutes later, only two survive: Scott and Sarah’s 4-year-old son. Mirroring today’s vicious news cycle, Scott goes from being the hero to a suspect in a matter of days. What (or who) was behind the crash? Are Scott’s motives for building a relationship with the boy influenced by money? Hawley tells a fascinating and gripping story, keeping the reader on their toes and turning pages. This is definitely one of my top reads of the year – just don’t read it on a plane!

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

168 hours: that’s how many hours we get in one week. How, exactly, do we spend those 168 hours? Most of us would say working, and many of us often wish for more time so that we could pursue interests outside of work and the other drudgeries of daily life. Vanderkam insists that we don’t need more time – that big pockets of time are available to use every day and we just don’t recognize them as opportunities. Vanderkam suggests keeping a weekly time log for at least one week, and then walks the reader through work, home and family life to discover what you want more of and how to make it happen.

This isn’t a typical time management book, and while the focus is clearly on readers who work full or part-time, I found it to be illuminating and helpful. I kept a time log for a week and it gave me incredible insight into how I spend my 168 hours (more on that in a future post for sure). Two things stuck with me, and can be transformative for those ready to make changes in how they spend their time. One: we spend more time than we think doing things that take up precious time and don’t bring us much joy or relaxation (such as mindless Internet surfing, scrolling through our phones, or watching TV). Two: if you don’t know what you want more of in life – whether it’s career, personal, or in your relationships – you can’t focus your valuable time toward making it happen. Vanderkam encourages readers to log and review their time, reflect on your dreams and goals (both very big and very small), and shows you how you can find time you already have to make them a reality. Note: some readers in reviews I read got hung up on the fact that Vanderkam suggests outsourcing life’s drudge work, such as laundry and cooking, complaining that only dual-income families making big money can do so. That may be true, but it’s only one suggestion of how to free up more time. I’m cooking my own meals and doing laundry for my family, and I’m still able to glean a tremendous amount of useful ideas from Vanderkam’s book.

The Martian by Andy Weir

When Mark Watney wakes up after the accident that nearly killed him he notices two things: he’s not dead, and he’s stranded on Mars. Alone. A sudden sandstorm wreaks havoc on Watney and his fellow Hermes crew members. In their rush to escape, he’s injured. The signals coming from Mark’s spacesuit indicate he’s dead, leaving his heartbroken crew mates no choice but to evacuate and save themselves. What follows is a fantastic story of survival, ingenuity, and sacrifice. Watney refuses to give up and die, and those back on Earth refuse to accept his return as an impossibility. I don’t typically enjoy science fiction, and early descriptions of the book painted it as very detailed and extremely accurate when it came to descriptions of space travel and life on Mars. I decided to move past my worries that it would be boring or over my head and chose it for “A book that intimidates you” for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version. Did some parts get overly descriptive and deep into science and math? Yes, and I let them go right over my head. It didn’t interfere with my understanding of the story one bit. Read the book first, but don’t miss the movie. It was fantastic as well.

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood

It’s heartbreaking to fall in love with a character you already know is going to die. That’s what happens with “the boy” in this quirky novel. Is it strange to call a story about an 11-year-old boy that dies quirky? Probably. But Wood manages to make a story that could be so easily overshadowed by death and sadness into story about hope, tenacity, acceptance and forgiveness.

When the boy is assigned to help 104-year-old Ona Vitkus as part of a scouting project, he embarks on a journey to do so much more than fill her bird feeders and sweep her walk. Obsessed with Guinness world records of all sorts, he inspires Ona to try for her own world records in the “Oldest” categories, starting with Oldest Licensed Driver. Ona makes the boy feel welcome and comfortable in his own odd skin, while the boy brings Ona companionship and joy that she hasn’t felt in years. His sudden death leaves a hole in her life and many others, including his estranged parents, Belle and Quinn. Belle asks only one thing of Quinn: finish your son’s scout requirement and spend the next seven Saturdays helping Ona around the house. Through Ona and the spirit of the boy, Quinn tries to work through the sadness and regret of being an absent father to a boy he never knew or understood.

Knowing the boy is going to die is indeed heartbreaking. Still, Wood gives the reader reasons to feel hope and joy through his presence and the other broken but lovable characters. I know cranky elderly characters with a hidden soft side seem to be a literary theme lately, and I can see how a reader might be done with the idea. But please don’t pass over this one just for that reason! Fans of A Man Called Ove or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time should especially give The One in a Million Boy a read.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily the dachshund is more than Ted Flask’s pet. She’s not just man’s best friend, she’s his best friend. On Thursdays they talk about cute boys. On Fridays they play Monopoly, and on Sundays they eat pizza. They’ve been together for 12 years, and Lily has seen Ted through highs and lows. He is particularly low, unhappily single after a six-year relationship ends and going through the motions in dating and therapy, when he notices a visitor. Lily has an octopus. On her head. Author Steven Rowley tells a tale for dog-lovers and regular humans (I make no promises for cat lovers) alike about the unique love humans share with their dogs. Based on his relationship with his own Lily, who developed a brain tumor that eventually took her life, Lily and the Octopus is a treat to read. You wouldn’t expect a book about a melancholy owner facing the death of his dog to be funny, but it is – Rowley has a way with words that invokes laughs without resorting to snark. But prepare yourself – you will be touched deeply and there will be eye rain.

Still Life by Louise Penny

My love for Anne Bogel’s book recommendations runs strong. I know she loves this murder mystery series a lot, but when guests on her podcast, What Should I Read Next, consistently brought it up as one of the 3 books they love, I knew it was time to pay attention. My initial stubborness at reading this book came from the fact that I don’t actively seek out murder mysteries and I especially don’t seek out an entire series of them. I have a hard enough time getting through my TBR list without adding a 12-part series to it! Well, if the pickings for the books I read in the fall and winter look pretty slim, you’ll have Louise Penny to blame. I’m hooked. The series revolves around Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector with the Surêté du Québec. He’s the very best at his job, and in the first book he’s sent to the rural town of Three Pines. The quiet little town’s beloved resident Jane Neal has been found killed by a hunter’s arrow. Unfortunate accident or sinister plot? Only Gamache can find out. I’m on my third book in the series and I crave them like you would crave a warm fire and a hot mug of cocoa on a cold evening. I’m a big fan of books that are able to transport you to a place you’ve never been before and make you want to live there. I mean, other than someone from Three Pines getting whacked in every novel, the place seems quite lovely! As your faithful reviewer of books, I will make an effort to read more than just the rest of this series through the end of the year. Just know it will be very, very difficult to pick up anything else!

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Teen crushes, Dolly Parton, small town Texas, and an over-the-top beauty pageant … what more could you ask for in a delicious YA book? I stole this one from Elena’s book shelf and devoured it faster than one of the red candy suckers hunky Bo leaves for Willowdean in her locker. Willowdean is used to not fitting in and she’s fine with it. Being the overweight daughter of the town’s former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet winner is Willowdean’s claim to fame, and she’s happy to not draw any more attention to herself than that fun fact already does. The pageant is her mom’s thing, who’s gone from crown-winner to crown-giver as the head of the pageant. Willowdean is comfortable in her own skin and in being the sidekick to her cute best friend, until the attention of Bo and a rift with her BFF leave her unsure about everything. She can think of only one way to get her confidence (and maybe her best friend) back: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant. Willowdean and the charming characters of Clover City, Texas won me over in the first few chapters. This book deserves a tiara of its own!

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

I want to give Vanderpool all the gold stars for writing a book that manages to grapple with tough subjects (autism, PTSD, grief, and adolescence) beautifully through relatable and endearing characters. Jack Baker is adrift in his new boarding school in Maine. A grieving Midwest boy struggling to fit in, he finds a friend in the most unlikely of boys, Early Auden. They set out together on the Appalachian Trail together for very different reasons, learning valuable lessons about friendship, trust and the deepest kind of love. I read this aloud to Eli and we were both hooked. He loved the plot line of two boys on a quest, while I swooned over some of the best writing and dialogue I’ve found in a middle grade book.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Every time I pick up a book that takes place during World War II I wonder if it’s possible to add anything new to the story. Hasn’t everything already been written? And then I get swept away in a book like Everyone Brave is Forgiven. I learn something new and give thanks yet again to have never experienced war in my own front yard. Cleave’s novel is set in London in the early years of the war. While Alistair volunteers to serve his country, his friends Tom, Mary and Hilda are left behind. As Alistair battles near-starvation and the loss of a limb while under siege in Malta, the others endure the daily bombings in London.

It took me about 75 pages to get into the book, but once I did I couldn’t put it down. Beyond the subject of the war, Cleave’s characters grapple with love, loyalty, class and race. It is heartbreaking at times, and (trigger warning) a few passages are painfully descriptive in regards to war injuries and death. But it is also beautifully written, and I found myself re-reading passages for their beauty and writing down lines to remember always. (“But what good is it to teach a child to count, if you don’t show him he counts for something?” asks Mary of Tom in regards to her fondness for an African American student.) It is also witty and funny, and I found myself laughing out loud at the banter between the characters. Everyone Brave is Forgiven reminded me of everything I loved about All the Light We Cannot See – a gripping story, endearing characters and top notch prose – with the added fun of amusing dialogue between young friends. It was definitely one of my favorite reads this year.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I read this at the tail end of the summer, but I highly recommend you add this to your October TBR list. Gaiman’s story of a middle-aged man returning to his childhood home only to unleash a flood of long-forgotten memories is delightfully dark, magical and creepy. On the next dark and stormy night, grab a blanket and a cup of tea and lose yourself in the story of a young boy and the trio of otherworldly Hempstock women that saved him from a frightening fate. The audio version, read by the author, is fantastic as well. This is the first adult novel by Gaiman that I’ve read, but I can’t miss the opportunity to rave about his middle grade novel, Fortunately, the Milk. Eli and I loved it.

Honorable Mention

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick: another in the realm of the grumpy old man genre. Good but not nearly as charming as the others I mentioned above.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: Elena read this for school and I read this for book club. Lots to ponder in this one about race, class, and our inner cities.

Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman: delightful, but only if you’re as obsessed with the 80s as I am.

Food52 A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs: if great meals and meal prepping for the week are your thing, you’ll love this gorgeous cookbook. I wish I owned all the Food52 cookbooks!

Didn’t Like and/or Couldn’t Finish

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout:

Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington

Us by David Nicholls

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

What are you reading and loving lately? Please share!

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My Print Debut

While you’re out and about this week, do me a favor. If you spy a snazzy looking Sports Illustrated with Khalil Mack on the cover, pick it up and turn to page 60. Recognize anybody?

Angie Six Writer Sports Illustrated MMQB Issue

I’m beyond thrilled to have a piece in the The MMQB issue of Sports Illustrated. You can find it at the airport, your fancy bookstore, the gas station, your dentist’s office … basically EVERYWHERE. As I never made it into the magazine as an athlete and my swimsuit photos keep getting sent back, seeing my writing in print makes me pretty proud.

Be nice, do your thing and dream big. You never know where it will land you.

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