Between two book clubs, I read 22ish “required” books a year, and I have quite the stack to work through and lots of recommendations coming in from my reader friends (yay! I love that!), so I’m making a little “required” list of my own to accompany the others, in hopes that I really will make it to these 12 books at some point this year. As always, the full list and a little blurb about each follows in the rest of the post. Happy Reading!
- The Power by Naomi Alderman (Thanks, Obama!)
- The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (#RWBookClub)
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (sooo many people recommending this one)
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (DS)
- State of Wonder by Anne Patchett (been on my list for a couple years now)
- Unseen by Sara Hagerty (KG)
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (SB)
- The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (SO)
- A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin (RG)
- This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (Glennon rec)
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown (from my own list)
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman (started this behemoth in 2017; will finish in 2018!)
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (book club read) — so, so good. Can’t wait to talk about this at book club because the way it is written is beautiful and thought/question provoking. (finished 1.1.18!)
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (my book club selection) — I have been wanting to read this since EG mentioned it in Big Magic and while it took a little to get into it (that may have just been a result of the audiobook format), I could not believe how it all unfolded, developed, or resolved. SO good. And really, I can’t wait to discuss with my book club when the time comes!
- Gift from the Sea by Anne Marrow Lindbergh — started and finished in one day, I plan to reread this one many, many times throughout the rest of my life. Although I think certain gender/marital roles are a bit outdated in the language used to refer to them, this is such a beautiful and easily digestible rumination on the life and changing seasons of adult womanhood. I highly recommend! (finished 1.31.18)
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman — and in total contrast from the previous entry on the list, this one was started last July and just now finished during the first weekend of the following February. Whoops! B and I started listening to this on our trip to KC, but the audio was 20+ hours long and while we got a good chunk of it started on that trip, we got nowhere near finishing it before school started. Anyway, I really want to watch the Starz version of this because it is such a crazy, other wordly, and twisty book that I can’t wait to see what the show is like.
- Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan — this is the third novel in this series and I am finally getting a good grip on the huge cast of characters in this wealthy family and all their drama. As with the first two books, I found this to be an entertaining read (and again, the easiest to follow, but that may just come from exposure at this point).
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness — another read-in-a-day book thanks to its YA nature and heart-wrenching, pull you along story. Definitely would be a good one for kids dealing with family sickness or for an empathy lesson for those in different family/health situations.
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson — Welp, should have picked this one for book club, too, because it warrants a lot of discussion, especially the end which didn’t exactly seem satisfying to me. I liked the spin of the main character beginning again and again, though. It was interesting to see what all I could pick up as “changes” in each life, as they were sometimes subtle (and other times shocking).
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (book club read) — This was a perfect read following Life After Life as instead of starting over and over, it followed one Korean family living in Japan for 70+ years, with lots of beautiful vignettes/glimpses into the lives of people around them, too. Oddly enough, they both were set with the same start time, so there were some crossovers about the war and such, but this book gave me great insight into what life was like for people displaced from Korea by the terrible and continuing conflicts.
- Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown — although just as emotionally and intelligently as dense as the last book of hers that I read (Daring Greatly), this one was much more digestible (and more brief) and extremely relevant to today’s times, making it a recommended read for sure.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (book club read) — Haven’t read this in years so was happy that one of my friends picked it just before the movie release so I could refresh. I seem to remember there being more resolution to it from my years ago read, so my take on it this time was a little different (do I love it so? I don’t know), but I’m very curious to see how they treat it in the film.
- This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankle — I canNOT say enough about how much I loved this book. I’ve been saying that a lot of my reads thus far this year have been good (and they have been) but this is one of the tops. I love the way it is written, the characters, and the depth of the questions (parenting, life, etc.) it raises. Focused on a family with five kids (OK, so I may have been biased from the get go), it features their journey/story of when their youngest of five boys begins to demonstrate that he is in fact not a boy. For real; everyone should read this book. (finished 2.25.18) (side note: sort of crushing it on my self-made list. now will have to wait for some of the titles to become available through the library as the wait lists are long for several of them)
- The Midnight Watch by David Dyer (book club read) — while the concept here is interesting (the fictional “what if/why”s of a ship that was near the Titanic as it sank but did not come to its rescue), I did not care for the writing of this novel. The unreliable (and alcoholic) narrator drove me nuts, and ultimately I would have liked more resolution for the end of the book.
- Still Me by JoJo Moyes — had no idea a third book was coming out in the series until the night before its release, but manged to get an e-copy from library fairly quickly and it was an enjoyable/predictable read and far less gut wrenching than the first two. (finished 3.6.18)
- The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson — perhaps my perspective is shaded by my choice of reading this (start to finish) during the return trip from SD for my grandpa’s funeral, but I didn’t really care for this book. It’s not a sad book, but it’s also not a terribly helpful book in terms of instructions either. It reminded me of a more anecdotal Marie Kondo (KonMarie Method) book, but that one irritated me, too, so maybe I’m just not in the right place for decluttering books at this point in my life. And while I sort of see how this could start a conversation for families before someone actually passes, I could also see how a recipient of a gift copy of this book could think, “Ummm, so you’re saying I have too much stuff and should get rid of it all so you don’t have to?” Again. I may just be really prickly these days.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the Original Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling — Huh. Wasn’t really my intention to read the screenplay version of this, mostly because I think they aren’t the easiest thing to read, but it was still interesting and told a great story. Perhaps I’ll have to track down the original version another time to get the full effect.
- Beartown by Fredrik Backman — Backman has quickly become my favorite contemporary author, and I’ve only read about half of his stuff. This one was HARD to read because of the subject matter but I absolutely love the way he can develop such a vast and complete cast of characters and write what is a essentially a who-done-it in way that leads up to the final pages but is never cloying or annoying in doing so. So, so good.
- The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers — The piece of nonfiction was fascinating. It’s all about one man’s quest to improve the quality of life for coffee farmers in Yemen and the quality of Yemeni coffee and I learned a TON. Plus it was an entertaining and ultimately suspenseful read as the real world, politics, and war all played roles within the story. (finished 3.29.18)
- Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman — I’ve now read all of Backman’s novels (not his novella and another short) and he is now tied for Tops at my Contemporary Author’s list. His stuff is incredible. This novel spins off from a side character in My Grandmother Asks…, and a side character I didn’t even like mind you, and I LOVED this book. The way he writes! I laugh, I cry, I just want the stories to keep going (& I never quite figure out where they are landing until they tell me at the very end). Seriously. Read his work. Any of it! SO. GOOD. (finished 4.4.18)
- Educated by Tara Westover — had I known about this book earlier, it would have definitely gone on my Must Read list, but as it is, it founds its way to me/that list anyway. Couldn’t put it down. It is a remarkable coming of age novel, except that’s just it – it’s not a novel. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (book club read) — I don’t read many books set in a day’s time span, so that alone made this interesting to read, once I got into which admittedly took a while. I also don’t read many novels set in contemporary times, although this one is still a decade out at this point, so the pop culture references were different for me. I’ll be curious to see what shape the discussion takes for this one – talk of war? soliders? love and loss and life? football? Not sure.
- Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (book club read) — Huh. I don’t know. Normally I really like YA reads but this was one was almost too much of a teenage drama, except with OCD thrown in and some comically melodramatic “love scenes.” I saw some of the twists coming, but maybe just because I had forewarning that there were some. The author’s note at the end made me appreciate the whole thing more as she explained that she wanted to write a book that would highlight OCD in young people and hopefully show them how they could manage through therapy, etc.
- A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin — This biography was such a great read. Informative, inspiring, entertaining. I loved that the timeline was so close to when Ben and I visited Rwanda (but sadly Heaven was not one of the restaurants we visited; I even checked our scrapbook to see); I could see in my memory some of the exact places he mentions in the book. But more than that, this book really sheds lights on how foreign aid can/should work – go in and help but ultimately prepare yourself and all those around you for your eventual step back. Helpers are not meant to be saviors, upon whom all is dependent, and this book of setting up health centers, better ag practices, and even starting an upscale restaurant, demonstrates that all beautifully.
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil — I received a birthday gift of three months to Book of the Month (online subscription service; so cool!) and this was my first pick. It was a strange coincidence to read it, the tale of a young Rwandan refugee leading through seven African countries and eventual landing in America, directly after the previous book on my list. A Thousand Hills to Heaven spoke so much about healing, hope, and rebuilding, and then this book showed that same resilience but with a much darker shadow of never being able to shake off entirely the trauma of the war and fleeing it. (finished 4.28.18)
- S-Town — I know this is a list of books but a friend had the very fun, very spontaneous idea to have our book club listen to this podcast and holy cow, it is intense, interesting, crazy making, and so many other things – I can’t wait to discuss it with them! And it is as long as some of the audiobooks I have “read” so I am counting it!
- The Self-Driven Child: The Science And Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Strixrud and New Johnson — Ben ordered this after reading an article about it on NPR and I have to say, this is one parenting/brain book I think all modern parents should read. While a lot of it applies to adolescents, I think there are ideas here that we can definitely start applying to our own kids.
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (book club read) — I don’t often reread books (because my stack of new to-reads is so long) but I was very glad a friend chose this for bookclub because it was excellent to read again after 15ish years. I came to it with much more perspective and understanding, not to mention empathy for the mother character even though our circumstances are not at all similar. And weird because this makes the third book set in the same general region of Africa that I’ve now read in the last couple months. (finished 5.19.18)
- The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine — although it took me almost half the book to get into this one, it’s a quick read so that wasn’t the worst thing ever, and once I got to that halfway point, it became pretty page-turning. This is a story about marriage and perceptions, lies and deceptions. Essentially, a great summer/beach read.
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin — I’ll be honest. Sometimes I grab books at the library simply because of their covers. Sometimes that results in disaster, and other times, such as this, I end up so, so happy with my impulse grab. This novel is based on four siblings who learn, as children/young teens, the dates of their deaths from a fortune teller. The rest of the story unfolds from there and it was such a good one to read!
- The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie — Ahhh, books about books! I love them. This was interesting as it reminds me a lot of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, the same book that the author credits as a springboard for her own desire to read aloud to her children, but with a slight Christian bent to it (that is fine, but that I didn’t see coming based on the subtitle or back of book description). It’s not overly preachy, though, and has great suggestions for how to cultivate a book culture for all ages of children in your home. The one thing I wish was in this book that isn’t is how to read aloud when you have children who fall into multiple categories as the author, a mom of six, clearly does. Still, I’m ordering a copy so I can keep it close both for book suggestions and read-aloud strategies. (finished 5.29.18)
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green — I think I may, sadly and surprisingly, be burnt out on YA fiction. I have loved Green’s other books but this one about a teen with anxietywasnt my favorite. Too similar to an April read? Maybe.
- Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (book club pick) — loved this book! From the way it was told (different voices and formats) to the topics it touched upon (mothers and daughters, feminism, politics), it was a great read.
- Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (book club pick) — There were parts of this novel that made my chest want to explode and my lungs cease to work properly because the story of children being taken from their parents is just too dreadful to imagine. This book uses multiple narrators and present day + past moments to tell its story, which is always entertaining to me, although much of the present day bits were a bit, fluffy and predictable. (finished 6.10.18)
- RisingStrong by Brene Brown —I went out of order with her two more recent books and this one was a bit more dense to read than Wilderness, but as always, I find her stuff full of wisdom and wit. This book seems a good fit for yogis as it is all about the “rumbling” – the learning to sit with the full range of emotions, but especially the hard ones.
- We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (book club pick) — holy sheesh. This book made me feel crazy while reading it. And considering it was set almost twenty years ago, I can’t believe how relevant school shootings still are as a topic. This one will be interesting to discuss but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It is incredibly intense. (finished 6.23.18)
47. Calypso by David Sedaris — I very much needed to laugh after my last book and Sedaris never disappoints on that front!
48. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (book club read) — The only way this could have been better was if I had the audio version. I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah and his book was beautiful in a powerful, stark way. (Finished 6.29.18)
49. The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani — I did not know much about the 1947 Partition of India prior to reading this, but it gave excellent historical insight as well as a better understanding of what families going through similar trials in today’s world are facing.
50. Any Man by Amber Tamblyn — Holy wow. This book was both easy and gripping to read and also heartbreaking and sad, as well. I don’t have great words to describe it, but it a powerful read for all, even if you don’t have a direct connection to sexual assault. (Finished 7.3.18)
51. The Martian by Andy Weir — This came to me in a stack of books from a friend (I have such good friends!) and oh my gosh, what a page turner! I realize I’m late to the game on this one because even the movie is a few years old, but I loved it. It was entertaining and suspenseful but never in that annoying, overt way. (Finished 7.12.18)
52. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones — Yes to this book. For it’s look at race and incarceration, at love and marriage, and at struggle and success. This strikes me as a great book club read for all of the question it raises about our choices, and when lack of choice plays into life, too. And as far as audio books go, this was a good one.
53. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward — This is a fascinating novel about love and life and loss and family and is told from such different yet connected perspectives. Ward’s portrayal of life in the South is once again breathtaking.
54. The Power by Naomi Alderman — Holy wow. Gender bending. Thought provoking. Heart pounding. SUCH a good read! (finished 7.18.18 because ALL the holds came through at the same time on OverDrive which meant book marathon for me!)
55. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — this one took a long (almost the whole book) to come together, but I appreciate the way the story is told, and certainly the whole “flu that changes the landscape of life as we know it” story line is an intriguing one.
56. Camino Island by John Grisham — part suspense, part whodunit, part romance (kind of?), this is the most beachy read I’ve done all summer, so for that alone, it was enjoyable. I didn’t love all the characters or how they were done, but it was fast and fun enough to read (finished 8.4.18)
57. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (book club read) — historical fiction and actually much cooler once I finished the book and learned just how much of the story is true. At times the narrative voice of one of the main characters drove me nuts, but perhaps that was intentional to show her immaturity at the time? I don’t know; still hard to read at times. But as far as WWII books go, this was a good one.
BOOKS I’VE READ ALOUD:
Most nights before bed, I read aloud to Harrison. On a couple books, RL has gotten in on the action, too. I won’t be able to remember all the ones I did in early 2018 because I’m just adding this in July, but I’ll do better in the future to keep track of our read alouds (even when that someday means repeats for other kids) and I’ll give some commentary, sometimes if I think it’s one worth sharing with your own Littles.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, HP and the Chamber of Secrets, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban: HD would have loved to keep going with the series and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold him off, but even by Book 3, things are at times pretty dark and twisty, so I’d like to give it some breathing space, if we can.
Little House Series: not sure how many of these we read this year – the last four or five in the series, perhaps? But we did make it ALL the way through, including These Happy Golden Years. Lots to discuss in these books, including racism and mistreatment of people.
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson: Read these! There are at least two more in the series and we loved the first one. The protagonist is a young girl who wants to be a pirate and I love that HD loved her story.
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum — um, speaking of dark and twisty, sheesh. There is some legit violence in this book! Why was it on a trusted source list of To Read to kids my kids’ ages? But then again, just about everything has violence in yet, so why am I surprised? It was fun to read this though as I never have. Now I need to rewatch the movie because it felt significantly different from the book.
A Wrinkle in Time by — funny how I just reread this myself at the start of the year but got so much more out of it from reading aloud to my two oldest this summer! Holy Moly Vocabulary, for one, and even though both HD and RL are still on the young side for this, I think they enjoyed it.
The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson: Book Two! So good! RL got in on the action for most of this one, but that will stop now that school is starting again. I love how HD gets the subtle humor of this, and as one of my relatives pointed out while also listening to me read to the kids, there is a great wealth of vocabulary here!