’tis The Season to Curl Up With a Good Book.

I did a LOT of reading while I was recovering from my surgery, and since then, on sub-freezing days, I’ve done a LOT of reading to self-medicate myself through the evil ailment of winter. So it’s clearly time again to share my favorite reads (the last two versions can be found here and here, and I’ve gotten zero complaints about my recommendations, so clearly I would never steer you wrong.)


Favorite Read this Go-Round: The Sheila Turnage Mo and Dale Mystery Books.

These books are SO FUN. The dialogue and characters are fantastically southern small town. Think To Kill A Mockingbird, but set in the twenty-teens, and also lighter and sillier. She includes brilliant details that make these a delight all the way through (my favorite is that one of the characters drives an Underbird. It used to be a Thunderbird, until the T and h fell off), and sad when they’re over (a fourth book is due out in the fall – she best not be late.) The books are technically children’s books, but a lot of the topics are more mature than typical kid books (child abuse, affairs, murder, you know – the usual.) So I recommend them for adults, and you use your judgment as to whether your kids are ready to read them (I would let Ali read them, but they would also require some follow-up conversations, I’m sure.)


Best Historical Fiction: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

I do not gravitate toward historical fiction. I prefer made-up universes. So when I started reading this book and realized it was historical fiction, I was a tiny bit bummed. But then I fell in love with the three storylines and upon finishing, immediately loaned it out to a friend because it’s just THAT GOOD. It’s an enjoyable read, and I’ll definitely make Ali read this one when she studies World War II – it fleshes out several details of how the war affected people’s lives in a way that will definitely stick with me, and will humanize it for her.


In the category of New Series That’s Worth Following: The Apprentice Witch.

The best news about this series is that the second book comes out on March 1, so you won’t have too much waiting before getting another fix. Also, this book has the most beautiful, tactile cover I’ve ever seen. But besides all that, it was a great read. He creates a world where witches are assets and somewhat like soldiers in a war-torn world. Each town needs and honors their witch that helps protect them. A few chapters are a bit clunky, but it’s his first novel, and the creativity of the universe creation makes up for it.


Best Book You Never Heard Of: Ruined by Paula Morris.


This book would be a perfect read for the Mardi Gras season, or right before you visit New Orleans. It’s a ghost story that takes place in and among the New Orleans socialite, the Krewes, and the crypts of the old cemeteries. It’s not super creepy or scary, and is a very engaging read. There’s a sequel that I haven’t read yet, but it’s definitely on my Amazon wish list.


In the ever-popular category of Old European Men Find Their Way, I loved both A Man Called Ove and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

I will say that I cried a lot while reading A Man Called Ove, but I think it had more to do with my uterus having been freshly removed than Ove’s story.

I think.

(Let me know if it’s actually Ove.)

But they’re both fantastic reads if you like the genre of personal stories of old men. Which apparently I do.


In the category of seeking to understand someone else’s existence, I highly recommend The Stars Beneath our Feet.

It is set in the projects of Harlem and takes you through the journey of a 12-year-old boy in between being safe as a child and being recruited and bullied by gangs as a teen. This book explains the feelings and struggles he goes through in beautiful and relatable ways. I think this would be a great read for tweens and teens.


In the category of I’m not quite sure whether to recommend this one but I really enjoyed it so…read at your own risk, I recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This book is not for everyone. Neil Gaiman is weird. But I’m weird, so I kinda get him. I adored Neverwhere, I liked the audio book of Coraline, and I liked the movie (not-so-much the book) of Stardust. This book is a short read, but is really good, if you don’t mind some creepiness. Also, this book is not for kids. You might be like “Rachel, are you sure you meant to recommend this?” halfway through the book, but if you make it to the end, I think you’ll come back and say “Okay I so get it.”


In the category of “It’s a miracle! I finally liked an author’s second book!”, I enjoyed Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

I recommended her first book, Love Lies and Spies, in my first book recommendation post. And to be honest, these two books are quite a lot alike (the stories have totally run together in my head.) But if you loved Love Lies and Spies and want more, this book is definitely for you.


And finally, in the category of it’s about time I got around to reading that, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

This book wasn’t nearly as creepy as I expected (based on the cover.) As a blogger who often does this, I totally loved his ability to weave actual old photographs into his story. (Okay I don’t weave actual old photographs into my stories, but I think you know what I mean.) The characters he created from the photographs were delightful, and the story was fun, although it seemed to drag a bit toward the end. I bought the three sequels to this book, but haven’t read them yet. If you have and you loved or hated them, let me know!


I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from my book recommendation posts, and a couple people also asked for lists of the books I didn’t enjoy, perhaps to gauge whether I’m a reputable opinion giver, or perhaps so as to not waste their time on them.


Books I didn’t like:

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan – I adored Counting by 7s, but Short was a total drag. Which is a shame because the cover was adorable.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I mentioned this in the last review. But yeah. I got rid of this book as soon as I finished it. It gave me alll the anxiety.

Books that were okay, but not spectacular:

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Steward (a disappointing follow-up book after I fell in love with the Mysterious Benedict Society series)
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs (If you’re a total Hamilton geek, you will enjoy this – it just dragged on a bit.)

What have you read lately?

Stop What You’re Doing and Read This Book.

So the kids and I took a road trip recently to South Carolina. I haven’t shared this news here because it’s just too tragic to talk about, but Not-Crazy-Renee, best neighbor ever given to a blogger and star of the Package Thief saga, and the holiday houseguest scarer; the owner of a snake and the asker of me to buy a mouse and feed her snake; and unrelated to the previously mentioned reptile, co-star in the venomous snake / fake boob story, moved – out of state.

Besides my exquisite loss of a neighbor/friend/blogging material, Noah and Loulie were the best of friends (after they got past the whole Grasshopper Incident), so it has been a difficult loss for them as well.

It has been four months since they moved, so the kids and I decided it was high time to go visit. The reunion between Noah and Loulie was movie-cover-worthy.

Loulie-Noah-IMG_1950s

Think “My Girl” but without the bee stings.

Noah-Loulie-IMG_1930s

Since we were going during the workweek, Chris couldn’t accompany us, which meant that I would be driving. So I needed an audio book – something I could absorb into as well as the kids – something that would make the trip go by quickly.

Of course I waited until the very last minute before walking out the door to browse Audible, and after getting to the appropriate category, I kinda picked the first book that came up. It looked interesting, had a pretty cover, and seemed to embody the engaging world/adventure book that I was looking for. I barely noticed that it had just been released from a brand new author two weeks before.

But I couldn’t have picked a better book of I’d browsed Audible for a week.

I have read nearly every series that has been dubbed “The Next Harry Potter”, and they’ve all disappointed me. But. Nevermoor, The Trials of Morrigan Crow actually could be that very thing. We listened to the first four hours on the way to South Carolina, and I immediately ordered the hardback book so that it would arrive at my house before I did – I wanted to read these beautiful words on the page with my eyes and not just my ears.

It. Was. Spectacular.

The world she creates pulls you in and makes you desperate to know more. The characters are superb, and the imaginative twists and details are well-crafted and fit together perfectly. My biggest problem with this book is that it just came out on October 31 and I’m going to have to wait for FOREVER to read the next one, but regardless, it stands alone as a fantastic book (as much as I love the Harry Potter series, I don’t know that I’d say the same about that first book.) So I’m calling it now: if she continues this series with the quality of the first book, this absolutely will be the next mega-hit of a children’s book series.

Several of you thanked me for my last book recommendations and asked for me to keep sharing, so here are a few more I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed since I wrote last:

Love Lies and Spies – This is one of those books that you know is special from the very first page. And better yet, it is the type of book that is so delightful to read, thanks to the dialogue and language, that you don’t want to rush through it just to find out what happens. I do love a book that can just allow me to immerse myself in its delightfulness without filling me with dread or suspense. When you need a book to simply make you feel happy inside, read this one.

 

The Serafina Series – I’ve only read the first two (of three) and enjoyed them immensely. I was taken aback at first because it was nothing like I expected – I knew that the setting was the Biltmore Estate during its short tenure of actual use as a family home, but what I wasn’t expecting was the dark, sinister, creepy nature of the books (they’re children’s books and I’m pretty sure Ali would be terrified.) But they are extraordinarily well-written, and they both stuck with me for quite a while, allowing me to mull over their characters and plots. I’m looking forward to reading the third book soon.

Paper Towns – First, a guilty confession – this is the only John Green book I thoroughly enjoyed. I desperately want to like him because a) he went to school in Birmingham and wrote extensively about that experience (Looking for Alaska – I loved the first half of this book) and  b) I adore his educational YouTube channel as a homeschool teacher’s aid, but his need to weave tragedy into his books exhausts me. I want to be mostly happy when I read. (the only other exception is An Abundance of Katherines, which was a fun but slow-moving read.)  I have even already read his newest book, Turtles All The Way Down, and although it wasn’t as tragic, it was very hard for me to read, as someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past. His descriptions of anxiety in the book were so real that it made me feel anxious about being anxious again. I finished the book in a hurry just to get out of that headspace. But I very much did enjoy Paper Towns – I liked the characters and the mystery feel of it. (Oh and for the record – I have not read The Fault in Our Stars. I’m currently on John Green Strike, and I was saving that one for last. Tell me I won’t hate it. I want to read it but I just know I’ll hate it.)

Attachments – This was a fun “back in the old days” book – it was written in 2012, but it’s about 1999, right as email was taking off in the workplace. As I haven’t worked in an actual office since 2006, this was a fun read for me of reminiscing to those days. Plus, it’s just a happy story. This is another all-smiles read for when you don’t want your brain to have to feel overworked.

 

 

 

But forget all those books. The only one you need to be reading RIGHT NOW is the one about Morrigan Crow. You’ll thank me later.

36 for 36.

books I've read

I have always loved to read, but it has been a pastime, like many, that comes and goes based on my stage of life and ability to concentrate. As a kid I read constantly. As an adult, I’ve had short spurts of reading often, followed by long breaks of zero literary pursuit.

2017 has been different, due to three factors.

1. Harry Potter. I re-read the series at the beginning of the year to stay ahead of Ali, and it inspired a quest for more fantastic literature.

2. #TwitForLit, as my husband so literarily coined it. I grew weary of Twitter this year after having been a loyal reader of my timeline for the better part of a decade. The year’s exhausting news cycle and over-politicization of everything might’ve been the impetus for such a decision. So I traded in my Twitter-reading time for even more fiction. It was a fantastically good trade.

3. September. The end of summer hit me with the force of a giant, sticky ogre. I have finally realized that in my newish Dysautonomia-driven life, September is my worst month. I used to despise January – the darkest, shortest-dayed month. But September is the new January. By the end of summer, my reserves of hydration and energy and ability to withstand Alabama’s oppressive humidity are completely used up. I just cannot anymore. As such, I hibernated in September, reading book after book, throwing myself into other worlds and fictional adventure to medicate my personal frustrations.

(All this could be solved if I could reverse-snowbird the month of September. Perhaps a giant northern road trip in 2018.)

To properly catalog my 2017 reading obsession, I joined Goodreads, about seven years later than the rest of the world. I followed three of my most trusted literary friends to copy their reading habits, then set my settings to private. Of all the crazy intimate details of my life that I share, letting the world see what I was reading felt too personal (I know I don’t make sense.) Several days later, I logged onto my Goodreads account on an actual computer to put in some reviews, and somehow by clicking the wrong tab, accidentally friended every single one of my Facebook friends that was on Goodreads.

The horror.

I went from 3 to 164 friends.

Which meant that 164 people got a notification that I wanted to see what they were reading.

I was mortified.

And I had no idea why.

But at any rate, you might as well friend me now – after all, I’m friends with everyone else.

As of today, I’ve read 36 books this year. In fact, I finished my 36th book of the year the day before my 36th birthday (which was yesterday, lest you haven’t sent flowers yet) – so clearly this was how I was meant to fill the cracks in my year.

So after all that ridiculous prologue (this is why I don’t write books), let’s discuss the books I’ve read this year – or at least the absolute BEST books I’ve read that you must also read.

Best overall read: What Alice Forgot.

I thought this book was going to be fluff chick-lit, but it became so important to me. It had such a unique point of view that would benefit nearly anyone in my stage of life (married with kids), and perhaps anyone in any stage of life. Without ever being preachy or overt, it poses a fascinating question for introspection throughout the book that begs a change in perspective on one’s life. And besides all that, it was simply a delightful, enjoyable read from beginning to end. As soon as I finished it, I texted a dozen friends and told them I insisted they read it IMMEDIATELY.

Runners up for best adult reads this year:

Ready Player One. This book was made for people ever-so-slightly older than me, but I enjoyed it despite not getting all of the cultural references. The premise – a world that is so screwed up that everyone lives in a virtual reality rather than IRL, is disconcertingly plausible. The plot – that a treasure hunt using every 80s pop culture reference imaginable to solve riddles and find clues, is immersive and fun. I’d sworn off dystopian literature after re-reading The Hunger Games and finding it depressing at this moment in history, but this is dystopian as Willy Wonka would create dystopian, which totally hides all the dysfunction in a delightful chocolate coating.

 

11/22/63. This is my first and most likely last Stephen King novel. I don’t do horror, so he’s never been an author I was interested in. On a whim, I read this non-horror book, and it was riveting. Without a shred of historical dryness, it immerses you into the 50s and 60s via time travel, which feels a bit hokey at first but is artfully (and very intricately) pulled off. This book is so massive it should have been a trilogy, but it was totally worth the endless read and multiple rises and falls in the plot. I even got the references to another Stephen King book (It), even though I’ve never read nor watched it. I can imagine that someone who does love S.K. would be thrilled by the referential quality of this book.

 
Book I made Chris read:

Neverwhere. (I also made Chris read Ready Player One but it’s already been mentioned.) Chris needed an immersive book to read last Tuesday while I had surgery (did I mention I had surgery last week? No? Well I did), and this is the perfect other world to enter into and then pop out of afterward. It was my first Neil Gaiman read (I have since listened to the audio book of Coraline), and his unique style of writing, in which he doesn’t explain the rules of the worlds he throws you into but you discover them along with the character, is thoughtful and fascinating. For those who love entering into imaginative and supernatural worlds, this is a fantastic book.

As the Harry Potter series are my favorite books ever written, I am not at all opposed to reading children’s literature.

So here are my favorite children’s books this year:

All around best children’s book: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. The fourth in the series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and also the prequel, this book made me so happy. It was a joy to read, and the ending, though not a huge twist, was unexpected and so lovely. I absolutely cannot wait for Ali to read this series – I told her she must read them as soon as she finishes her current series (she’s been immersed in The Land of Stories series – thanks to Heidi for the blog comment recommendation.) Back to Benedict. The first three books in the series were fun as well, though I felt they had slightly too many coincidences and the character of Nicholas Benedict was not nearly established enough to make him as lovable as the books implied. Once I read the prequel, the rest fell in place, and now I want to read the first three again. I would never suggest anyone read books out of the author’s preferred order (especially the Narnia series – those books ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ORDERED CHRONOLOGICALLY no matter how they package them – I was recently in a new acquaintance’s home and helped myself to rearranging them the way they were meant to be read), but this series makes me come close to recommending it. But don’t. It’s such a fantastic series, do this: read 1-4, then go back and read 1-3 again.

Surprisingly good read of the year:

Nooks and Crannies. I bought this because Amazon said “Hey! This book is only $3.49 and you’ll like it since you bought these other books!”, so on a whim I added it to my cart. It was extremely clever and immersive (though as a kid’s book, it surprisingly contained a maybe-murder and the discovery of a dead body – how very un-Dora-The-Explorer of them – but I kind of appreciated the author’s 1980s take on children’s literature.) After reading, I decided that the only thing putting this book in the Amazon Bargain Bin is the title – it’s so stupid and not at all representative of this well-written story. Rename it and raise the price – free advice from me to the author.

Book I want to read again:

Counting by 7s. I read this book altogether too quickly, though I blame the book – it begged to be read in nearly one sitting. It was a beautiful tale of friendship and growth, loss and recovery, grief and rebirth. The characters were beautifully crafted and I really want to know them all in real life.
So. What should I read next? What are you reading this year? What have you loved and not loved?