Read: July 2018

OnlyHuman

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

The Optometrist and I read aloud the first two books of the Themis Files last Spring, Sleeping Giants in April and Waking Gods in May, so we were very excited to wrap up this interview/epistolary-style trilogy this summer.

Picking up where Sleeping Giants left off, we enjoyed the journey Rose, Vincent, Eva, and Eugene took to Ekt, their struggles to adapt there, their (mostly) desire to return to Earth, and their plans to help restore needed peace on Earth upon their re-arrival.

My thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine and NetGalley for access to both the print and digital ARC.

SummerBeachStreetBakery

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

I had been waiting for summer to arrive in order for this to be a seasonal read, after having read Little Beach Street Bakery in May. What a delight it was to return to the lighthouse in Mount Polbearne to revisit Polly, Huckle, and Neil the puffin, and to root for her bakery career and their relationship. Now I just have to wait for the final Christmas installment in this sweet (all puns intended) series.

Read via: academic library InterLibrary Loan

RoadBackToYou

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

For a while now, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Enneagram (especially from No Thanks We’re Booked and Anne Bogel) and was curious to learn more about this ancient method of better understanding not only your strengths, but your weaknesses, and how this knowledge better allows you to live a healthy, Christian life. Enneagram teachers Cron and Stabile outline each of the 9 types/numbers with practical examples of what each number looks like in healthy and not so healthy situations, providing great encouragement to embrace who God has made you to be. (And I’m pretty sure I’m an Enneagram 1, The Perfectionist or The Reformer, which really wasn’t a surprise at all.)

Read via: Hoopla audio

The-Book-of-M-1

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

I forget where I heard about this post-apocalyptic story, but after having loved The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the premise immediately appealed to me.

Around the world people are beginning to lose their shadow and when they do, their memories soon follow suit, which has upended civilization. Told through a series of perspectives of interconnected “shadowed” vs. “shadowless” people in search of an illusive man in New Orleans, this is a story of clinging to memories, hope, and love even in the worst of circumstances.

Read via: public library

InConclusion

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham

These words of wisdom were originally given as a commencement address at Langley High, actress Lauren Graham’s alma mater (I loved her memoir Talking As Fast As I Can). The audio book is narrated by her and is less than 30 minutes in length – perfect for a short car trip (like when I listened to it).

“Love yourself and what you’re doing, even if you’re not yet at the place you hope to land. Let joy be the thing that drives you and I bet you’ll get there faster. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. … Your job doesn’t define you – your bravery and kindness and gratitude do…you are enough just as you are.”

Read via: Libby audio

ThePresidentIsMissing

The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Former President Bill Clinton teams up with writing juggernaut James Patterson to create a fictitious, but not unlikely scenario of how the president would deal with a cyber attack – its impact, the terrorists at its inception, potential fallout in the United States and around the world, and how it can be prevented. Written in Patterson’s distinctive short-chapter style, Clinton’s influence is apparent with true insider knowledge and a positive perspective of how we are always stronger together.

Read via: public library

outofleftfield

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

This children’s historical fiction story is set in 1950s San Francisco, centering around Katy Gordon, the best baseball pitcher in her neighborhood and school. The fact that she’s a girl and restricted from playing Little League, as per their rules, inspires her to fight back through research, leading her to learn more about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. While her story is fictitious, the female baseball pioneers she discovers are not, making this a great story to be used in an elementary classroom for American history and sports history alike. (And watching A League of Their Own with older kids would be a fun tie-in, too!)

My thanks to Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for the ARC.

ConvenienceStoreWoman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This novella explores the ordinary life of Keiko, whose job at a Japanese convenience store gives her not only an income, but deeper purpose and identity. (As an educator, I would hazard a guess she would likely be classified somewhere on the Autism spectrum.) While she lacks understanding of how society functions, she possesses keen insight into human observation, making her a valued employee, until a male worker begins to disrupt the status quo with her job and life. Overall, this is a story of belonging and remaining true to yourself, quirks and all.

Read via: Libby e-book

kind-is-the-new-classy-cover

Kind is the New Classy by Candace Cameron Bure

So much of what comes out of Hollywood seems to be trivial, negative, or shallow, but this call to kindness and living a life of intention from actress Candace Cameron Bure is filled with Biblical truth, positivity, and depth. She shares first-hand examples of how she has stood up for her faith and values with conviction, covered in grace, which serves as a friendly and approachable reminder that we can all show ourselves and others kindness and respect.

Read via: public library

whiskey-in-a-teacup

Whiskey in a Teacup by Resse Witherspoon

In this lifestyle guide, actress Reese Witherspoon shares with fans and readers insights, photos, and recipes into what it means to be a Southern woman – well put-together on the outside with a fiery spirit inside, hence the title of her book. Releasing September 18, look for a full review on my blog then!

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC.


August means the start of “fall” for me, since our academic year begins soon. What are you excited about reading in the upcoming season?

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Read: June 2018

TheDry

The Dry by Jane Harper

Included in the 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide under Twisty Novels, I finally got around to reading this a year later, and am now ready to read Harper’s newest novel, Force of Nature, with the same protagonist, which is featured in her 2018 Summer Reading Guide.

Set in Australia in the midst of a severe drought, Aaron Falk has traveled from his federal police job in Melbourne to his rural hometown after his childhood friend Luke is suspected of committing a family murder/suicide. Now that Falk has returned as a mourner, Luke’s parents think his training might lend assistance into these murders to find out if Luke really was responsible and for Aaron to get to the bottom of unresolved secrets shared by he and Luke from their teenage years.

Read via: public library

Ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I’m just now diving into some of Reynolds’ ground-breaking middle-grade novels, with Ghost included in The Great American Read list from PBS, and having read Long Way Down in February after winning several ALA Youth Media awards.

In Ghost we meet Castle Cranshaw, a.k.a. Ghost, who knows he’s a fast runner even though he’s never been on a track team before. Opportunity, coincidence, and a supportive, Olympic-winning mentor enter at the perfect time for Ghost, but he must first learn some hard lessons about reconciling his past as he deals with anger and self control.

Read via: public library Overdrive

BlackHeelsTractorWheels

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond

While this was a re-read for me (2011), I bought a copy during our visit to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, and thought The Optometrist might enjoy this as our next read-aloud together. Not only was it a read-aloud, it was a laugh-aloud as we journeyed through her hilarious and self-deprecating perspective of how she and her husband the “Marlboro Man” met and fell in love.

If you are a fan of The Pioneer Woman and haven’t ever read this autobiographic story, you will love it, I’m sure!

Read via: home library

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A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien And C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, And Heroism In The Cataclysm Of 1914-1918 by Joseph Laconte

After finishing the Lord of the Rings series in May and a re-read of Narnia in April, the time was right to listen to this historical account of World War I, its impact on the culture of faith in post-war Europe, and its indelible influences on the writings and friendship of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Read via: Hoopla audio

WhatAliceForgot_US

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Many readers have shared how of all Liane (pronounced Lee-on) Moriarty’s works of women’s fiction, this is their favorite. And while this was my first time to read any of her books, I’m glad I began with Alice. This novel surrounds 39 year old Alice Love, Australian wife and mother who, after a bump on the noggin while exercising at the gym, believes she’s 29 and pregnant for the first time, not remembering a thing about all that’s transpired over the past 10 years of her life.

Filled with humor and heart, Alice’s journey to remember again is a call to live in the moment and focus on what truly matters – love, family, forgiveness, inevitable growth and change, and kindness to others and yourself.

Read via: home library (purchased at Magic City Books)

the-great-alone

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Also featured in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Summer Reading Guide, this is one I would call an uncomfortable, yet compelling read. Uncomfortable in that it deals with abuse, but compelling due to the complex and broken characters, along with a heavy sense of Alaskan atmosphere. Hannah’s descriptions of the oppressive winter darkness and buoyant summer days are bookends for very memorable characters in a lingering story of generational and romantic love.

Read via: public library

Anne-Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Last October I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time (technically, listened to, and wonderfully preformed by actor Rachel McAdams) and I longed to continue Anne’s story. This sequel was narrated by Tara Ward, who helped bring the maturing Anne, softening Marilla, loyal Diana, whimsical Miss Lavender, ornery Davey (and more) vividly to my imagination and deeper into my heart. On to Anne of the Island!

Read via: Hoopla audio

BreadWine

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

Of all the Christian authors actively writing right now, Shauna Niequist is one of my absolute favorites. And summer is the perfect time for me to slow down and savor her writings, and in this case, her recipes, too. All of the essays in Bread and Wine center around how food connects us to one another, and many of the stories have an accompanying recipe included. Reading this will make you want to bake/cook/serve your people in a meaningful way, where you can leave perfection at the door.

Read via: home library

Dumplin

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Life isn’t easy for 16 year old Willowdean Dixon, who lives in a small Texas town with her former beauty queen momma, especially since Will’s body type isn’t typically seen as beauty pageant-worthy. And yet, Willowdean finds herself choosing between two boys who like her and who just might even be brave enough to enter the historic Teen Miss Blue Bonnet Pageant.

This coming of age story is filled with loads of Dolly Parton references and meaningful statements about body image and overall self-confidence.

Read via: Overdrive audio

VincentTheo

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

When I received an ARC of this young adult book, I expected it to be a historical fiction novel surrounding the relationship between brothers Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. However, this was a well-researched and aggregated look at their upbringing, artistic endeavors, and later relationship, based on letters written to each other and to their family members, during their adult years in the 1870s and 1880s.

I learned so many new facts about both brothers, including how they were Dutch, their father was a minister, and Vincent also studied to be a minister for a while. Theo was an accomplished art dealer in Paris, including representing Claude Monet, and died at the age of 34. Vincent likely suffered from manic depression, was a diligent student of improving his craft, and sadly died at the young age of 37.

For fans of Van Gogh, this book explores his life beyond the canvas and would be a great introduction to art history for younger readers or to dive deeper into a historical aspect of a well-known painter for more experienced art lovers.

(Side note: I’m fortunate to have seen one of his Sunflowers paintings at the National Gallery in London in 2005 and a Self Portrait at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008.)

My thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for access to this digital ARC.


As I look ahead to July, I already have a big list of books I endeavor to tackle: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (read along with Jimmy Fallon!), My Life in France by Julia Child, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, and more!

What titles await your summer reading? Feel free to comment below!

Read: April 2018

GarlicSapphires

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

My fascination with Ruth Reichl continued from March and this memoir was a slight deviation from her other two, focusing entirely on her years as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. Included are her actual reviews, after sharing the back stories behind her positive and negative dining experiences (and a few personal recipes, of course).

And to see glimpses of the beautiful home where she and her husband now live, and how she navigates around her personally designed home kitchen, you will enjoy this 2015 video from the New York Times.

Read via: academic library

Countingby7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a highly gifted 12 year old girl, whose favorite number is 7 and whose cerebral ruminations are reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. After a family tragedy turns her world upside down, she learns to cope thanks, in part, to some unlikely individuals (strangers, really) whom she also ends up inspiring. The overall theme of this middle-grade story is a child’s grief over the loss of her parents, which is often underrepresented in children’s literature.

Purchased during a past Scholastic Book Fair in our academic library, Allison’s recent mention of this middle-grade novel reminded and encouraged me to finally pick it up. I’m glad I did!

Read via: home library

Feynman

Feynman written by Jim Ottaviani, art by Leland Myrick, coloring by Hilary Sycamore

This graphic novel about American Nobel-Prize winning physicist  Dr. Richard Feynman (quantum electrodynamics, the Manhattan Project, and investigating the Challenger explosion) was the perfect format to not feel intimidated by such advanced and scientific breakthroughs. It inspires me to keep learning more about scientific and mathematical concepts I’ve never formally studied before.

Read via: academic library

Dolly

Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You by Dolly Parton (audio)

When you grow up on the Ozarks, country music is rather a way of life. And nothing says country music more than Dolly Parton. While I’ve known the highlights of her career, eaten at Stampede in Branson, and visited Dollywood in East Tennessee, when I heard about her Imagination Library during library school, this was her achievement that impressed me the most.

Elaborated upon from her 2012 commencement speech given at University of Tennessee, this isn’t a memoir, simply an opportunity for her to share some brief personal anecdotes about what has inspired her to dream big and give back to others.

Dolly’s unmistakable speaking and singing voice give heart and passion to her thoughts in the audio version, which is an easy listen at around 2 hours.

Read via: academic library InterLibrary Loan audio CDs

NotIfISaveYouFirst

Not if I Save You First by Ally Carter

Logan and Maddie are no ordinary 10 year old best friends since Logan’s dad is President of the United States and Maddie’s dad is head of the President’s Secret Service detail. During a state dinner, Logan and Maddie help deter a Russian attack on the President’s family, but the strain takes its toll and Maddie and her father move as far away from Washington, D.C., as possible; off the grid in a remote part of Alaska.

Fast forward six years and Maddie’s numerous letters to Logan have never been reciprocated, but when teenage Logan shows up on the doorstep of their cabin after getting himself into a bit of trouble, Maddie quickly realizes trouble isn’t as far away as any of them would like to believe.

For those unfamiliar with Ally Carter, her books contain smart and tough female protagonists, with a suspenseful but clean story line. She’s one of my favorite young adult authors (and is from Oklahoma)!

Read via: home library

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The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The 8th Chief Inspector Gamache novel is filled with beautiful descriptions of sacred music and Gregorian chant despite the fact that Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir have been summoned to a remote Canadian monastery to investigate the murder of one of the monks. Layers of intrigue abound with the monks relationships to one another and also between Gamache and Beauvoir. This one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m anxious to find out what happens next in How the Light Gets In!

Read via: public library

NotBecomingMyMother

Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl

My fascination with Ruth Reichl continued during the month with this short homage written in honor of her mother Miriam after her death. By looking through a box of her mother’s notes and correspondences over the years, Reichl comes to better understand her mother’s personal frustrations and ambitions, along with her desires for Ruth’s own life. This was a terrific read, especially with Mother’s Day right around the corner.

Read via: public library

LastBattle

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

My 5th grade teacher read our class the entire Narnia series during the course of that school year, long ago. Since then I have re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe several times, but had never re-read The Last Battle. And while I possess a classic paperback set of the entire Narnia series, I was inspired to listen to this book once more, this time narrated/performed by Patrick Stewart; a real treat.

Read via: public library Overdrive


The end of our collegiate semester culminates with graduation this weekend, which, to me, means summer reading can begin!

Read: January 2018

January has brought about a new year and lots of new reads!

Origin by Dan Brown

I have such strong and fond memories of reading The DaVinci Code in 2003 and Angels and Demons shortly thereafter. The subsequent Robert Langdon mysteries have fallen a little flat to me, including Origin, but I still enjoy this recurring character and his code-breaking, globe-trotting adventures.

Langdon once again returns in Dan Brown’s newest novel as he travels to Spain to reunite with Edmond Kirsch, a former Harvard student, now a computer scientist millionaire who is about to globally reveal the answers to humanity’s greatest questions, “Where do we come from? Where are we going?” But before Edmond can share his findings, tragedy strikes. Now Langdon must find a way to retrieve Edmond’s research and help make his findings public before the backlash catches him in the crossfire.

Book read via: public library

Moxie
Moxie 
by Jennifer Mathieu

My high school experience in the late 90s is a long way from what many young women face in public schools today. Even though Mathieu’s Moxie is a work of fiction, the realities of teenage boys harassing girls are all too real. And yet, when young ladies like protagonist Vivian and her friends decide enough is enough, this collectively empowered voice makes a difference, proving once again, that we are so much stronger together than when we are divided.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC https://www.netgalley.com/

stillme

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Third in the trilogy of Me Before You and After You, Still Me just released yesterday! For a more thorough book review, check it out here.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC https://www.netgalley.com/

DearFahrenheit451

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

I kept hearing about this epistolary memoir throughout the end of 2017, so as a librarian and lover of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, this was at the top of my must-read list in 2018.

Filled with irreverent snark, Spence pens short letters, as if writing to books she encounters in her public library, home, and other peoples’ homes. I don’t work with the public nearly as much as she does, with a different patron base on the academic side of things, so these quirky collection development encounters allowed me to be a bystander in my own profession.

I particularly enjoyed her musings on books I also have read and enjoyed: The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, the Big Stone Gap series by Adriana Trigiani, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris, and Belle’s dreamy library in Beauty and the Beast.

And now I have even more book recommendations to consider, including Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, Two Across by Jeffrey Bartsch, and In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians by Michael Cart.

Read via: public library

CourageIsContagious

Courage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to be Thankful for Michelle Obama edited by Nick Haramis

Read over a weekend, this brief collection of essays looks back on the important, culture-shifting role Michelle Obama played as First Lady of the United States: educated professional, advocate of children’s health, working mom, supportive wife, and style icon, just to name a few.  Some of these accounts are written by people you’ve likely heard of, but many are not, proving how she was, and continues to be, a woman of aspiration for so many men and women in our country (including yours truly).

Read via: academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

LeanIn

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

As mentioned at the beginning of the month, my words for 2018 are LEAN IN. While I’m wanting to apply this concept in all areas of my life, this manifesto from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was a helpful rallying cry to jumpstart my year of living with intentionality and bravery in my professional and personal life.

Book read via: academic library

NeedToKnow

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

I love spy stories and this is a good one! Released January 23, check out my book review for more details.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus/

KillersOfTheFlowerMoon

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Recommended to me by a colleague in the spring, I kept this on my radar throughout the rest of the year and at the end of 2017 I continued to see this on several “best-of” lists, along with nominations for numerous prestigious book awards. But the tipping point for me to buckle down and read (listen) came when it was announced the author, David Grann, is coming to our campus to speak in February!

Living in Oklahoma for less than a decade I’m still very much a student of its geography and Native American history. Thankfully, this book gave me a crash course in all of these areas, and more!

Centered around a string of Osage Indian murders in the 1920s, this is a story of white man’s deception and greed for Osage tribal members’ oil money and the founding of the FBI as agents came to Oklahoma to investigate these murders.

The one challenge I encountered in listening to this vs. reading it in print was keeping track of all the characters (since I couldn’t flip back pages to re-read), but this forced me to pay attention and keep moving forward, which I may not have done if I had been reading this visually.

Overall, this was a terrifically well-researched, narrative non-fiction, true crime novel; well deserving of the accolades it continues to receive.

Read via: public library audio book


Books I’m currently reading that I will likely finish in February: The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (illustrated edition by Jim Kay).

Read: December 2017

My December reading has included newfound literary Christmas treats, many novellas, and several 2017 buzz-worthy books!

Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

In this fictional debut from actress and knitter (!!!), Ritter’s protagonist Abby is a lawyer who has returned to her rural hometown in Indiana 10 years after graduating high school and escaping to the allure of anonymity in Chicago.

She has no reason to come back and face unanswered questions until Abby’s legal team is sought to investigate claims that a local, do-gooder company is actually responsible for a variety of chronic illnesses and environmental red flags. Abby realizes the task to separate these current incidents from the unexplained behaviors of past acquaintances (many bullied her and were too mean to be called “friends”) is easier said than done.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Probably best known for A Man Called Ove (which I have yet to read), Swedish author Backman tells a brief yet compelling story in this novella set on Christmas Eve.

Upon its completion I was left thinking about ambition and legacy, and as a Christian, humility and sacrifice.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

I honestly can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it’s been on my Christmas TBR list for several years.

Cora and Simon are two co-workers whose paths have never crossed other than in a business as usual way. But when they both visit the same mysterious bookstore on the same evening and both receive tickets to the wizard’s ball, Divine destiny is giving them a push to take another look at one another.

Filled with a bit of Christmas magic from a Christian’s perspective, this novella was more traditional in its length and made for a sweet, romantic weekend read.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery Honor Book from 1959 casts a heartwarming and dreamy look at a serious topic – homelessness at Christmastime.

When Armand, a beggar on the streets of Paris, encounters a mother and her three children who are now also homeless, he begrudgingly sets in motion an unexpectedly generous approach to helping provide for them in their time of need.

The illustrations by Garth Williams, whom I met as a young girl, are a beautiful accompaniment to this story about kindness and the family you choose.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

Chemist

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Recommended by a colleague back in the summer, I began listening to this during my Thanksgiving travels. The narration was well done with easily identifiable character voices. For those familiar with Meyer, the author of Twilight, I promise there are no sparkly vampires in this one!

This spy thriller unfolds well, allowing the reader to get to know The Chemist and how she earned her name from her former job as a mastermind of chemical persuasion for the American government. But questions remain: why is she still on the run, who set her up to interrogate an innocent man and why, and whom can she love and trust moving forward as she seeks answers (and revenge) for those who have wronged her?

Book read via: public library (audio CD)

ExitWest

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The American Library Association’s Book Club Central, has developed a new(ish) partnership with actress Sarah Jessica Parker as their honorary chair. I just love how she describes herself as an avid reader, “To this day, I would never leave the house without something to read. I’ve been running late for things and run back just to get a book” (from American Libraries magazine). I hear you, SJP, I hear you.

Exit West has been the fall selection, which I added to my public library wish list and when I found it wasn’t checked out a few weeks ago, I brought it home with me.

Also mentioned in the NPR Best Books of 2017 list, this contemporary fiction novel depicts two Middle Eastern young adults, Nadia and Saeed, whose friendship and burgeoning love becomes increasingly difficult as safety within their unspecified city becomes painfully violent with infighting between rebels and the military. But rather than be trapped by their surroundings, portals exist in their city (as do they all around the world) allowing them to pass through a door and leave their home location.

While I would classify this as fiction with magical realism, it is steeped in a reality all too common for many who face being a refugee in various parts of the world. The prose is beautifully written and easy to follow, which makes for a beautiful read from a different cultural perspective.

Book read via: public library

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading all of The Lord of the Rings series remains an ongoing goal, but this sweet collection of letters has nothing to do with Middle Earth. They have everything to do with Tolkien and his imaginative love shared with his children over the span of about 20 years as he writes and illustrates letters from the pen of Father Christmas.

This is a perfect Christmas read-aloud for members of the whole family but I would suggest using the print version so as to not miss out on viewing his variations of hand lettering and fonts for the different characters, along with the accompanying colorful illustrations.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

TheHangman

The Hangman by Louise Penny

This Chief Inspector Gamache novella was written for the Good Reads incentive program for reluctant readers in Canada, thus making it very approachable with the plot and vocabulary. A handful of Penny’s characters from Three Pines make an appearance and only whets your readerly appetite for more!

Book read via: public library Overdrive

SistersFirst

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

Over the past three decades the Bush family has been synonymous with American politics. Without a political agenda, this co-authored memoir by twins Jenna and Barbara lends a very personal and inviting presence to hear their side of the story.

This memoir is filled with candid stories of their childhood, honest explanations of moments in the spotlight, and, most importantly, a deep and appreciative love for each other and their unique family.

Book read via: public library


Next up on the blog: my knitting recap and goals for 2018!

Read: Top 5 of 2017!

Favorite books read in 2017:

(Links below lead back to blogs where I discuss these books in more detail.)

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
This was my FAVORITE book of the year, especially via Audible!

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Why did it take me over 3 decades of living on Earth to discover this literary kindred spirit?!

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
An ideal read when needing to take a breath at the start of summer.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Discovering the term “Southern fiction” makes me very excited to read more in this genre in the coming year.

Still Life by Louise Penny
…Plus the next 5 Chief Inspector Gamache books I’ve also read this year – a newfound favorite mystery series.

Total books read: 74

Home library: 13     Public library: 23     Academic library: 9     InterLibrary Loan: 11     E-books: 13     Audio books: 5

2018 reading goals:

  • Seasonal reading
    Over the past two Christmases, I have really enjoyed reading seasonally, so I hope to do more of that through spring and summer this year (as well as fall and winter).
  • Less screen time
    Since this summer, I’ve been motivated to spend less time on my phone and instead reach for a book and hope to continue this diligent bit of self-control into the new year.
  • Diverse reading
    I live by the philosophy that “the right book finds you at the right time.” In September and beyond I have intentionally been more open to reading books with diverse characters and plots, namely viewpoints from African American authors and stories about immigration, and I desire for this pattern to continue to inform my view of the world.
  • Read more from my home library
    Upon viewing my reading statistics, over the past year I’ve leaned heavily on borrowing library books, for which I (and my bank account) are so thankful, but there remain many, many books I need to read on the shelves of my home library.
  • An active TBR list
    Like a lot of people the winter blues can really zap me in January, so having a list of books ready to read and/or request from the library really gets me excited!
    On my short list are:
    • Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg
    • Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
    • Courage is Contagious by Nicholas Haramis
    • Endurance by Scott Kelly

What have been your favorite books of 2017? Are there specific books you are excited about reading in 2018?

Read: November 2017

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Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

After finishing Anne of Green Gables on Audible, I wanted to try my public library’s Overdrive audio book selection. I downloaded the app, searched for available Newbery winners, and selected this 2012 medal recipient. Easy!

Narrated by the author, this semi-autobiographical story of Jack Gantos’ childhood is a fictitious glimpse of a child’s life in the post WWII 1950s with quirky characters, two parents with differing styles of love and discipline, the care taken to write a quality obituary, a neat (and true) connection to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Book read via: Overdrive audio

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The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

Sixteen years ago I was a vocal music education major in my junior of college and after an extended period of having difficulty producing sound, I was placed on vocal rest by my ear, nose, and throat doctor. The diagnosis of a cyst on one of my vocal chords was the culprit, which I combated with vocal rest, consistent hydration, a modified diet, and medication to combat acid reflux. After approximately 3 months, I was able to begin singing again – a praise for which I continue to give thanks to God Almighty.

Thus when I came across Charity Tillemann-Dick’s story of undergoing a double lung transplant as a young opera singer, I immediately empathized with a fellow soprano and was intrigued to read her account of overcoming a much more serious and life-threatening hurdle.

I flew through this memoir over a weekend and found her story approachable, honest, and filled with faith, hope, and the desire to truly live and be thankful for each personal and musical achievement. Even for those who have not studied classical music or medicine, her story is relatable and entirely inspirational.

Her 2010 TED Med speech/performance gives a condensed synopsis of at least part of her story. Watch her TED Talk here.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This has been on my TBR list for ages and after receiving it from ILL, I was astonished how slim an epistolary novel this was – only 71 pages! Had the adjustment back to standard time not thrown my internal clock for a loop, I could have easily read the whole thing in a day.

This collection of real letters exchanged over several decades between Hanff, an avid reader and writer in New York City, and the employees of Marks & Co. antiquarian booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road in London, was as endearing as I hoped this book would be.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

The recipient of the 1984 Newbery medal, this is an outstanding example of the timelessness of well-written children’s books that includes themes of reading and writing, the difficult impact divorce has on the life of a child, and the longing to be understood, listened to, and loved.

After reading 84, Charing Cross Road and Dear Mr. Henshaw, I started thinking about other epistolary novels I’ve read and enjoyed, which led me to blog about other books in this style of writing. Read this blog post here.

Listen to Ms. Cleary’s Newbery acceptance speech here.

Read more about my Newbery Reading Project here. 

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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You’re a Genius All the Time by Jack Kerouac

Currently the shelf organization of our main collection allows me to walk out of my office and see this immediately outside my door. I’ve often walked by it, meaning to pick it up for a quick read, and I finally did so on a recent Friday afternoon.

This slim volume contains brief but deep phrases and ideas about the process writing from one of America’s most famous beat poets. My favorite was, “No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language & knowledge”

Book read via: my academic library

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Camino Island by John Grisham

I read The Innocent Man by John Grisham in April of 2016, but prior to that, Skipping Christmas in 2002 was been the last time I read anything by him newly published. (The Firm remains my favorite of Grisham’s writing.)

I’ve been aware of his more recent publications, but when I heard this book’s premise of a heist planned to steal original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton (academic library!), a black market book seller (book store!) and an inquisitive writer (author!) seeking inspiration in Camino Island, Florida, I couldn’t help but request it from the library!

This was a fun read and reminded me why John Grisham (and other authors like him) are so popular – they draw readers in with an intriguing story, likable characters, short and easily digestible chapters, and a tidy conclusion at the end.

Book read via: public library

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In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury

While this is listed as a part of the Baxter family saga, the Baxters and Flanigans are only supporting characters in this newest release from Karen Kingsbury.

The key story revolves around a new character, a Christian high school principal whose students are exhibiting increasingly troubling and dangerous behavior. As a way of providing an alternative, he forms an after school Bible club which results in lives changed…but also a religious freedom lawsuit. Thus themes of standing up for religious liberty are heavily woven throughout Kingsbury’s latest installment.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

 

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

A highlight of my fall semester is helping out at our Scholastic Book Fair fundraiser, where a portion of the proceeds go to enhance and support our academic library’s youth collection. When I saw Refugee was included, of which I had heard good reviews, it piqued my interest into a very timely topic and I bought a copy for myself.

Told from three children’s perspectives, each of whom face exile from their homeland: Josef – a boy who is Jewish during Hitler’s oppressive rise in 1930s Germany, Isabel – a girl from Cuba fleeing during Castro’s reign in the 1990s, and Mahmoud – a boy from Syria facing modern-day atrocities.

This would spur wonderful conversation for middle and high school readers, yet due to the intense nature of these three stories, I wouldn’t recommend this for sensitive or younger readers without guidance or an adult reading partner.

Book read via: personal library


I’ve just received several festive Christmas novellas from various library sources and am looking forward to these enhancing my already festive Christmas mood! (Look for a blog post about that soon.) Are you also getting ready to read seasonally? Feel free to leave comments and suggestions below.