2.07.2019

Books I Read in January

Freefall by Jessica Barry
This was a great thriller! Full review here.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
I tend to limit the amount of WWII novels I read, since there are so many out there and I don't want to get them mixed up in my head! So, I usually wait to see what rises to the top. This novel was a clear favorite over the last year, and for good reason. Hunter started this book as an investigation into her grandfather's family experience during the war and it's EXTRAORDINARY. Their story of survival against all odds had me up until the wee hours of the night turning the pages. I even cheated a few times and looked a few pages ahead from time to time, which I never do, because I was so invested in the characters. I of course looked up more about them on the author's website - googling afterward is always the sign of an excellent book.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I didn’t know much about this book, other than I remembered hearing good things. I decided to jump in without reading the description and loved it so much. I am a sucker for a stranger in a strange land narrative, and Washington Black’s story is a heart palpitating one. The writing is sublime and filled with beautiful language, especially when Washington is immersed in the scientific world. It gets stranger by turns, until coming to a very surreal and thought-provoking ending. Definitely recommend. 

White Fur by Jardine Libaire
What a unique and crazy book! I decided to add this to a book of the month order after Elin Hilderbrand gave it a glowing review on Instagram. Jardine's writing is so oddly beautiful. The most mundane of things described in such perfect detail:
"His voice had a soothing, loving, everything-will-be-ok growl to it, like the favorite uncle who spends half the cocktail party in the kids' bedroom telling stories, lulling the children into dreams, capable of this magnanimous and lazy lavishing of his adult time in a nursery seeing as he has no hope for his own life, and can give it all away."
The boy meets girl from the wrong side of the tracks trope is done well. I was so anxious throughout the book, as their relationship would be tested in so many highly fraught ways. The middle sagged just a little bit, but the ending took my breath away! 

Becoming by Michelle Obama
What can I say about this that hasn't been said already? There's a reason this was the best selling book of 2018 - and it came out in NOVEMBER! I got the audio book and could have listened to the dulcet tones of her confident and soothing voice forever and ever. She is truly a gifted storyteller, in addition to the multitude of her impressive accomplishments in her own right. I loved the metaphor she used about learning to play the piano throughout the book, and feeling like I got to know some of my absolute favorite people just a little bit better. No matter your political persuasion, this was an inspiring and fascinating read.

P.S. I Still Love You Jenny Han and Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
I thought To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a good book - a fun little read but not something I ever followed up on after reading it back in 2015. But with the sequel to the excellent Netflix adaptation coming up, and listening to so many people rave about the whole series, I decided to grab the two remaining books from the paperback picks shelf at the library. I’m so glad I did! I felt as if, in these two books, Jenny Han did an even better job of delving into such important topics in a young person’s life (family, changing friendships, college, the future) beyond the (still swoon worthy) YA romance. They’re perfect comfort reads that I gobbled up in just a few days.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
A beautiful family saga that I just loved! Full review here.

2.05.2019

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (ARC Review)

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Publisher: William Morrow (February 5, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

I went into this one blind, as it was an unexpected advance copy that showed up at my door that I don't remember requesting! I think I might have won it in a giveaway and I didn't remember much about the description, other than it sounded intriguing and I thought The House Girl was a solid read. This family drama swept me up and pulled on my heartstrings from the first pages to the last, and I was so glad I had no idea as to what might happen next. 
The entire book is told from Fiona's perspective, which totally works and I really want to learn more about why Conklin chose the youngest Skinner sibling. Perhaps it's because it's the most probable that she is still alive in 2079, the year in which the first chapter tantalizingly opens in the distant future. Though she is also the poet, the archivist, of her and her sibling's story. It begins in their early childhood, 1981, when Fiona is just four years old and their father has died. I was personally ensnared by the narrative because my own father died in the same year, in the same manner, and I was the same age as Joe. It was so easy to place myself emotionally with each of these characters, as well identify with their time of life. 
Conklin writing also easily put me in the psyche of the sisters and their mother Noni. It is the enigma that is Joe, the lone boy of the Skinner siblings, that relentlessly drives the story forward as each sister desperately tries to unravel his psyche and straighten out his life. In the process they unravel their own inner demons in profound and startling ways. If you enjoyed The Immortalists or Commonwealth, as I did, this would be a fantastic pick. It also felt reminiscent of Six Feet Under, one of the best television shows ever, which is also centered around a family that is trying to put themselves together after the loss of their father. And in the end, both are concluded from the very distant future in a tear jerking, hopeful and lovely way. 
Thank you so much to the folks at William Morrow for sending a copy my way, I adored it!

1.29.2019

Skinnytaste One and Done Cookbook (and Recent Eats)

My cookbook posts are few and far between, I know. But I'm rather picky about finding something with fun NEW ideas without being overly fussy. Skinnytaste One and Done by Gina Homolka totally hit that sweet spot! I also must confess that I am always reluctant to get her books because I find the blog name 'Skinnytaste' off putting. I do not want to be skinny. Skinny doesn't equal healthy. However, I understand the naming of blogs can be a tricky business and I hope that in her heart she's just sticking with the moniker for brand recognition at this point. IN ANY EVENT, there are many tantalizing recipes and I flagged at least a half dozen, which is a lot for me. And of the three we've tried, they've been tasty to boot! Like this slow cooker black bean soup.
The chicken Salimbocca with proscuitto, spinach and fresh mozzarella was also a hit. I think I'd throw the pan under the broiler next time to brown the cheese a little on top, though.
And my favorite discovery, Bibimbap bowls with ground beef. Gochujang is also my new favorite condiment.
I'm looking forward to trying even more recipes, and we'll probably do the chicken souvlaki or the sheet pan chicken schnitzel soon.
Another great dish we made recently that I really enjoyed (not from this cookbook) is Magic Garlicky Tofu - an adaptation from an Ottolenghi recipe by Gimme Some Oven. The amount of garlic seems a little scary, but it totally works.
And in the random Trader Joe's category, this is the first year I've tried the Winter Wake Up tea and I've stockpiled a half dozen boxes to get me through until next winter. I'm not usually a tea drinker, but this stuff is delightful. Like a slightly less intense, and more gingery version of Harney and Son's Hot Cinnamon Sunset.




1.14.2019

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (NetGalley Review)


The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Publisher: Random House (January 15, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.
Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

This book had me riveted from the first page and didn't let up until the final one. The premise of this story is so arresting, and in Walker's hands, it is transcendent. Her prose is lovely and straightforward, evoking a multitude of emotions. Early in the book, I was reminded of what it was like to be in high school getting a call from a boy, a girl in a coed college dorm, and most strongly what it was like to be a new parent. 
"Here is what he has learned about loving a baby: the time away from her is vital to the pleasure of being with her."
As the unthinkable events of this sleep plague unfold, various scenarios play out as through a prism with each character in a separate facet of life: the two school age girls stranded alone, the college students, the parents, and an elderly professor. There is so much to unpack about what gives our lives meaning at different stages in life, how love can mean something different for every individual, and many ethical dilemmas. I loved how she took a contagion story to illustrate the bonds between individuals and communities. I also cannot stop thinking about the concept of time, of our wakeful vs. dreaming life. How can we truly know which is real, what is the construct of time but a human invention?  
"Some dreamed of their youth. Some dreamed of old age. Some dreamed of days that might have been - all the lives they did not live. Or the lives that, in some other world, they did."
Oftentimes I was reminded of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, though it is much less harrowing. Yet there are similarly sweet and poignant moments alongside an unrelentingly ominous backdrop, and constant jaw dropping plot twists. I can't say enough about how much I admired, and was enchanted by, this novel.  
Many thanks to the folks at Random House and NetGalley for a complimentary digital copy in exchange for my honest review!

1.11.2019

Favorite Books of 2018

Time to add my two cents to the many end of year lists out there! Now that I've read and reviewed all the books I read in 2019, I took a look back through my Goodreads and pulled out every book that I still think about, and think of fondly. As for those Goodreads stats...
Eighty books! Yay! Every year I think I won't try to increase my goal, but now I want to shoot for 100. I mean, if I'm not reading War and Peace, get back to regularly reading Newbery books and work on even less time wasted on the internet... Anyhoo. These are in no particular order, save for one. The first of the list:

CIRCE  by Madeline Miller was hands down my favorite. I was so surprised by how engaging, accessible and relatable a spin on Greek mythology could be. I was so invested in Circe's story and was fist pumping in solidarity with her throughout. Do not be intimidated by this book! (reviewed in September)

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly is such a slim volume that packs such a huge punch. Her short autobiographical essays are deeply hilarious and deeply moving. (reviewed in April)

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery is technically a reread, but I had replaced my book memories with the amazing TV adaptation of my youth. This book holds up so well and I think EVERYONE should read it! (reviewed in January)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is one that I read early on in the year, but think about Eleanor still. It's a book that deserved the hype. (reviewed in February

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld is a collection of stories, each more deliciously entertaining than the last. I just LOVE her writing and ability to make the mundane extraordinary. (e-galley review)

Still Me by Jojo Moyes was the perfect ending for one of my all time favorite characters. One might say that Still Me redeemed the lukewarm After You, but I actually enjoyed every book in this trilogy and I had such a ball being back inside Louisa Clark's head and loved her happy ending. (reviewed in May)

How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran just bowled me over with her hilarious zingers, searing hot takes on feminism, and refreshingly sentimental observations of love and hope. (ARC review)

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan was the second book I read of hers this year and it was tough deciding which one to put on my list of favorites. So, honorable mention to Glitter and Glue! Corrigan is so relatable and wise, I adore her and highly recommend listening to her read these on audiobook. (reviewed in September)

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir was the book I read the FASTEST this year, and for that alone I think deserves a spot. It was predictable in parts, but I thought it was so unique and an excellent commentary on religion in society today. (reviewed in June)

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand was my favorite of all her summer books so far and I just love her so much - my go to escapist reads, hands down. (reviewed in August)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens probably comes as no shock to anyone, since this is on so many best of lists, deservedly so. I loved the beautiful prose about nature, the heartbreaking love story and the mystery that had me biting my nails until the bitter end. (reviewed in October)

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne was SO completely different than his last book, The Hearts Invisible Furies which is an all time favorite. Yet this one landed on my yearly favorites for the absolutely crazy villainous plot that I could not put down. (e-galley review)

Previous years lists!
Favorite Books of 2017 

Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014


Favorite Books of 2013 



Favorite Books of 2012



1.08.2019

Freefall by Jessica Barry (ARC Review)

Freefall by Jessica Barry
Publisher: Harper Books (January 8, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
When her fiancĂ©’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.
In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.
As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Thrillers are not normally my go-to genre, but the description and buzz around this debut novel had me intrigued. I'm really glad I picked it up, as it was a perfect way to kick off the year in books: engaging and fast paced!
The plane crash Allison survives hooked me into the book immediately, and Barry does an excellent job of 'show, don't tell' as we gain clues about her life, which become increasingly sinister and sordid, and the circumstances in which she finds herself. There is a good deal of food for thought on feminism, and how women often find their worth tied up in beauty that gave the story more heft.
Meanwhile, her mother Maggie's storyline stuttered a bit in the beginning. However, I am a sucker for a dual narration and I warmed to her as the author lent a good deal of authenticity with her inner thoughts on motherhood and grief.

"Being the mother of a grown child seemed to be a twinned experience, simultaneously loving the person she had become with all your soul while mourning everything she had not."

I turned the pages furiously to reach the conclusion of this story. Even though I was able to piece together a few twists, I was surprised at several turns and rather satisfied with how the ending came together. It was well plotted had a very cinematic feel. I wouldn't be surprised (and sorta hope) that this will inevitably become a film. Now I am thinking about perhaps picking up some more thrillers that I've noted had similar buzz, since I enjoyed this one a great deal - definitely recommend.
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Books for a complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review! 



1.03.2019

Books I Read in December

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen was a perfect start for my holiday reading: light and magical. The way she plays with magical realism is unique, as usual. I loved that one of the characters had books she needed in her life appear and seem to follow her around. The thread of family secrets had me hooked and the ending took me by surprise.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
I am invested enough in pop culture to know who Busy is - what shows she was on (none that I watched, though) and that she's Michelle Williams' BFF, which I always thought was super cute, how they went to events together. But I didn't really know much more about her until I, like everyone else, started following her on Instagram a year or so ago. I'm so glad that I've 'gotten to know her' on that platform for a decent amount of time before diving into her book. It felt like listening to a friend shoot the shit, as does her Instagram. She's just, as she'd very correctly put it, a sparkly human you just gravitate towards. There are so many funny bits, especially the bits related to her mom. (FYI, this is excellent on audio!) Much like Trevor Noah in his memoir, there's something about the author doing an impression of his or her mother that just SLAYS. Alongside the humor, there are a lot of in your face difficult truths she shares about her life. I just really want to give her a hug, and drink margs with her OBVI.

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Another perfect cozy winter read that EVERYONE on social media seemed to be reading in December! I was lucky to win a copy from the publisher and thought that it lived up to the hype. The beginning started off a little cliche and I was worried that I'd be doing a lot of eye rolling, but Silver takes these really vibrant characters in all sorts of unexpected directions. And the ending had me all verklempt. I also think this could be read in any season, despite the title.

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This wasn't a December read per se, but I finished it in early December with my older kiddo. We've been reading one Harry Potter a year every summer, but got started kinda late this year and the MIDDLE SCHOOL happened and there wasn't quite as much time to read together. We finally peppered in a few hours here and there and finished, though. This one was so much fun to read aloud because Umbridge was so fun to voice!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Doooone! Thoughts on this here.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Shell Seekers is one of the few books from my youth that I can definitively say I adored. I don't remember a great deal about the plot, but just that I loved it and I've been meaning to reread it for ages. Alas, I feel as if there are so many new books out there that rereads just never come to pass. I decided instead to read a new Pilcher book for the holidays and it was so, so perfect. It has such a wonderful sense of place and a cozy vibe with vivid descriptions of plush armchairs, crackling fires, and lots of food and drink. I'm also a fan of several character threads all coming together in a satisfying way. It might have been on the predictable side, but it was enjoyable, nonetheless. If you enjoy Louise Penny's Three Pines atmosphere, you will love this book!

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
I read this one with my youngest and it was a lovely middle grade story of a boy separated from his domesticated fox and runs away to bring him back home. Along his journey he is helped by a hermit woman, Vola,  and he ends up helping her in turn. Although I think a lot of the nuances of the book were lost on my daughter. There is so much to unpack about Vola's life, her inner demons and the complexities of war. Also I felt as if the ending were rushed, while the middle of the book sort of sagged. 

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
I usually wait until closer to the release date to read advance copies, but I couldn't help myself with this one. My instincts were correct and it was a total FIVE STAR read. Review forthcoming!

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
If you are the kind of person who listens to Anne's podcast, then this book will SPEAK TO YOU. So many bits about being a reader made me laugh out loud and nod my head. But I was also really impressed by some of her more personal anecdotes, especially the essay about her first home with her husband that was next door to the library. This was the perfect book to cap off my year of reading.

Now that I've thought through all of my books for the year, I'll start compiling my list of favorites...