Read: September 2018

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Educated by Tara Westover

Harrowing, violent, almost unbelievable in its intensity, I could.not.put.this.down. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Westover, now in her mid-30s, provides a startling look at her Mormon, survivalist, unstable upbringing in rural Utah. Yet despite her family’s many inconsistent restrictions, she made her way to college where her world began to expand in ways you and I likely take for granted. This was a fantastic reminder that only by an education do we have a lens for the history and context of our world; the means by which we learn and grow both formally and informally.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC.

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The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

If you could invite any five people to share a meal with you, dead or alive who would you choose? This new release is based on this premise, with my full review available here.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC.

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Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

This fourth installment in the Anne series allows us to spend three years with her as a school principal in Summerside, PEI. Much of the book is epistolary, as she writes letters to her betrothed, Gilbert Blythe, from her boarding residence Windy Poplars, where she lives with two matronly widows and their tenacious housekeeper Rebecca Dew. As always, Anne finds herself serving as more than just a principal, but a matchmaker, a counselor, and a reconciler of relationships; all with pluck and her cheery disposition. Anne and Gilbert’s marriage awaits!

Read via: Hoopla audio

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Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

In this collection of essays, Calhoun gives advice about love, marriage, soulmates, monogamy, and the work and commitment required to stay married for those both newly and long wedded.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Rush

Rush by Lisa Patton

“I work for four hundred and thirty-eight white ladies in a three-story mansion, not a one of them over the age of twenty-two.” What a gripping opening line in this southern fiction novel about sorority life on the Ole Miss campus! After having loved The Help and The Almost SistersI had a feeling I would love Rush, and I did.

The story is told from three concurrent perspectives: Miss Pearl – the Alpha Delta Beta housekeeper (the opening quote above is hers) longing to better herself, Wilda – an ADB alumnae, whose daughter is rushing during her freshman year at Ole Miss, and finds herself manipulated by another mother/ADB alum, and Cali – a small town girl with good intentions and secrets to hide, rushing with ADB. The plot is filled with plenty of campus vibes, and a combination of both wholesome and downright nasty characters, but ends with a timely moral and a satisfying conclusion.

Read via: Overdrive e-book


I’m thinking about picking up some semi-spooky titles to read in October. If you have any recommendations, please share in the comments below!

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Finishing a Book Journal – 17 Years in the Making

Even though I entered my Master’s of Library Science program at the age of 27, I’ve been an organized, bookish reader since my elementary school days. Somewhere there exists in my parents’ house a textured 3 ring binder, with wide-ruled notebook paper, where I’ve written details of what I read in my adolescent and teenage years: Berenstain Bears, Boxcar Children, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain award nominees, oh so many Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins, and gentle Christian romance novels by Jeanette Oke and Lori Wick.

Then during the Summer of 2001, I purchased the Books to Check Out journal at Barnes & Noble, which they still have for sale, and began logging the books I read.

That summer, between my Sophomore and Junior years of college, I worked in an ice cream shop in my hometown, contracted a severe strain of mononucleosis, quit said job, and recovered physically, emotionally, and spiritually from having made some very poor choices the previous school year. Looking back, I now see how this journal might have begun as bibliotherapy, but quickly turned into a lifestyle of logging the books and authors I read throughout my young adult years and beyond.

It’s a simple method. I just wrote down the name of the book and the author, noted the season and the year, and, lately, designated if it was an audio book. In another section I recorded favorite quotes and passages that stood out to me.

But at the beginning of September, I filled in the final rows – The Long Way Home by Louise Penny and Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery.

This is my new book journal that I bought from Amazon.

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It has a lot more note-taking features, which we’ll see if I actually use, and due to these enhancements, there are fewer actual pages to record the books I’ll read. Therefore, I’ll probably fill up these pages within the year, but it’s a new approach and I’m happy to try something different.

And yet, before I move forward, it’s been fun to take a step back and examine memorable highlights from the book journal I’ve used for the past 17 years.

2001

I discovered authors Adriana Trigiani, Billie Letts (I would later work with one of her sons 9 years after reading Where the Heart Is) and Jan Karon, re-read several Little House books, and bought a hardback copy of a then little known book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and distinctly remember reading it under a tree on the lawn outside my dorm room.

Total books read = 22

2002

I bravely read about Big Brother in 1984 and revisited several books in the Narnia series, which has become an ongoing tradition.

Total books read = 20

2003

I student-taught in the Fall, felt like The DaVinci Code jumped off the shelf at Borders and begged me to read it, graduated from college, discovered Francine Rivers, and yellow-highlighted passages in Fahrenheit 451.

Total books read = 18

2004

The new year found me with my first job as a music teacher in St. Louis where I bought The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke at the school’s Scholastic book fair. I had just traveled to Venice the summer before and vividly pictured Prosper and Bo racing beside the canals. That Fall I transitioned to a job at our local community college, my first glimpse into a love for working in higher education, and found myself laughing out loud to the snarky humor of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris, especially Six to Eight Black Men.

Total books read = 35

2005

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was a classic on my unread shelf, which absolutely sucked me in. I read a handful of popular Nicholas Sparks books, several stage plays since I was working in a Fine Arts department, and traveled to London, accompanied by The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Total books read = 29

2006

The writing of Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri was forever etched into my heart, I was left very disappointed after reading/listening to all of the Lemony Snicket series, I used my public library’s reserve system to request numerous Dee Henderson titles, read my first Jodi Picoult, was bowled over by The Time Traveler’s Wife, and was given a book by Neil Clark Warren that firmly established my “must haves” and “can’t stands” in a future spouse.

Total books read = 52

2007

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Like a lot of other women, I loved Eat, Pray, Love, enjoyed the friendships of the girls in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, found the bleak surroundings of The Road mesmerizing, and said goodbye not only to beloved friends on the page in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but also dear friends in real life as I moved away from my hometown to begin graduate school.

Total books read = 34

2008

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I began graduate school with an emphasis in vocal music performance, but in 2008 I officially declared myself as a student in the Library Science program. The public library became my home-away-from-home and I gained my first experience as a librarian working as an aide in an elementary school library. Here I discovered loads of wonderful middle-grade novels and The Magic Treehouse series, in particular. Thanks to friends in my MLS program, we all read Twilight at the height of its popularity, even went to the book release party for Breaking Dawn, and around the time of my maternal grandmother’s death, the writings of Karen Kingsbury provided great comfort.

Total books read = 52

2009

The novel American Wife was one of the most sweeping stories I’ve still ever read, I stayed up wayyyy past my bedtime to finish Dead Until Dark at the height of the Sookie Stackhouse craze, wanted to go to culinary school in Paris thanks to The Sharper Your  Knife, The Less You Cry, and was enamored with the process of being a couture shoe maker in New York after having read Very Valentine.

Total books read = 53

2010

During my last year of Library School I took a Reader’s Advisory class that exposed me to many wonderful books, including the epistolary classic Dracula, I caught Hunger Games fever, flew to Oklahoma to interview for my (now) job with Little Bee in my carry-on, was hired for my job as an academic librarian and moved to Oklahoma after graduating. Here I discovered the Sequoyah Awards list based on votes by Oklahoma librarians and children.

Total books read = 71

2011

I began the year immersed in Sweden thanks to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the little girl in me who loved (still does) the country group Alabama was thrilled to read lead singer Randy Owen’s memoir Born Country, I re-read/listened to the entire Harry Potter series before the 8th movie released, couldn’t pry myself off the couch to stop reading The Help, loved learning about contemporary application of agrarian themes in the Bible through Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg and finally read the Oklahoma children’s tear-jerker classic Where the Red Fern Grows.

Total books read = 59

2012

The Optometrist asked me to marry him so The Shoemaker’s Wife took on a whole new depth as a woman in love, we married, and I have such fond memories reading Gold by Chris Cleave and Home by Julie Andrews in our  upstairs bedroom suite and on the back porch that overlooked a little grove of pine trees outside of our townhouse duplex.

Total books read = 34

2013

This was the year I overcame my luddite fears and The Optometrist convinced me I needed a Kindle Paperwhite; one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a reader. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson from the public library’s Overdrive collection was my first e-book, followed by many free digital ARCs via NetGalley and Edelweiss. The modern day classic The Red Tent, amazing middle-grade book Wonder, laugh-out-loud funny A Little Salty to Cut the Sweetand the Lily Bard/Shakespeare murder mysteries by Charlaine Harris rounded out my year.

Total books read = 46

2014

As is often the case, I checked out a book through the library I originally saw in a bookstore, this time being the Songbird series by country singer Sara Evans, I got around to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane – a surprise end-of-the-2013-fall-semester gift from The Optometrist, we read our first book together aloud, Wicked, after seeing the musical on tour, and I was deeply impressed with the YA novel The Impossible Knife of Memory.

Total books read = 45

2015

2015 was perhaps my best reading year ever with so many newfound favorites I now frequently recommend to others: 11/22/63, The Year of No Sugar, Orange is the New Black, Station Eleven, Grace for the Good Girl, the Wayward Pines trilogy, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.

Total books read = 40

2016

I finally joined the Jojo Moyes bandwagon, read both Ready Player One and Dark Matter twice (once on my own, once aloud to The Optometrist), participated in reading selections from the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide for the first time, felt my soul breathe as I read Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines, wanted to bake apple pies from The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, and listened to my first Audible streaming book, Alice in Wonderland.

Total books read = 56

2017

Not since my Mitford days have I enjoyed a series as much as the Chief Inspector Gamache books. The Optometrist patiently bore witness to me starting The Lord of the Rings, I discovered I love southern fiction with The Almost Sisters being a prime example, firmly believe the audio performance of Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan is one worth shouting from the rooftops, finally began my journey with Anne Shirley, and made a conscious effort to read outside my comfort zone.

Total books read = 72

2018

So far, this year Ruth Reichl has proven to be a deliciously safe harbor, I cried buckets of tears during the final pages of Two Across, finished The Lord of the Rings and a re-read of Narnia, and have consumed loads of audiobooks thanks to Overdrive and Hoopla, including Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type.

Total books read = 71

Total number of books read in this journal = 809

 


How do you keep track of your reading? Do you have any words of wisdom to share with me as I begin a new book journal? If so, please comment below!

Read: Banned Books Week 2018

BBW-Jane MountIdeal Bookshelf 1042: Banned Books Week by Jane Mount

***Climbing onto my soapbox.***

This week in libraries around the United States and abroad, we celebrate Banned Books Week, highlighting titles that have drawn ire and scorn from the public. You can read more about the history of Banned Books Week here.

And as a librarian, an American, and a Christian, let me just say, I am a believer in freedom.

The quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s The Friends of Voltaire, concisely sums up my feelings. It’s only human for us to have differing viewpoints, but polite and intelligent dialog about our personal choices and decisions is the only way we will ever see beyond ourselves.

If you aren’t a proponent of reading banned books, I encourage you to select one that has been banned or challenged, read it, and then draw your own conclusions. It’s okay if you still oppose it, but you can now articulate why.

If you are a supporter of banned books like me, I encourage you to continue reading outside your comfort zone to understand others’ world views and to offer informed kindness to the opposition who think and act differently.

***Climbing down off my soapbox.***

Book Review: Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon

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Actress Reese Witherspoon is proud of her Southern heritage and in Whiskey in a Teacup she shares personal stories about her upbringing, lessons learned, and true hospitality, which have shaped her into the refined, yet fiery woman she is today. Filled with beautiful photographs, mouthwatering recipes, and humorous anecdotes, Ms. Witherspoon serves as an inviting guide into all things Southern. From entertaining, to cooking, to decorating, and celebrating a variety of holidays and special occasions, she invites the reader to adopt a Southern lifestyle, no matter where you live.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC.

A Whirlwind Weekend in St. Louis

As I’ve shared before, St. Louis remains dear to my heart after having lived in the area for 16 years. The Optometrist and I visited over Spring Break in 2016 and, most recently, in the summer of 2017.

Our visit, weekend before last, was expressly timed to see Punch Brothers in concert at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In February we discovered Punch was releasing a new album and going on tour this summer, whereby we immediately purchased tickets, so this weekend was a long, anticipated time coming!

Due to Friday afternoon obligations on our university campus, we couldn’t leave Oklahoma until early evening, but we drove about halfway Friday night and finished the journey Saturday morning.

Upon our arrival, lunch was our first priority: Sushi Station in Webster Groves.

This was our first time eating there and we enjoyed not only our delicious sushi, but the waitress was exceptionally helpful, and we loved sitting at the sushi bar to watch our beautiful food be made.

The Novel Neighbor was our next stop. This independent bookstore, also in Webster, opened after I moved away from the area. I visited it last summer but did so after hearing Anne Bogel interivew store owner Holland Saltsman on Anne’s podcast, What Should I Read Next? Therefore, I felt it was completely appropriate to pre-order Anne’s new book I’d Rather Be Reading from The Novel Neighbor! Anne was in store the weekend before, so I missed out meeting her during her book tour, but my copy is still autographed and I can’t wait to dive in!

A trip to St. Louis wouldn’t be complete without stopping at our favorite coffee shop, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, to enjoy a rooibos chai latte. The weather was very drizzly and overcast, making it perfect to be comforted by a warm beverage.

For the third time, we loved stayed at the Parkway Hotel,  in the Central West End, and especially enjoyed revisiting Taste of Lebanon for dinner, this time with St. Louis friends who had never eaten there before.

But the concert. Oh, the concert.

We had Statler and Waldorf seats in the lower balcony, overlooking the action from a close, bird’s eye view.  I’m a very petite person (~ 5′ 1″) and it seems inevitable that I get stuck behind a man 6′ 5″ in concert venues, so when we were able to select our own seats, we relished the opportunity to not have anyone sitting directly in front of us, and even had a partition blocking us from the people in the balcony suite beside us.

Madison Cunningham played a solid 30 minute opening set, but then Punch took the stage and played for a good 1 1/2 hours, with minimal breaks (a few jokes inserted here and there). The audience was dutifully respectful, responsive, and attentive – the perfect crowd to support the group we drove (in our case, 400 miles) to see. And because I’m a librarian, a note-taker, and major fan, I kept track of their set-list:

  • Movement and Location
  • My Oh My
  • All Ashore
  • Watch’at
  • Boil Weevil
  • Don’t Get Married Without Me
  • Angel of Doubt
  • Three Dots and a Dash
  • Just Look at This Mess
  • Jumbo
  • Another New World
  • Passepied
  • New York City
  • Julep
  • Jungle Bird
  • It’s All Part of the Plan
  • Like It’s Going Out of Style
  • Rye Whiskey (encore)
  • Familiarity (encore unplugged – see last photo, above)

Punch’s front man, mandolinist Chris Thile (recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2012), is now the host of NPR’s Live From Here and remains a member of Nickel Creek, whom we saw in 2014. He is in the prime of his career and The Optometrist and I feel like people will be studying his mandolin accomplishments for decades to come. As a group, Punch Brothers’ musicianship exhibited impeccable precision, individual mastery, and synchronous blending. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the set selections highlighting older favorites and all but one song from their new album, All Ashore, and left joyously inspired.

Book Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

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The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

The question has been posed, if you could invite any five people to have dinner with you, who would you choose? When protagonist Sabrina arrives at a New York City restaurant to celebrate her 30th birthday, she ends up seated with the five individuals from her list, one of whom is Audrey Hepburn. (Of course, her name is derived from the titular character portrayed in film by Hepburn.)

The story is told with two unfolding timelines, one in the present, and one in the past. Before the clock strikes midnight and everyone goes their separate ways, Sabrina must examine the reasons of what led her to this place, with these particular people, and what actions are required of her to move on into the future.

While compelled to keep reading and find out what happens at the end of Sabrina’s birthday dinner party, there is an overarching and pervasive presence of melancholy, and the metaphysical aspect of living and dead people sharing a meal together is never explained.

Even though this wasn’t my favorite read, the premise is unique, and the plot contains the gentle reminder that in life we experience both love and loss and it’s important to embrace them both in order to fully live.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC.

Read: August 2018

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Rhett and Link’s Book of Mythicality: A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity & Toomfoolery by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

I had never heard of Rhett & Link before I met The Optometrist, but we are just two of the 13.9 million subscribers to their Good Mythical Morning channel on YouTube. Since we make it a point of watching their videos together almost daily, reading their book aloud together was a given.

In this humorous memoir, these self-described “internetainers” share stories, photos, and a bunch of silliness about their decades-long friendship, their creative process, and innovative ways to connect with their audience, the Mythical Beasts.

Read via: home library

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How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

9th in the Chief Inspector Gamache story, we pick up where The Beautiful Mystery left off, which ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. Not only does the conflict resolve, but Gamache’s character remains in tact, despite the ongoing campaign to sully his name, his investigative team, and his established career. The master plan behind this attempt is realized, forgiveness and resolution are provided, and the story is set in Three Pines at Christmastime. It was such a reading pleasure!

Read via: public library

Tim Gunn Natty Prof

Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor by Tim Gunn with Ada Calhoun

Long before Tim Gunn became famous as the mentor on Project Runway, he was an educator at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and therefore knows his way around teaching, and interacting with students and fellow faculty members in a real-world setting.

Split into five sections, T E A C H, he addresses the topics of truth-telling, empathy, asking, cheerleading, and hoping for the best (plus a little fashion gossip). This was an enjoyable back-to-school read, narrated in his distinctive vocal cadence.

Read via: Hoopla audio

A Place for Us

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Included in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Summer Reading Guide and lauded by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, this debut novel provides an in-depth look at the ordinary lives of an Indian American, Muslim family. The story is seen from various perspectives but is not structured chronologically. I typically appreciate more plot-driven stories, but I did enjoy the character-driven aspects of this story.

Overall, I felt the dominant theme of this book was expectations: expectations of self, from others, based on cultural and/or religious norms, and how these coalesce into  complicated interpersonal dynamics.

Read via: public library

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Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Third in the Anne series, we find Anne off to Redmond College to pursue her B.A.  Filled with new friends, Patty’s Place, a sweet rental house where she and her roommates call home, and a fair amount of romantic tension over Gilbert Blythe, this delightful installment is probably my favorite yet!

Read via: Hoopla audio

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The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Now newly retired, Chief Inspector Armand and wife Reine Marie Gamache are now residents of Three Pines, a sweet inevitability. Yet despite being retired from the Suerte de Quebec, in this 10th Gamache story the Chief Emeritus can’t help but get involved into the mystery and reasoning behind the absence of friend, artist, and neighbor Peter Morrow.

Read via: public library


The dawn of a new school year means it’s already “fall,” in my opinion! I have a backlog of old and new digital ARCs waiting to be read on my Kindle, namely Educated by Tara Westover, The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle, and Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani (among others).

What books are on your Fall to-be-read list?