Every month this year, I've thought to myself: There's no way I can keep reading this much every month. And here we are, with a stack 21 books tall. I feel like I need to explain myself but also I'm not trying to apologize. I prioritize reading. I make time for it. I also do a lot of other things with my life and am not a hermit, and if using my time wisely means I read this many books, then I'm going to stop feeling like I have to explain that and I'm going to start proudly owning it. YEP, I READ A HECKA LOT OF BOOKS, PEOPLE.
There we go. Phew!
Here's what I read this July:
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (only $6!)
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "A departure for the bestselling thriller writer, this historical epic—a twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral—stunned readers and critics alike with its ambitious scope and gripping humanity " (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I didn't expect to like this one, much less love it! It's massive (literally the only book bigger than this that I've ever read is the Bible...) and set back in medieval times... you guys, this story is just GOOD. It's so fascinating, it never felt slow or boring, and it was just really, really well-written. Highly recommend this one to EVERYONE. I ordered the sequel moments after finishing this one and can't wait to dive into it! (Be warned, there is some pretty descriptive rape/violence throughout that made me a little uncomfortable, so just a trigger warning there!)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (less than $5!)
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "In this Newbery Honor novel, New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: The Richmond Public Library hosted a "Girls of Summer" event where local authors, book reviewers, and librarians all shared books for girls of all ages that were perfect for summer reading, and since my mom works at that library, I went! It was SUCH a fun event and I wanted to read all of the books, even though most of them were for kids or young adults! This was one I grabbed because the author was there herself to share more about writing -- it was awesome to hear from her and to hear some young girls from the community interview her! This is a great book for young girls, and I'm so glad I read it, especially because of the strong African-American themes that I have been LOVING reading about lately.
The Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "A radiant talent on the brink of making it big in Nashville must confront her small-town past and an old love she’s never forgotten in this engaging novel—a soulful ballad filled with romance, heartbreak, secrets, and scandal from the author of Season of the Dragonflies." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was one I grabbed since Anne Bogel recommended it in her summer reading guide, and it was such a fun read! I'm a country music fan admittedly, and really loved the show Nashville for a while (until some key people died...) and this reminded me so much of that show! It's not total fluff, but it is a really light-hearted and easy read -- perfect for summer!
Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "When it comes to anxiety, depression, and stress-related illnesses, America is the frontrunner. Thankfully, there’s a practical prescription for dealing with these issues. Anxious for Nothing, the most recent book from New York Times bestselling author, Max Lucado, provides a roadmap for battling with and healing from anxiety." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I flew through this one quickly during a lunch break before we recorded a podcast where one of our team members interviewed Lucado about anxiety -- it's a good read, a quick read, and nothing mind-blowing. There were some helpful, meaningful nuggets here, but it felt more like a "Hey, Max Lucado, you're a popular author, write about this hot topic!" kind of situation than a truly heartfelt book about anxiety. Not a winner for me personally, but one I think will really be helpful for a lot of people still.
THE DEETS: We received the ARC of this one at work since we interviewed Lucado on the podcast -- it releases September 12, 2017!
That Part was True by Deborah McKinlay
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson's colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love life and Eve's tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris--a meeting that Eve fears can never happen." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was a random library grab, and a quick read one evening while babysitting. I wasn't a huge fan and felt like there wasn't a whole lot of meat or action in the storyline, but the characters were semi-interesting and I appreciated the food references throughout. Just pretty meh about this one.
It's Okay About It by Lauren Casper
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "Popular blogger Lauren Casper shares poignantly simple yet profound wisdom about removing the barriers we construct around our hearts and doing life full-on, all from the least expected source: her five-year-old son, Mareto." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I had heard Casper on a podcast recently, so when this one showed up at work, I grabbed it and read through it over a few lunch breaks. It's a sweet story perfect for moms (which I am not, haha!) and those who have a heart for adoption (or who have adopted) -- it's touching, endearing, and amusing.
THE DEETS: I received the ARC of this one at work from the publisher!
Beartown: A Novel by Fredrik Backman
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was a really different kind of story from Backman, I felt like. I have loved everything I have read from him, so I was excited to get this one from the library! I loved that the story centered around hockey (my favorite sport!) and one small town, and the plot had me hooked from the very beginning. I didn't put this one down (literally read it in one sitting) and was so captivated by the plot and the characters the whole time. Really loved this one. Again, be warned that there is a sexual assault scene, if that's a trigger for you!
Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "In Being Perfect, she shares wisdom that, perhaps without knowing it, you have longed to hear: about “the perfection trap,” the price you pay when you become ensnared in it, and the key to setting yourself free. Quindlen believes that when your success looks good to the world but doesn’t feel good in your heart, it isn’t success at all." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: So, when my blogger friends came to town, we went to my favorite local bookstore. I saw this one on the shelf and even though I didn't like the Quindlen book I Read last month, this tiny book (like 40 pages) seemed like a relevant and interesting topic, so I read through it while standing there! It took like 5 minutes, haha! It's a great little book, but not one I'd need to own or anything. It felt almost like a speech or talk transcribed into a book, which was fun, and there were really great old pictures throughout as well!
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?" (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I read this one in a few pockets of downtime on my road trip, and really liked it. I remember this one being a Book of the Month pick a few months back, but for some reason it didn't interest me then. I read Everything, Everything by Yoon recently and liked it, and this was no different. A great YA read with well-developed and interesting characters and some surprises along the way that kept me interested and curious.
The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor by Jonathan Rogers
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "In this biography, Jonathan Rogers gets at the heart of O’Connor’s work. He follows the roots of her fervent Catholicism and traces the outlines of a life marked by illness and suffering, but ultimately defined by an irrepressible joy and even hilarity. In her stories, and in her life story, Flannery O’Connor extends a hand in the dark, warning and reassuring us of the terrible speed of mercy." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I'm a big, big Flannery fan, and have read a bio of her before, but was excited to read through this one since it was more focused on her spiritual life. I didn't find that I learned anything new about her, though, so it fell a little flat simply because I have already read so much about her. If you're looking for a place to start to learn about her, this really is a great and thorough book about her life, faith, and writing!
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "The year is 1915. Our heroine is Helen McGill, a thirty-nine year old spinster who assists her brother Andrew in the running of his New England farm. Andrew is a literary man, however, and since his books have become successful, his attention to the farm and his appreciation of the work that Helen does have diminished considerably. Helen takes pride in her domestic accomplishments but she doesn't like being saddled with all the work and she doesn't like being taken for granted. Enter our unlikely hero. Roger Mifflin rolls into the farmyard in the ''Parnassus on Wheels'' of the title: a travelling bookshop. He's been travelling around the countryside evangelizing about literature but he's ready to pack it in to write a book of his own. He's seeking a buyer for the Parnassus and he thought that Andrew would be a likely candidate. In an uncharacteristically impulsive moment, Helen makes the purchase herself. She rationalizes that she's simply trying to prevent Andrew from doing the same and disappearing from the farm once and for all. But it soon becomes apparent that the seemingly settled Helen is out for a bit of adventure. In the travelling book trade, she finds it." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I picked this little book up at the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville (because of course, the store was named after this book!) and it was such a delightful story that was perfect to read on the plane ride home -- it was a little quirky, a little unexpected, a little dramatic, and just such a great read.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over--and see everything anew." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was a sweet and charming story that was super endearing and really fun to read, especially as a fan of books (and book reviews, since they're sprinkled throughout this one) -- I highly recommend grabbing this one from the librsry for a fun little summer read!
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting friends and neighbors to join her. Life changed in her community and it can change in yours, too." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I (admittedly) skimmed through this one during my lunch break one day since we were talking about this topic and interviewing Kristin for our podcast at work -- it's one of the newer styles of book that has MANY pictures and reads almost like a combination of a scrapbook, a coffee table book, a blog post, and a lot of Instagram captions? It was a quick and uplifting book that didn't blow me away, but I did like that it prompted such a fun conversation about hospitality versus entertaining If those are topics that interest you, it's a great, fun, light read!
THE DEETS: We received an ARC of this one at work and I read through this one since we had Kristin on our podcast!
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "With the clarity and depth characteristic of the classics, this spiritual bestseller lays out a perceptive and insightful plan for living a spiritual life and achieving the ultimate goal of that life -- union with God." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I don't think I've ever read something from Nouwen that I haven't loved. This was an extremely timely read for me, and very rich while still being easy to read and soak up. I love the focus on progression and growth in this one-- it feels very much like a helpful roadmap to healthier and more abundant living in Christ. Loved this one.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she's ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And she has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for "at-risk" girls. Except really, it's for black girls. From "bad" neighborhoods. And just because Maxine, her college-graduate mentor, is black doesn't mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I enjoyed this one (another pick from that Girls' of Summer library event -- so many great books were discussed there and it's been so fun to read outside my normal genres to enjoy some of them!) and thought it was a really relevant, genuine, well-written story about one African-American girl's growing up experience. I love that the topic of privilege was tackled here but not in a way that felt forced or too heavy, but still felt really real and honest while still being geared toward that younger YA audience. Really liked this one!
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I had heard some buzz about this one (a story inspired by a famous piece of artwork, which I thought was really cool!) and grabbed it from the library. I haven't read Orphan Train so I wasn't familiar with Kline's work, but this one was enjoyable even if I didn't find it to be anything extraordinary. It flashed back in time and to the present day, but there wasn't a ton of action or much to really drive the plot forward in my opinion, but I don't think it was trying to be that kind of book, either. It was solidly three stars to me! Liked, didn't love, didn't dislike.
On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was one that I was both excited and nervous about -- I definitely battle anxiety in my life and while it can be helpful to read about it, it can also be triggering. This book wasn't triggering for me personally, but I'd be sure to read it carefully if that's a concern for you! I thought Petersen did a great job of weaving her own story of anxiety in with the research, information, and greater story of anxiety as a whole, but there were points where it felt dry, points it felt too dramatized, and points where I lost interest entirely (like the chapter on medication, as someone who tries to avoid that industry at all costs). Overall, I'm glad to have read it, feel grateful that people are writing books like this that talk openly about anxiety, and feel less alone in my own struggles with it.
THE DEETS: I received this one from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review!
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
THE STARS: 1/5
THE PLOT: "The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway's masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway's most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions."(from here)
THE THOUGHT: Guys. I don't get this book. At all. Masterpiece? Uhhh... It was so boring to me. (I read more than half of it, thinking it would get better any second!) I had heard this one lauded as someone's favorite book, but I do not see why... I abandoned this one but highly doubt I'll ever come back to it.
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it's the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.
Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold's new game―before those who attacked Griswold come after them too." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This was yet another Girls' of Summer grab, and I LOVED it. Word puzzles and scavenger hunting and books and San Francisco? Yes. This one is SO much fun, so clever, full of drama and suspense, and perfect for late elementary readers! I'm sending this one to a girl I used to babysit and I know she'll get such a kick out of it!
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "In this paradigm-shifting new book, Dillon--the founder of Slavery Footprint and Made in a Free World--reveals the secret to a life of deep and lasting significance: the discovery that our need for meaning is inextricably linked to the needs of the world. A Selfish Plan to Change the World delivers a revolutionary method for meeting both needs." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: The subject matter of this book is 150% up my alley, and I absolutely LOVE that cover, so I was super excited to snag this one and give it a read. I have known about Dillon and the work he does for a while, and it was so cool to hear more of his story and how he found his soul dream in the process. He weaves together his story with stories of slavery around the word really powerfully, drawing the reader in and really opening their eyes to what we can so easily miss in the world around us. This book is compelling, heart-wrenching, eye-opening, and necessary for our world today.
THE DEETS: I received this one from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review!