2015 Reading Update: January – March

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. A devotional by Shauna Niequist

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Some books were provided to me for review purposes.

So far 2015 has been a great year for reading on all fronts. I’m reading more and I’m reading some really great stuff. There’s just no way I can keep some of these books to myself until my annual end-of-the-year roundup. I’m also feeling more of a passion for writing about what we’re reading. Over the years I’ve benefitted from other bloggers sharing what’s on their nightstands, and I hope I can do the same for you.

I’m reading much more than I did last year, and I think it’s a combination of things. For one, I’ve just had better luck with the books I’ve picked up. Many of them have been excellent, and therefore hard to put down. I’m also making a point to visit the library more often and check out several books at a time. I used to adhere to this strict rule where I wouldn’t check out a new (fiction) book for me until I’d finished the first one. Days might go by before I could get back to the library, so I’d go book-less. (For some reason, I never followed this same rule for non-fiction, and would check out cookbooks and parenting books willy-nilly. I’m so weird.) Sometimes I have to return a few before I can get to them, but now I always have the next book ready to go.

I’m also giving audio books a go. My library has a new-ish digital download program, so I gave it a try when I started reading Meg Wolitzer’s hefty The Interestings. I’d read the actual book, but I would also listen to the audio book while doing boring tasks, like making dinner or folding laundry. Would you believe I finished the 560 page book in less than a week? I’m keeping a second audio book in the car, along with whatever non-fiction book I’m reading at the moment. (I usually read non-fiction while I eat lunch, but not before bed. It seems like a good thing to do in the middle of the day. I told you – I have weird reading habits and notions.) So at any given time, I have three books going, along with whatever I’m reading aloud to Eli. All this is to say, it’s been a game-changer in how much I’m reading, and my mind and book-loving soul are loving it.

That’s all well and good, but you really just want to know what I’ve been reading! Enough blabbering about me and my strange book rules. Let’s get to what you might want to read.

Fiction

The Returned by Jason Mott

What would happen if your loved ones that had passed away came back to you? You’ve mourned, aged, and continued to live your life in their absence. They return as if they just left yesterday, the same as when they died. Yet they are not quite the same, and it’s what the living can’t put their finger on about “the Returned” that has everyone on edge. Harold and Lucille Hargrave don’t know what to think when their 8-year-old son Jacob, dead since 1966, returns. Is it a miracle, as some believe, or a sign of terrible things to come? While I wouldn’t call it gripping, I definitely enjoyed the book. It’s interesting to think about what you would do if you were faced with the same situation. Would you be overjoyed to have your loved one back, or would it give you the heebie-jeebies?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Reading this book, I envisioned the main character, Don Tillman, as a cross between Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and the Sherlock of Elementary. Don is a friendly yet frustrating and socially awkward genetics professor. He’s decided that it’s time to settle down, and in typical Don fashion there is a very logical and practical way to find the perfect partner: the Wife Project. Believing that statistically, there’s someone for everyone, he develops a survey to weed out the unsuitable candidates. (No vegetarians, chronically late women, smokers … the list goes on and on. And on.) Rosie certainly doesn’t make the cut, yet somehow Don finds himself wrapped up in all things Rosie, including a new project to help her find her biological father. These two characters couldn’t be more different, and yet I loved them both and rooted for them to end up together throughout the entire book. A really fun read that brought up some good discussions at book club about how much control we really have over our personality “quirks”, biological or otherwise.

Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes

This is the kind of book I love – great, relatable characters and a story that hooks you right from the beginning. Louisa is a fabulous British characters along the lines of Bridget Jones: witty, a little left-field, and often overlooked. She’s never left her little town, and the prospects of her life unfolding into something grand are dim. Tied down to a boyfriend that has bigger priorities and a family that depends on her for income, she’s forced to take a job as a caretaker for Will, a young quadriplegic. He wants to be taken care of about as much as she wants to be his caretaker. They find themselves both faced with what seem to be unsurmountable tasks. Can Louisa make Will see a purpose for living in this new body? And can Will make Louisa see a purpose for her life beyond the limits of her town and her family? A word to the wise: make sure you read the last chapter somewhere private with loads of tissues.

The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters

I would never in a million years have picked up the first book in this series. I’m not much for science fiction, apocalyptic stories, or dystopian societies, of which Winters’ trilogy has touches of all. Winters was one of the authors at an author event I attended with Elena, and he read from The Last Policeman. I was hooked, and I had to see if it was as good in my hands as it was hearing him read the story aloud. Answer: yes. I tore through this series. The world is coming to an end and spiraling into chaos and lawlessness. Detective Hank Palace, like everyone, struggles with how best to spend his last days on earth. While nearly everyone around him has given up, he still feels pulled to do what he does best: take notes and solve crimes. I empathized with his inability to let go of the work he loves and his belief that just because the world is coming to an end, we don’t need to give up on purpose and caring.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Tenth of December is a collection of short stories. It won about every possible award last year, and several sources (whose recommendations I trust) touted it as the best book they read all year. Maybe I had incredibly high hopes (especially with the many comparisons to David Sedaris, who I adore), maybe short stories aren’t my cup of tea, but I did not enjoy this book. The essays were strange, very dark, and often confusing.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This was my choice for book club, and I’m looking forward to our upcoming discussion. I was told before reading this book simply to read it – don’t read too much about it, and definitely don’t read any reviews. I’ll tell you the same thing, as there is a plot twist that will have you flipping back to previous chapters furiously. Rosemary is living the typical Midwestern childhood with her parents, brother, and twin sister. She doesn’t realize there’s anything different about her or her family until her sister disappears with no warning and little explanation from her family. What I found most fascinating about this book was how a singular event can be experienced and interpreted so differently among the people who experience it together. This has been one of my favorite reads of the year.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

I was thrilled to flip to the back page and see that Mary Kubica is a fellow Miami of Ohio alumni! Kubica’s novel, about a kidnapping gone wrong, has drawn lots of comparisons to Gone Girl. Don’t let that persuade or discourage you from reading it. It deserves to be read on its own merits, and whether you liked or disliked Gone Girl will have little to do with your feelings about this story. I was a little confused at first, as the story alternated between the reflections of four characters: Mia, the kidnapped daughter of a prominent, but distant Chicago judge, Eve, Mia’s distraught mother, Gabe, the detective assigned to the case, and Colin, the kidnapper. Once I got my bearings, I was swept into the story. Just when you think you have it all figured out and your loose ends are all tied up, a shocking revelation blows it all up.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I’ve read a few other books Wolitzer, and have another still on my To Be Read list. I’ve always enjoyed her writing. Her books are long, filled with detail and she tends to take her time getting to the point (if there’s even a point to be gotten to), but I enjoy her writing style. This isn’t a beach read, but it’s good if you like stories that take place over a long period of time and with multiple developed characters. In the summer of 1974, Julie finds friendship with a group of arty and dramatic kids at a summer camp for the arts. Julie becomes “Jules,” and just as she sheds her childhood name she sheds the notion that she is meant to live a small life. Throughout her teens and early adulthood, she remains close to her campmates: siblings Ash and Goodman Wolf, whose family life she envies, Ethan Figman, the boy she loved (but not in that way), and Jonah, son of a famous folk singer. Like many of us, the childhood passions and talents that made us “interesting” don’t necessarily translate into success and financial security in our adult life. But what if some of your friends can find that elusive success? Through Jules’ voice, Wolitzer explores what it’s like to grow up with a close-knit group of friends, who both save you and evoke deep feelings of envy and distrust.

Non-Fiction

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

After spending the summer in Spain, I was inspired to read more about how kids in other cultures eat. What made my American children so picky and afraid of certain foods, while the kids in Spain seemed to eat with abandon? Le Billon’s book focuses on her American children as they spend a year in France, living in the same town as her French in-laws. Her stories of adjusting to the French way of living and eating are interspersed with the trials and tribulations of applying the many French food rules to her own children. While it wasn’t life-changing, and much of it is common sense, it was an enjoyable read. It inspired me to make a few changes at home, such as limits on snacks, trying new things, and reminding kids that you don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.

Slaying the Debt Dragon by Cherie Lowe

Though we follow many of the financial guidelines endorsed by Dave Ramsey and I’ve read all of his books, I can’t say that reading personal finance books is high on my list of enjoyable things to do. It helps your motivation to do so when one of your dear friends writes their own personal finance book, though! Even if she weren’t a friend, I’d recommend Cherie‘s book to anyone looking for inspiration in their journey to take control of their finances. Whether you’re so deep in the hole that you can’t see your way out, in the middle of the battle, or finally seeing victory in the goal to be debt-free, Cherie has something for you. She’s honest, insightful and above all, encouraging.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

I’m on the fence about Lena Dunham. I appreciate her talent and what she brings to the table. I love her HBO show Girls (even as I want to strangle her character sometimes). I love that she refuses to let society shame her for her body, what she wears, or what she reveals of herself. I went into her book with an open mind, knowing everything I know and appreciating her humor. In the end, it was too much for me. Too much information and too much vulgarity for what feels like the sake of being vulgar. I’m far from a prude, but it was just over the top for me. It’s a shame, because in between the stuff that had me cringing, there was some really good stuff for women (especially young women) to read.

Listful Thinking by Paula Rizzo

This is a very short book geared toward those who need a little guidance and lots of inspiration to make list-making a part of their daily life. I’m a big fan of the list, and use multiple lists to make my life run smoother and my brain feel more settled. It sounds silly – shouldn’t you just know how to make a list? But there are tricks to making the kind of list that will actually save you time, keep you organized and make you more productive. I’d pair this book with Getting Things Done and you’ll be on your productive way!

The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler

This book gets its very own post soon. I loved it that much and I’m seeing a positive shift in my family’s life after reading it and putting some of Feiler’s observations about happy families into practice. In the nearly 13 years I’ve been a parent, I’ve read what feels like an avalanche of parenting books. This may be my favorite of all time. It’s helpful, hopeful, the opposite of condescending, practical and (most importantly) a thoroughly enjoyable read.

A Few Seconds of Panic by Stefan Fatsis

As much as I love watching football, I don’t ever read books about football. I have a few on my To Be Read list, and this was the first one I tackled. (See what I did there?) I enjoy Stefan Fatsis’ sports reporting on NPR, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed his writing style as well. Fatsis combines his own story about attending training camp as a kicker for the Denver Broncos with the stories of the players he lived, breathed and played football with during that time. Not since George Plimpton wrote about his time with the Detroit Lions in Paper Tigers had the NFL given this kind of access to a journalist. Fatsis gave it his all, and in return the players gave him their trust. The result is a well-written book that provides an honest look about life in the NFL, particularly the grueling days of training camp.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I love Gretchen Rubin’s writing and topics of research, having already devoured The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. In her latest book, Rubin turns her focus towards habits. How do we form them, and why are they so hard to keep? Why is it easier for some people to incorporate good habits into their lives while so many struggle? This book was truly eye-opening for me, and I’m not being overly dramatic when I tell you it will change my life. Rubin helps readers determine which of the Four Tendencies they are, which lays the foundation for learning how you should best incorporate new habits into your life and the strategies you should use in order to have a higher likelihood of keeping those habits. She also conveys why habits are so important in our lives, and how having a foundation of good habits opens up your life to bigger and better things. After all, when you free your mind from having to decide over and over again to do something, you have the time and the energy to be better than you were before. This is another one of my top picks for the year so far.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche

Speaking of Gretchen Rubin, I read a great article she wrote on how to be a better reader. One of her suggestions was to quit reading! How does that even make sense? Well, if you’re anything like me, I feel obligated to read a book even if I’m not particularly enjoying it. With books, as with most things in my life, I feel compelled to finish what I’ve started. Rubin felt this way, too, but realized it was counterintuitive. Why waste time reading books you don’t like when you could have more time to read books you love? I promised myself to follow that advice. The first book I had to make good on that vow with was Unabrow. It was sent to me to review, and it sounded like the perfect book for me: a funny, female-based memoir along the lines of Jenny Lawson or Tina Fey. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t find it funny at all, and instead felt as if the author was trying too hard to incorporate the different voices of other funny women into her work. I wished she’d just find her own voice and stick with it. The reviews on Goodreads and Amazon are favorable though, so maybe you’ll find it funnier than I did.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

I’d name Anne Lamott as one of my favorite authors of all time, but the last few books of hers haven’t spoken to me the way her earlier books have. Yes, I’ve been in a Lamott slump, which is a terrible place to be. I’m happy to report that with this book I’m back on the fan wagon again! Perhaps Small Victories caught me at the right time. All I know is that I related to the stories about grace, and the wonky, head-tilting ways it can work in our lives. I found myself highlighting passages to come back to again and again, laughing, and shedding a few tears when a topic struck a little too close to home. This one earned a spot on my bookshelf, which is a big deal for this cheapskate.

Savor by Shauna Niequist

Niequist’s previous book, Bread & Wine, was one of my favorites last year, earning a spot on the bookshelf, as well as on a few gift lists. She’s back with Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. Doesn’t that sound delightful? It’s a daily devotional, which is a tough format to review. Not everyone loves a devotional, and they’re very personal. What speaks to you may feel awful to me. I’ve tried other devotionals before and given up on them, but this one is sticking. For one, it’s beautiful. Even if I never opened it, I love the linen cover. The sight of it on my nightstand makes me happy. Two, it has recipes in it that I’m dying to make. I read it first thing every morning, while I’m still warm and cozy in bed, and it’s proved a delightful and calming way to start my days.

Read Alouds

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, The One and Only Ivan tells the story of Ivan, a mighty silverback gorilla who has spent nearly his entire life behind the glass in a shopping mall zoo. Captured as an infant, he spent his early years living with a family until he got to be too much to handle. Based on a true story, Applegate weaves a tale of hope and heartbreak. Ivan may not have any other primates to keep him company, but he bonds with Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. He is content with all he’s really ever known, until Ruby arrives. A baby elephant taken from the wild, Ruby forces Ivan to look at his surroundings in a new light. Are they destined to spend the rest of their days in the run-down mall? Or can Ivan protect them from a bleak future and save them all? Applegate’s writing is like poetry, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read it without shedding a tear. If your kids enjoy this book, be sure to check out Applegate’s picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla as well.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

I loved this book as a child, but had yet to share it with Eli, and so it seemed a perfect choice both for a read aloud and as a book to satisfy my reading challenge category of a book from my childhood. I was a little worried a chapter or two in that Eli would find it boring. There are few pictures and the writing is detailed. Just as I had remembered from my youth, though, the story is captivating and you can’t help but want to know more about the rats of NIMH and how the widowed Mrs. Frisby will ever survive the spring move with all of her children. You know it’s a hit when you have to turn down multiple requests to read more because it’s getting late and you’ve already read for 30 minutes.

How’s 2015 been for your reading so far? What have you loved? Please share, I always love to add more to my list!

Looking for something new to read? What I’ve read and recommended books in fiction, non-fiction, for book club and children’s read alouds.

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I haven’t read many of these, but I’m totally with you on Tenth of December — disturbing is the best word for it from me! Also agree on The Rosie Project, very fun/funny read.

    • I wish you could’ve seen my face when I figured out what the lawn decorations were actually made out of! Have you read the sequel to The Rosie Project yet? It’s on my list.

      • Elizabeth says:

        No kidding — that WAS something else. I actually had trouble getting through the first story, then I trudged through but couldn’t make it through the last one.
        I just finished school and I’m now in full reading mode. I do need to follow up on The Rosie Project, but recommend Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store and Charm & Strange. Totally unrelated, but both good.

  2. Thanks friend! 🙂 I’m loving Savor, too. <3

  3. Thanks for the reminder that I have been TERRIBLE about documenting the books that I have read this year. LOL I will have to check out The Returned. I have been contemplating whether I want to read the sequel to The Rosie Project or not. If you read it, let me know if it is worth it!

    • Will do! I’d been hesitant to use GoodReads, but this year I’m using it to keep better track of the books I’m reading and have read. I’m finding it very useful and it’s helping me to find new stuff I want to read.

  4. I am just in awe of readers. Maybe when I retire? Just ordered the Listful Thinking on Kindle. Have you seen Cris’ #listersgottalist thing? Hilarious. Making lists of lists.

    • I’m not nearly as creative as Cris, but I do love me a good list! Something about checking things off is so satisfying. And I thought you were a big reader – you had me fooled!