Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Some books were provided to me for review purposes.
How is it November already? I wanted to share this reading update with you in October, and next thing I knew? Poof! November. Just because I haven’t been writing about books, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I’m chugging right along. I’ve read 64 books to date, and so many have been fantastic. It’s going to tough to narrow it down to my favorite books of the year. My goal was 35, so there’s a good chance I’ll end the year at double my goal. I’m often asked how I manage to read so much. I previously shared the small changes that helped ramp up my reading, but I think this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy also plays into it. My unfair advantage? Reading is the only thing that puts my mind at rest enough so that I fall asleep easily. No matter what the day’s been like, no matter how late it is, I always have to read before I turn out the light. If you’re a voracious reader, what’s your unfair advantage?
But you know what? It doesn’t matter if you read 1, 10 or 100 books a year. It matters that you read something that made an impact on you – whether it was for learning, escape, or personal growth. Take a look at what I read in the last three months and and see if anything sounds good to you!
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Hetty Grimke earned the name “Handful” at birth, and she spent the rest of her life living up to it. Born into slavery in the early 1800s in Charleston, she is Sarah Grimke’s 11th birthday gift. Close in age but opposite in spirit, Sarah and Hetty grow up together and form a complex relationship that extends much deeper than the traditional role of slave and master. Inspired by the real life Grimke sisters, who braved opposition and banishment for their controversial views on the wrongs of slavery, The Invention of Wings is a rich and moving story of women and slavery in the oppressive South.
The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Basically, I love it and the connections it makes for me on both a personal and professional level. I hate the precious time it can take up! This handy little book was filled with really great nuggets of information that I could implement immediately. Even if you think you know everything you need to know about social media, I bet you’ll find something in this book that will be useful in blogging, networking or business.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra are only 15 months apart. They grow up as if they were twins, inseparable in their mischief, studies and brotherly love. When Subhash, the more reserved of the two, leaves India to get his PhD in America, he isn’t expecting to fall in love with the easy way of American life. He can do what he wants and keep to himself, without the expectations of his parents to marry and Indian girl and return home. More importantly, he can pretend that the dangerous political activism his younger brother participates in isn’t his concern. When Udayan is arrested and killed, Subhash feels compelled to honor his brother by marrying his pregnant widow. Can they make a life of their own, forgetting the pain that brought them together? I listened to the audio version of the book and became so emotionally invested in the characters, rooting for some and cursing others. If you enjoyed Lahiri’s previous book, The Namesake, you’ll enjoy this one as well.
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
This delightful book was one I read aloud to Eli. Read-aloud books for the young elementary set require a few things to make them work: an interesting story that builds in excitement or suspense, smart and natural dialogue, and a few well-placed illustrations. Masterpiece has all of those things, and we both loved the story of Marvin, the beetle living under the sink in James’ New York City Apartment. James’ parents are divorced and he feels as if neither parent really gets him. Marvin has spent much time observing James, and has a fondness for the boy. When James’ artist dad gives him a pen and ink set for his birthday, Marvin can’t resist dabbling in it while James sleeps. The result will take James and Marvin deep into the world of art and stolen masterpieces. So fun, and we’re looking forward to reading more in Broach’s sequel, James to the Rescue .
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
This was my pick for “A Book I Chose Because of the Cover” in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge. I may have cheated a bit, as that’s the reason I chose the the first book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. Have a look, though – isn’t this cover just as cool and creepy? It had been a year since I’d read the first book, so it took me a few chapters to get the characters straight again. Once I did I was taken right back to where the Peculiar Children left off, and I was just as anxious about their quest to flee from the deadly hollowgast monsters and save their beloved Miss Peregine. The book is filled with even more fantastically creepy vintage photos the author found in flea markets and collections. The good news? The second book is just as wonderful as the first. The bad news? You’ll want to dive into the third novel right away if you can get your hands on it.
Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay
Disclosure: I received this as an Advanced Reader Copy through NetGalley. I’d never read Jason Gay‘s column in the Wall Street Journal (which is surprising, given how much I like to read about sports), but that changed the instant I finished the book. It’s a book I’ll recommend to anyone who is looking for well-written essays on life that will make you smile, pump your fist in agreement, and laugh out loud (the real kind of LOL, not the ironic kind). I never highlight passages in my Kindle, but I found myself highlighting funny snippets and little gems right and left. I have a feeling lots of other readers will feel the same way and that this book will be a big hit. This will definitely make my Best of 2015 list, and it would make a fantastic Christmas gift for any lover of humorous essays on your list.
Getting to YUM: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters by Karen LeBillon
Think of this as a follow-up to LeBillon’s earlier book, French Kids Eat Everything. While her first book was more of a memoir with anecdotes and recipes thrown in, this is a handbook for parents who want to take the French approach to picky eating. Other than more recipes and ideas for “taste-training” games, the gist of the information here is the same. Pick one or the other based on what appeals to you. My kids haven’t become adventurous eaters overnight because of the book, but it did give me some ideas and inspiration to expand their horizons ever so slightly.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
This book won all kinds of awards in 2014 and made it on several best book lists. I listened to the audio version, and while it didn’t sweep me away, it did hold my interest throughout. Thomas tells the life story of Eileen Tumulty, from her childhood days as Irish Catholic growing up in a close-knit Queens community to her marriage to steadfast Ed Leary and their lives as parents to an only child. From an early age, perhaps as a reaction to the shame of having an alcoholic mother, Eileen sets her sights for herself much higher. She spends her entire life always looking for ways to move up, and her preoccupation with outer appearances consumes her thoughts and energy. How long can she hold up the appearance of a perfect life when an unexpected darkness descends on her marriage? As angry as the reader may get with the characters and how they handle the struggle they’ve been given, this window into one family’s life over many years will leave you with thoughts on how you might respond in a similar situation.
The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell
I originally chose this for Elena and I to read together. She tried and just couldn’t get into it. After reading it myself, I could understand why. It’s definitely geared for the upper elementary set. A historical mystery, it also uses a type of dialogue that some younger readers might struggle with. However if you have a reader in the 10-12 year-old range who enjoys mysteries and stories set in the past, this could be a interesting and suspenseful read for them as they follow 12-year-old Clara Dooley in her quest to solve the kidnappings and murders of the Glendoveer children who once lived in her home.
The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Nina Borg should’ve trusted her gut when her friend, Karin, asks her for help. A compulsive do-gooder who can only seem to say no when it comes to her own family, Nina complies. That’s how she finds herself picking up a suitcase from an airport locker, only to find it contains a naked and drugged 3-year-old boy. When Karin is found brutally murdered, Nina knows she alone must find the boy’s mother and that she won’t be able to rest or trust anyone until he is safe and sound. Definitely disturbing, and a bit confusing with all the Nordic names. If you’re looking for a good thriller with a Nordic twist, I would stick to the Stieg Larsson series.
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
With all the fanfare and controversy surrounding the release of Go Set a Watchman, I was happy to read something that might give me a glimpse into the author of one of my favorite books of all time. Marja Mills accomplished just that. Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, uncharacteristically let journalist Mills into their life when she was working on a story for the Chicago Tribune. The sisters not only trusted her, but they befriended her as well, letting her into their inner circle. Mills’ recollections of the sisters together is a treat and a lovely glimpse into the private life of a beloved American author. Recent allegations have made claims that the book was unauthorized by the Lee sisters, but after reading the book I just can’t see how that can be true. While Mills doesn’t gloss over the difficult parts of Harper Lee’s personality, she doesn’t expose ugly bits just for the sake of sensational journalism. Many times in the book she notes that particular conversations with Harper and Alice were to be left off the record, and she respected their wishes. If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird and would like to know more about the person as opposed to the myth, you’ll enjoy Mills’ memoir.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Imagine that one moment you are enjoying a holiday in a beautiful seaside setting with your family. The next moment you are running for your lives to escape a tsunami you never saw coming. One moment you have parents, a husband, and two small children. The next moment, they’re all gone. This book gutted me, and it’s the most powerful and raw story I’ve ever read on loss and grief. Between the shock and horror of Sonali Deraniyagala’s story of being the lone survivor in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the reader is also given tender glimpses into Sonali’s family: her doting parents, her goofy husband, and her vibrant, energetic boys. Deraniyagala is everything: heartbroken, furious, funny, bitter, painfully honest and ultimately hopeful. I sobbed throughout the book and I ached when I finished it, but I’m so glad I read it. You’ll hug your family so tightly when you’re done they’ll wonder what’s gotten into you. It’s this magnificent book that you’ll never, ever forget that’s to blame.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I can’t get this book out of my mind. I’d seen it mentioned in several circles, and thought I might get to it eventually. A few months ago an acquaintance of mine with a decent Twitter following tweeted something stupid -something better said among friends at a bar than sent to the masses. Like an accident you can’t take your eyes from, I watched as this decent guy was torn apart on social media, with calls for his firing and a skit making fun of him on national television. It took watching this public shaming towards someone I knew to compel me to pick up this book. Ronson tells the stories of several people who found their lives dramatically changed by angry mobs on social media. Their transgressions varied from boneheaded acts and not thinking before you tweet, to liars and a philanderer. The reactions to these people on social media is eye-opening and will make anyone who spends any time on social networks think about their part in building people up and tearing them down. It’s a fascinating look at a part of our culture that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and Ronson writes the story well, with empathy, humor and introspection. I highly recommend it to anyone who spends any part of their life on social media.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
I’m a sucker for a good cover, and this one was too good to pass up. I’m happy to report the inside of the book lived up to the outside. I’ve read many stories, both fiction and non-fiction, concerning the AIDS epidemic of the early 80s, but none from the point of view of a child. June Elbus is 14-years-old and her Uncle Finn is her everything. Her accountant parents practically abandon her during tax season, and for the first time in her life her older sister has turned on her as well. It’s during this lonely and isolating time that June learns Finn is dying of AIDS. A well-known artist, Finn makes it a mission to paint a portrait of June and her sister before he dies, a portrait that continues to live in it’s own way after Finn dies. After his death, June is lost … until she strikes up a secret friendship with Finn’s partner, Toby. Blamed by Finn’s family for his death, Toby finds comfort in the only other person that loved Finn as much as he did. I really enjoyed the book, and it elicited a deep discussion at my book club on so many topics: AIDS, homosexuality, sibling relationships, and parenting.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Disclosure: I received this as an Advanced Reader Copy through NetGalley. Like the main characters, Olly and Maddy, this book caught my attention just from the cover. The description had me hopeful, the first few pages had me smitten, and after the first illustration I was in love. Maddy suffers from a severely compromised immune system – so much so that she lives her life inside the bubble of her home. She never leaves, and it takes such a protocol for visitors to come in safely that they are few and far between. When she glimpses Olly moving in next door and he takes an interest in her, everything changes. The bubble is no longer protective, it’s suffocating. Nicola Yoon’s debut is fantastic, and she gives readers a heartfelt story about love, loneliness, and the lengths people will go to protect their hearts. There were a few details and story lines that were somewhat unbelievable, but the overall depth of the characters and the plot more than made up for those shortcomings. Elena read it as well and named it one of the best books she’s read this year. It’s nominated for Goodreads “Best Books of 2015” for good reason.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
From her seat on the commuter train to London, Rachel has a unique view into the daily lives of those who live near the tracks. But no one captures her attention or imagination like her favorite couple. She’s made up names for them (Jason and Jess) and envisions a life of perfection for them that is so different from her own sad and shattered life. When she sees something shocking from her seat on the train, a series of events is unleashed that will cause Rachel to doubt everything she knows – not only about her fictional couple but about herself as well. The first third of this book is slow, and a little hard to follow as the author jumps back and forth between dates and characters. The middle picks up pace a bit, and you start to formulate your theory on who did what to whom. But it’s the last third of the book that will keep you up well past your bedtime, furiously turning pages to solve the crime, holding your breath until the very last sentence.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Rebecca Winter has fled her life in New York City for the quiet of a small country town. At 60, her once illustrious career as a photographer has come to a halt. Her son is grown, her marriage is over, and her finances are shaky. Rebecca’s only escape from the self-reflection and worry are her camera and a new friendship with the quiet but sturdy Jim. This is a simple novel without big drama. It’s about love, reinvention, and being honest with yourself. While those things might not be all excitement and fireworks, they make for a content and comforting read.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is another selection from my Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge list in the category of “A Book That’s Currently on the Bestseller List. And oh my goodness, did I love this book. Unless something comes along and knocks me off my feet between now and the end of year, this gets the vote for the best book I read in 2015. (Actually, I listened to it, which might have made it even a teensy bit better.) Set in World War II, Doerr tells the story of two children whose very different paths will meet in German-occupied France. Marie-Laure, blind from the age of six, lives with her father in France. Werner and his younger sister are orphans, living in a dismal German mining town. The lives of Marie and Werner, so far apart in distance and circumstance, mingle and separate in lovely detail, like a dance. They’ve both compensated for the things they’re missing in life by honing and perfecting the gifts they can control. For Marie it’s her other senses, while for Werner it’s his curiosity and studies. The author’s descriptions of what Marie can hear, smell and sense are so rich that you can feel them yourself. I feel as if I’ve read so many books with World War II as the backdrop that I’m a little put off on any books that fit in that category. If you feel that way, too, I understand … but don’t let this be the book you pass over!
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
I’m a little surprised and ashamed that I’ve never read anything by Hemingway. After our trip to Spain, I decided it was my duty as a lover of books and Spain to read something of his. Naturally I chose The Sun Also Rises, which takes place during the bullfighting festival in Pamplona. This was one tiny but tough book to get through. I struggled, both with the vintage slang (so many words for drunk I never knew!) and the cast of unlikeable characters. Just to give you an idea of how strange the book is, check out this bit as two characters pass a taxidermy shop with a display of stuff dogs:
“We’ll get one the way back.”
“All right. Have it your own way. Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.” We went on.
“How’d you feel that way about dogs so sudden?”
“Always felt that way about dogs. Always been a great lover of stuffed animals.”
I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to work in “Road to hell paved with unsought stuffed dogs” into conversations. I perked up a bit when they were in Spain, but not enough to make it worth it. This was Hemingway’s first novel, though. If there’s another that you think is better, let me know and I’ll gladly give him another try.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
This is one of those books that would be perfect to curl up with by the fire this winter. It’s a cozy little feel-good book, even if it doesn’t start out that way. A.J. Fikry is grumpy and in no mood for the Amelia, the new Knightly Press book rep to peddle her wares. He knows what he likes and she doesn’t have it. He’s recently widowed and he has no patience for anything or anyone that attempts to move him out of his grief and anger. Things get worse for the small-town bookstore owner … sales are down and his prized possession, a rare book of Poe poems, is stolen. When someone leaves a baby at the store, he’s the least likely candidate to step in and take responsibility for her. And yet he does, and the effects Maya, and eventually Amelia, have on the cranky bookseller will melt your heart as much as they do his.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
What looks like a normal, happy family on the outside quickly shatters on the inside when tragedy strikes. The Lees are a typical Midwestern family in most ways. Mom, dad, and three seemingly happy children. But it isn’t easy to be one of the only Asian families in town, isn’t easy to have mixed race parents, isn’t easy to have expectations on you to be the perfect daughter, isn’t easy to be the overlooked spare son and ignored youngest daughter. It’s all too much for the oldest Lee child, Lydia. When she is found drowned in a nearby lake, the blame surfaces easily while the family’s secrets are pushed deeper. I ached for the Lee children, put in impossible situations long before they were even conceived. I read this novel quickly, needing to know what really happened to Lydia and if there was any way this troubled family could pull themselves together.
Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin
This book was what I wanted Five Days at Memorial to be: a well-written look back at Hurricane Katrina and what it was like to endure, survive and rebuild after the storm. Rivlin’s research and interviews were exhaustive, and the reader sees the aftermath of Katrina through the eyes of both politicians and business leaders as well as ordinary citizens. It’s equally heartbreaking and infuriating, when through 20/20 hindsight you can see all the ways in which the people of New Orleans were failed. Ten years later, many citizens haven’t returned and large areas of the city remain uninhabited and suffer from blight. If you’re looking for a comprehensive book on Katrina and the storm’s aftermath, this is it.
I feel like you deserve a gold star for making it to the end! Now I’d love to hear from you. What have you read recently and loved? Do you have a favorite book from 2015 so far? Please share in the comments so I can add it to my list!