Books I Read in February

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This novel had been sitting on my shelves for so long and I finally got the impetus to read it as part of an Instagram buddy read with Read Fine Print, and I'm so very glad I did. Rules of Civility is such a great read and I had every intention of jumping into Towles latest right away. Alas, the description doesn't really scream CAPTIVATING: 500 pages mainly set in one hotel in early 1900s Russia. And yet... If you love witty and endearing, this book has those qualities in spades. I laughed and read passages aloud to my husband constantly. To wit:
"Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. What young lovers have not found themselves at this juncture in a silence so sudden, so seemingly insurmountable that it threatens to cast doubt upon their chemistry as a couple? What husband and wife have not found themselves suddenly unnerved by the fear that they might not ever have something urgent, impassioned, or surprising to say to each other again? So it is with good reason that most of us meet this dangerous interstice with a sense of foreboding."
The count is a character for the ages and completely makes this book. There were a few instances where I got a little restless with passages that felt as if they were lifted from a textbook. But the story of Rostov's relationships and how they unfold into a bittersweet and nail-biting conclusion absolutely stole my heart. 

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
I've been meaning to get back to reading some middle grade fiction and the buzz around the Nevermoor series had me intrigued. This was an entirely engaging story with elements of many favorite fantasy reads, but still felt refreshingly new. Morrigan Crow is a heroine I loved rooting for and I'm definitely hooked for the remaining books!

Calypso by David Sedaris
It has been many years since I've read a Sedaris book, and how I missed him! I must admit that I did try Theft by Finding Diaries and ended up abandoning it, as if felt so scattered and, honestly, not that funny. Not the case with Calypso. This is peak Sedaris that had me breathless with laughter and heartache for the realities he faced about his family troubles. I can't recommend it enough, especially on audio - which should really be a requirement for all of his books.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
I've already blasted this on my social media feeds, but it bears repeating. Stop what you are doing, and put this YA masterpiece on your TBR. I felt a little thrill that I was able to grab it from my local library branch the day after it was named a Printz honor book. I finished it yesterday, and it blew me away. I haven’t cried reading a book in a long time, but this one was so powerful and moving. I am definitely getting a copy to share with my daughter, and probably my son too, when they are a little older (maybe 13 or 14). It is a all-too-familiar look at how young girls carry so much on their shoulders, and the way boys can be wonderful allies but also so very toxic. I am also partial to a book about long distance running, gun reform, and beautiful scenes set in my two homes: Seattle and Chicago. It’s like it was made for me, but I think it’s required reading for EVERYONE.
“She closes her eyes now. Just for a second, she imagines it – letting go. Handing heavy stuff back to the people it belongs to. When she does, she gets the most peaceful feeling, as if there’s a cool and reassuring hand on her forehead. She is safe and OK and the storm is out there somewhere, but not here.”

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Full review here!

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
After a few heavy reads, I grabbed this one off the paperback picks shelf at the library after having enjoyed Love and Other Words by the same authors (yes, they're written by two women). The romance was cute and enjoyable, although absolutely predictable. I didn't love it as much as the former, but it served it's purpose of a fun diversion.


A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum (ARC Review)

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper Books (March 5, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her fragile community.

A Woman is No Man is tour de force - Etaf Rum has written an absolute triumph of a novel, with such heart and bravery. 
One of the first things I loved about this novel is that it is about characters that love literature. Books about books or bookish people tend to resonate, and Rum brilliantly weaves the importance of reading into the story - how it connects us to others, to understand the world, to give us hope, and ultimately so we can understand ourselves. 
Given the author's background as a child of first generation Arab immigrants, I'm bowled over by her strength in telling this story without holding back many ugly truths about her culture. Not only for fear of blowback from her community, but the fear of reinforcing existing discrimination. Through her characters, I felt as if she struck an excellent balance of exposing the realities of their existence as well as their strength and potential.
"Too often being happy means being passive or playing it safe. There's no skill required in happiness, no strength of character, nothing extraordinary. Its discontent that drives creation the most--passion, desire, defiance. Revolutions don't come from a place of happiness. If anything, I think it's sadness, or discontent at least, that's at the root of everything beautiful."
I am partial to stories with multiple narrators and the author seamlessly pivots between Deya and Isra, and sometimes Fareeda, Deya's grandmother. They are written with such authenticity and empathy, I was so invested in how their lives would unfold. I also had so much righteous anger on their behalf, on behalf of all Arab women, that I read with such a sense of urgency. The plotting was totally on point, with Rum dropping absolutely shocking details as I pieced together Isra and Fareeda's past.
"Fareeda knew her granddaughter could never understand how shame could grow and morph and swallow someone until she has no choice but to pass it along so that she wasn't forced to bear it alone."
My only critique would be that I wanted MORE. The ending felt slightly rushed and I *think* I know what happened, but it felt nebulous. This is not the kind of book that I could see having a sequel, but I really, really, really would love to read one.
Thank you so much to the folks at Harper Books for a free advance copy for review!


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.


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!


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.


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!


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