Let’s Curl Up With A Good Book.

2019 book recs

So I’ve been reading a lot in the past few years. But the last time I told y’all about my favorite books was February of 2018. Since that post, I’ve read 131 books. Ergo, I clearly have a backlog of amazing books (and also a few awful ones. Should I list the books I didn’t enjoy? I feel like I should) to share with you. You can find a list of all the books I’ve read and my ratings over at GoodReads (I think you’ll have to friend request me), but for the sake of this post, I narrowed down my recommendations to my top 12 books (or series) out of the 131. 

But first, the best ones. 

The only book I’ve read twice in less than a year: 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. 

 

I read this book last year on vacation and had to finish it at perilous risk of no sleep (which was followed up by the hotel fire alarm going off twice in the middle of the night, so that was just great) and so, 10 months later, I went back and read it again – slower this time, since the suspense wasn’t killing me. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. I love a book that is written in a happy tone, regardless of the circumstances going up and down in the book. This book has some darker themes, but the overall feel of the book, from the very first page, puts you in a light, happy mindset. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the storyline, and it gave a thoughtful, original approach to several issues.

The books I had to read because I got into the television series but the books were better:

The Poldark Series.

Have you watched Poldark on Amazon Prime yet? It’s a really fantastic show for those of you who enjoyed Downton Abbey, or who just like a good British drama. It happens right after the US War for Independence and is about a British soldier who comes home, defeated, and trying to put his life back together. But the books are funny and delightful in a way that the show totally misses out on. The show is fantastic too, and I recommend both. I like how authentic the peek at the late 1700s is – it’s not overglamorized or over-makeuped. (Let’s pretend that’s a word.) Caution: the books were written quite a while ago and many of their covers are atrociously ugly. Don’t let them scare you away.

Engrossing, Beautiful Fiction:

The Night Circus.

This book was lovely. It built a world that I could visualize and desperately wanted to enter into. The buildup of the story is slow, but it is created with such purpose and beauty that you don’t want it to be an iota faster. If you want to sink into a lovely fantasy world and just stay there for a while, this is the book for you.

 

 

The Only Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir Book I’ve Finished in a Long Time:

The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith.

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like you’re going backwards in your faith, or find yourself thinking differently than you used to, or wondering why everyone in their 30s is going through a Mid-Life Belief Crisis, this book is so enlightening. It explains a general framework that we go through during our life as our viewpoints, perspectives, understanding of others, and maturity levels change. I have recommended this book to so many people. It’s crazy expensive, but there are a few used copies floating around.

 


The Book That Got Me Hooked on Memoirs:

The Fox Hunt.

If I were to have to choose one book to command you to READ THIS ONE BOOK ON THIS LIST, The Fox Hunt would be my choice. This was a serendipitous random book buying in the airport before getting on a flight. There were only 10 book choices at the kiosk, I was desperate for a new book, and I picked this one up. It had me riveted the entire flight and I wished my flight had lasted longer because I didn’t want to quit reading for a second. Such a fabulous, beautiful, important story about how a man, who grew up in a country torn apart by religious civil war and completely brainwashed into hating all other religions, was rescued from that war by friends on the internet from three different religions. He captures the essence of respect for other people’s humanity and not “othering” others just because that’s what you’ve been taught. But besides the deeper meaning, the story itself will have you on the edge of your seat.

A Fun, Happy, Quirky, Funny  Read:

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions.

I rarely find fiction funny. But this book was definitely a laugh out loud book. I love the witty, snarky, busybody, indecent character of Auntie Poldi, I adore her determination for solving mysteries for herself, and I can’t wait to read her sequels.

 

 

A Series Worth Delving Into:

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

These books are a delight. The slow, comforting voice they’re written in combined with the exotic setting of Botswana will let you experience a world that you’ve never quite imagined before. They will take you on a calm, relaxed journey through a beautiful country and culture while solving mysteries and learning about life.

 

 

A Book That Reads Like a Tell-All Blog:

Educated.

 This book fascinated and horrified me, but I was also shocked that it was written (and also that she was very brave to write it.) Because as soon as I finished the book, I stalked down all the people in it on Facebook – it took all of five minutes – and matched up their “fake” names with their real names. I felt so creepy (okay I am creepy) as I looked at the real pictures and Facebook statuses of this family that were absolutely bashed in a 20-something year old’s memoir. But wow it was a good book.

 

The Books My Husband Won’t Let Me Tell You About:

Sometimes I read books and tell Chris about them and he’s like “uh yeah don’t blog about that because I don’t want those people coming after you.” (The first one of these commands came after I read a couple insider tell-all books about a certain cult that a certain Top Gun movie star is involved in – those books were craaaazypants.) The two I read this time were so fascinating but also horrifying. They read like post-apocalyptic fiction, and you totally start subconsciously assuming it is fiction, then you remember that it’s real stuff that really happens in this world, in a country that gets mentioned in the news quite a bit. But I guess for a complete list of Banned-To-Blog-About-Books, you’ll have to email me.

A Book That Will Make You Feel All The Things:

All of Me.

This is an autobiography from a woman who has Disassocitive Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.) She has a very severe, “gold standard” case where her personalities never overlap, never have the same memories, never interact with each other. So for 40 years, she lived with life gaps and memory gaps and didn’t understand why she was being blamed for things she didn’t do. It took her doctors years to convince her that she had multiple personalities – and this is just the main personality’s story – the doctors had to convince each personality separately (and some still do not believe that other personalities share a body with them.) Her story is a hard one to read, one that will blow your mind, one that will give you hope for humanity and healing, and one that will make you really mad at parts of humanity. But mainly it will blow you away – especially the second half.

Gossipy, Funny, Lighthearted Trilogy:

Crazy Rich Asians.

First of all: The movie was so dumb. Thank goodness I had read the trilogy before it came out. I made it halfway through the movie and turned it off. But the books were a fun ride through the insanely rich lifestyles of Singapore and China, and the footnotes were the best part.

 

 

You Must Read If You Live In Birmingham:

Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Yeah I should’ve read this years ago but I didn’t. It was such a fun trip into a Birmingham that existed before I was born, and had so much old Birmingham landmarkery and history in it. It was just a fun read (the movie cuts out all of the Birmingham-specific lore.)

(I also enjoyed her book “The Whole Town’s Talking” last year but it confused me because I kept waiting on the plot and there isn’t really one. So go into it more as a winding tale about a town over many generations and it’s quite enjoyable.)

 

A Book I REALLY should have read a long time ago:

Prince Borghese’s Trail.

This book is about the 1996 road rally that spanned 10,000 miles in 45 days, traveling from Beijing to Paris. My dad rebuilt two 1950 Fords for this race and navigated one of them across the most crazy roads in the world. His team came in second place. The lady that wrote the book was a good friend of my dad’s on the race, and he gets referenced and quoted a lot. I read this book in the month following my Dad’s death – it was bittersweet. In one way, it felt like I’d discovered a journal of my dad’s, and it gave me a piece of him that I didn’t have when he was alive. In the other way, I regretted not having read it while he was alive so that I could discuss various aspects of their adventure with him. But at any rate, the book is an interesting chronicle about a bizarrely unique experience. The first couple chapters have way too much technical “car talk” in them, but once they head across the world, it gets really fantastic.

Books I didn’t enjoy:

The Great Alone. I really thought I would love this since it had rave reviews and I enjoyed The Nightingale. But I did not. It was one tragedy after another and so much sad. Blech.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Holy Crap this book was depressing. But what really bugged me about it was its complete lack of realism. The kid was old enough to understand things. It’s like he originally wrote a book about a three year old but then the publisher said the kid should be nine, and he made him nine without making any changes to his level of intellect or understanding. 

Dead End in Norvelt. It always makes me sad when I don’t like Newbery books. This was one of them.

The Wangs Vs. The World. Hands down the worst book I’ve ever made myself finish. The kind that makes you mad at yourself that you finished it.

Raymie Nightengale. Weird, depressing, and fell flat.

The Selection Series: The first book was excellent. The second and third books went downhill fast. It’s YA, but got way too graphic in book three, which made me super irritated. 

Books I Couldn’t Finish:

I have never allowed myself to not finish fiction books (yet somehow I’m allowed to not finish non-fiction books), but I had two last year – both, interestingly, were heavily pushed to me by Amazon. So I’ve decided to not believe Amazon’s book recommendations ever again. They were Matchmaking for Beginners (HATED the main character so hard) and The Paper Magician (so cliche and cheesy.)  Now that I think about it, The Wangs Vs. The World was an Amazon recommendation, too. DANG YOU AMAZON. 

So. What have you loved, hated, or not finished this year? Do we line up in our book tastes?

Summer Reading For Rebels.

Guilty Confession: I don’t hate the library, per se, but I might believe that the library hates me.

Our branch is always crowded and loud and I struggle mightily to find the books we’re looking for. I used to try and do the right, the expected, the moral thing, and take my children to the library regularly. But then I realized that we could just go to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale twice a year, stock up on books for super cheap, and never have to enter the doors of the place that so overwhelms me.

…Except for the summertime, when my kids absolutely expect to participate in the Summer Reading Program.

Okay maybe I do hate the library. Or actually maybe it’s my own laziness.

Summer Reading Programs are great. Really. But oh my goodness they’re so much work with the app changing every year and the tracking type changing and also papers that you have to bring in and you have to come every week or it doesn’t count and the suspicious looks that the librarian gives me if Ali reads too many pages.

The last couple of summers we’ve started out with good intentions, but it doesn’t take long for us to fall off the radar of those weekly check-in visits and then sometime in October the kids say “Hey, whatever happened to our Summer Reading? Do we have any more rewards we can get?”

(Okay clearly it’s my fault and not the library’s. But you gotta work with what you got.)

So this year I decided to do my own Summer Reading Program.

No Libraries Needed!

Less Paperwork!!

No Suspicious Librarians!!!

No App Passwords that you don’t remember from last year, only to find out that they’re using a new app!

AND the kids are responsible for all their own paperwork and no one will complain about their handwriting!!

It’s going swimmingly well, so I decided to share it here, with the thought that some of you may already find yourself flagging in your library visits and needing a new way to motivate your poor libraryless children.

It’s simple, it’s been quite motivating, and it’s given the kids some summer structure, which is something they’re always craving.

Here were my steps in implementation:

1. I suspended allowance for the summer – they normally get $5 a week.

2. I replaced it with Mom’s Summer Reading Program, giving them the opportunity to earn up to $10 a week.

3. I made a simple tracking spreadsheet that included…

A. What they had to accomplish every day to earn their alotted iPad time (this doesn’t really have to do with Summer Reading but ya gotta stay on top of chores somehow)

B. The tracking area for their books and pages read.

4. I explained the system to them:

A. Ali, 12 years old and about to go into 7th grade, gets $1 for every 50 pages she reads, with a max of $10 a week. BUT rollover pages are allowed, and I encouraged getting ahead for weeks like when we’re on vacation and they’ll read less, or when they’re going to day camp and will be too exhausted to read.

Do It Yourself Summer Reading Form

B. Noah, 8 years old and about to go into 3rd grade, gets $1 for every 25 pages he reads, with a max of $10 a week, and rollover allowed.

Do It Yourself Summer Reading Form2

C. Every Monday morning, they present their Reading Logs to me for me to check their math and pay out their totals. So far, they’ve each gotten $10 every week.

It’s that simple. But they’re OBSESSED with it. And reading a ton. And keeping up with their own paperwork. And not begging me to take them to the library constantly. And have yet to tell me that they’re bored.

(And Noah can be reading as many books at once as he wants without having to finish the books to get his summer reading credit. The kid has a short book attention span.)

Reading Log IMG_9445

So if you’d like our Summer Reading Log to enact your own Personal Summer Reading Program, click here to download it and give it a try. 

’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?