February TBR

Well, folks, the month is already a quarter of the way through and I’m just now getting around to sharing my TBR stack — I’m sure everyone who knows me is surprised! 😉 Before I share the to-read pile with you, though, I wanted to reflect a bit on my January reads.

At the start of the month, I hoped to read 5.5 books (Tell the Wolves I’m Home was about half finished at the start of the new year). I actually read 7.5 (okay, let’s call it 8) and though it wasn’t as stellar a reading month as December was, I was pretty pleased with most of my picks. Here’s a quick overview in no particular order, with links to more detailed reviews for some:

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Okay, I lied — this one is first because it was definitely best.)
  2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (guys, why is this my first Christie? What have I been doing with my life? Ugh. Seriously, though — which of hers should I read next?)
  3. Siracusa by Delia Ephron: 🌟🌟🌟.5
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green: 🌟🌟🌟
  5. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: 🌟🌟🌟.5
  6. Paris for One by Jojo Moyes: 🌟🌟
  7. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (A very, very close second to Pachinko and probably the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read.)
  8. The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro: 🌟🌟🌟

Like I said — not a stellar month, but it was pretty darn good! To be clear, I generally really like about 90% of what I read, so 3-star reviews are books I’d consider “good” but not “great”.

Anyway . . . February reading goals. This month is short, and I’m traveling to my parents’ place for a long weekend (translation: I won’t get a damn thing read for 4 days), so I’m not being overly ambitious. That being said, I have already read two of the books in this stack, so maybe I’ll surprise myself?

  1. Birds of Wonder by Cynthia Robinson. I won this title in an Instagram giveaway in exchange for a review. I finished the book in two days and will post my thoughts on it soon. Stay tuned!
  2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. This one has been sitting on my shelf for YEARS and I finally picked it up this week. I’m all but done with it, and sad to see it come to an end. Guys, this is one of the best gossipy dramas I’ve ever read. Why did I wait so long to read this book? WHY?!
  3. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I haven’t read too far into the synopsis, but this one has been all over Litsy for a while and I figured I’d better give it a go.
  4. The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristen Harmel. Another giveaway win, this book is slated to release in March.
  5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I bought this in 2015, when I first joined Book of the Month Club. Good gravy, my shelves have gotten out of control.
  6. Still Life by Louise Penny. This one I’m blaming on the Bookstagram community — it’s the first in a mystery series set in a fictional town called “Three Pines” and that’s about all I know, other than the fact that everyone and their mother seems to love it.

What are you reading this month? Tell me about it — or if you’ve read any of these titles, let me know what you thought!

Incoming! December Book Mail

At the beginning of the year, I made a promise that book addicts around the world will find familiar: I vowed to not buy any books until I’d read the ones already waiting on my shelves.

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The fact of the matter is, I’m fairly certain I acquired at least twenty more books this year. At least. And by “least,” I mean “the highest amount I’m willing to publish on a blog that my husband sometimes reads.”

At any rate, November was especially good to me; I received an ARC from MacMillan; won two books in an Instagram giveaway; and was made aware of the existence of BookOutlet thanks to some beloved Bookstagram buddies, just in time for Black Friday. If you haven’t had the joy of perusing this site yet, give it a look and let your little bookish heart soar at the overwhelming volume of new editions priced at wallet-friendly prices. Like, less-than-five-dollars friendly. Yeah. I know. Take a moment to let that soak in.

This month when my hoard arrived in the mail, I actually shrieked. I was so excited my hands started to quiver a bit with anticipation. I’ve never been foolish enough to try any drugs stronger than NyQuil and Tylenol PM, but I’m willing to bet my thrill rivaled that of a coke addict about to score his next hit. (Too far?)

Without further ado, take a look at these 11 finds I added to my shelf this month, courtesy of my Black Friday BookOutlet spree (for a mere forty-one dollars and twelve cents!):

img_9129 A Good Country, published in 2017, is a fiction novel touted as “truly brave” and “an important novel for this moment in our history.” (Percival Everett) A bit from the novel’s synopsis: Laguna Beach, California, 2011. Reza Courdee, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student and chemistry whiz, takes his first hit of pot. In as long as it takes to inhale and exhale, he is transformed from the high-achieving son of Iranian immigrants into a happy-go-lucky stoner. He loses his virginity, takes up surfing, and sneaks away to all-night raves. For the first time, Reza — now Rez — feels like an American teen. Life is smooth; even lying to his strict parents comes easily. . . . We are left with . . . a lingering question that applies to all modern souls: Do we decide how to live, or is our life decided for us?

img_9128From the author of The Miniaturist (which I have yet to read, but have had my eye on for some time) comes The Muse, published in 2016. This work of fiction follows two women in different countries and time periods: Odelle Bastien, living in London in 1967; and Olive Schloss, dwelling in Spain in 1936. Odelle is an immigrant working at an art gallery when she discovers a high-interest painting by an artist who died under mysterious circumstances. Decades earlier, Olive moves with her parents to the southern coast of Spain where she grows close to a housekeeper and a painter. The two women are united across the decades by a tie that even they are unaware of.

img_9127This purchase was strictly made on cover appeal. The artwork is absolutely spellbinding, so I’m trusting the work will be, too. From the inside cover: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. . . . Sounds perfectly fantastic, doesn’t it? I’m so excited to jump into this modern-day fairy tale!

img_9126Published in 1998, Antelope Woman is one of many titles by renowned author Louise Erdrich. Although I didn’t love her most recent novel (Future Home of the Living God), I’m willing to give Erdrich another try, as I’ve heard great things about her Native-infused literature. From the back cover, When Klaus Shawano abducts Sweetheart Calico, the seductive Indian woman who has stolen his heart, and takes her far from her native Montana plains to his own Minneapolis home, he cannot begin to imagine the eventual ramifications his brazen act will entail. Shawano’s mysterious Antelope Woman has utterly mesmerized him — and soon proves to be a bewitching agent of chaos whose effect on others is disturbing, and irresistible, as she alters the shape of things around her and the shape of things to come. 

 

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Published in 2015, this title comes with three full, front-and-back pages of praise. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this one might be a hit. The Small Backs of Children is the story of a photographer who captured a striking image of a young girl in a village stricken by war, and an attempt by a community of artists to locate the child featured in the world-famous photograph and rescue her, bringing her safely to the United States. As you can imagine, conflict abounds in this national bestseller.

 

img_9124 Alright, I’ll admit it again: I was drawn to this one by its magical cover and the absolutely curious title, The Smell of Other People’s Houses. You got me, Hitchcock; bravo. This work of fiction, published in 2016, is set in Alaska and features four individuals: Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. From the publisher: “Growing up in Alaska in the 1970s isn’t like growing up anywhere else: Don’t think life is going to be easy. Know your place. And never talk about yourself. Four vivid voices tell intertwining stories of hardship, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation.” I’m all about those tragedy-and-salvation novels, friends, and I can’t wait to crack the spine on this short but promising read.

img_9123Okay, I might be most excited about this discovery — Carrying Albert Home, by Homer Hickam. Hickam is the author of Rocket Boys, a beautiful and hopeful memoir that was made into the 1999 movie drama October Sky, both of which I absolutely freaking love. For those familiar with Hickam’s memoir, this “somewhat true story” will feature some familiar characters: Elsie and Homer Hickam, Sr. This novel promises historical nuggets, family legends, humor, and sorrow as Hickam weaves together the tale of his parents’ courtship and an alligator named Albert.

 

img_9122Published in 2016, Everyone Brave is Forgiven comes to readers from Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee. Dubbed “both searing and timeless” by the Seattle Times, this novel takes place in London in 1939 — in the heart of World War II. Set in London during the years of 1939-1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. Um, a love story set during the 40s based on actual love letters? Count me in, folks.

img_9121Foer stole my heart with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; which is why I jumped at the $2 opportunity to purchase this 2002 novel with the following synopsis: With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukranian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past. I feel all the feels coming on.

img_9120I’m a sucker for covers with photographs of fog. If I ever write a novel, I am going to try my damnedest to ensure the cover features fog. Is there anything more alluring or enticing? This 2015 debut novel by firefighter Brian Panowich (okay, maybe that’s smoke on the cover, instead of fog?) promises plenty of drama and conflict: Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made their home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-distruction. This synopsis — coupled with Esquire‘s blurb “Prose as punch as rapid-aged whiskey” — was enough to draw me in. And at $3.72, I couldn’t click “add to cart” fast enough.

img_9119 Last but not least, this 2014 science fiction/post-apocalyptic release has been all over the Bookstagram/Litsy communities lately and I couldn’t resist adding the title to my cart. The book won the 2015 Toronto Book Awards and was a finalist for the National Book Award, Pen/Faulkner Award, and the Sunburst Award. Twist my arm, why don’tcha? From the cover: One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous Hollywood actor, dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time — from Arthur’s early days as a film start to twenty years int he future, he a theatre troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains — this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: Arthur, the man who tried to save him, Arthur’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony caught int he crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

I’m absolutely stoked to read each of these works in 2018, among dozens of other titles, undoubtedly. What’s a book you’re eager to read in 2018? Tell me in the comments below!

Review: Celine

He laughed too, but what he felt was alarm. He looked past Amana and Gabriela to the outer rocks and saw the dark swell. It was the next wave and it was the second in a set and he watched it as if in slow motion: the wall lightening to green as it rose, rising impossibly tall, the guarding boulders out in the cove dwarfed beneath it, the quivering top frayed by wind and then a piece of it curled and collapsed and the water fell: a surge of whitewater chest-high roared in over the black slack of water of the inner cove and he was slugged and knocked over, his shoulder and neck hit rock, he came up lunging out of ice foam to see the tumult sucking back.

Last week, I made my first trip to a public library in over two years (for two years, I walked my classes to the library to check out books, but never got any for myself); and checked out books for myself for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many-years. In truth, I only went to the library because I needed to check out the movie version of Of Mice and Men for my senior English class, which had recently finished studying the novel; but while I was there, I decided perhaps I could look into a few books I’d been eyeing on Litsy.

One of my four selections: Celine, a March 2017 fiction novel by author Peter Heller. Wedged neatly between two white spines on the New Releases shelf, Celine‘s lush green cover immediately drew my eye and I knew I’d heard of this mystery before. (A quick review of Litsy confirmed this suspicion.)

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CELINE FTW!

The novel opens in the past with an exquisitely crafted piece of prose that sets the stage for the rest of the story. It is here that young Gabriela is introduced to readers, before meeting her again some forty years in the future when she enlists the help of the novel’s title character, Celine: a 68-year-old private investigator born and bred of the upper crust society that is bourgeoise New York in the 1930s-40s. An anomaly for her breed, Celine challenges the expected roles of the jewel-encrusted “old wealth” families of her time period, bucking tradition to attend a boarding school that encourages students to work like farm hands; enroll and study at college; work for the FBI; and establish her own mostly-pro bono business as a private eye. Celine is everything society raised her not to be — and for that, readers will love getting to know her decadently-layered character.

Anyway. Gabriela, tied to Celine through their alumni status at the same college, seeks out Celine for help locating her father who has been missing for more than twenty years. Although Gabriela’s photographer father is assumed to have been mauled by a bear in the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, a body was never recovered and more than a few details point to possible alternatives to the conclusions investigators came to just a few short days following her father’s disappearance. Celine is immediately enamored with the graceful, intelligent, and beautiful young woman who shows up at her door with a heartbreaking story of an unbelievable childhood, and she agrees to take the case. After arrangements are made, Celine and her husband (Paul) head to Yellowstone to sift through the puzzle that is not quite as open-and-close as investigators led Gabriela to believe decades ago.

As Celine and Paul work together to uncover the truth, Heller reveals nuggets of Celine’s own past to readers in a teasing manner . . . one tidbit at a time. Readers will race to finish this puzzle of a novel (and then regret not savoring it a bit more slowly, as several early details become important later on, as the mystery unravels).

The Good: Heller’s prose is to. die. for. (See the opening quote and try not to love it.) Although fragments bugged me in a nagging sort of way off and on throughout the novel, I quickly determined Heller is a Writer of Esteem. The opening scenes at the ocean completely drew me in; so much so that I raced through the rest of the novel and wanted to cry a bit when the story was all over. Another reader on Litsy noted that the ending felt a bit like an opportunity for continuation or a series, and though this is purely speculation, I’m happy to imagine a world in which Heller publishes more novels in the Celine vein. The plot of this work is enticing and not overly-populated with characters, which makes for a more intimate knowing of the individuals most central to the story. And, of course, Celine is a total grandmotherly badass. What’s not to love about that?

The (Not Actually) Bad: I read this one too quickly. Seriously. I started it Sunday night and was finished by Tuesday morning — and no, I did not skip work to read. It was just. that. good. My advice to readers: savor it, slowly. This one is definitely going on my to-be-purchased list, and I anticipate a reread in the near future.

The Verdict: 4.5/5 stars. Really, y’all: I just loved this book. I want to be Celine when I grow up, and I don’t doubt you’ll feel the same way.

February TBR Pile

One month into the year, I’ve stayed consistent with my top reading goal for 2017: Read one book per week.

This may not sound like much of a goal to many of my bookish fiends — I mean, friends — who read numerous books weekly; but as an English teacher who often juggles personal reading with class-related reading and mounds of writing grading . . . well, I think one book per week is just right! Normally, I’d hope to accomplish more reading over the summer, but with a little one on the way, I’m not holding my breath! 🙂

In an effort to #readharder, I’ve also planned to intentionally diversify the types of books I read throughout the year. Obviously, I’m more heavily inclined by novels of the fiction persuasion; that’s not necessarily something I intend to overhaul in 2017. That being said, I do want to read a wider variety of fiction genres or topics each month (and I feel I did a pretty good job of this in January — check my pile out here).

Without further ado, I give you the February pile:

This pile has a little bit of everything: Behold the Dreamers is a read-in-progress about an immigrant family struggling to achieve the dream in New York City. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a classic work of Beat Generation fiction, based on Kerouac’s own travels. (It’s also a looooong standing member of my never-ending TBR list.) The Invention of Wings is a bestseller and work of historical fiction (probably my favorite subcategory of fiction writing). And finally, a detective novel and reread: The Cuckoo’s Calling. I plan to save this novel for the end of February, as I intend to read the other two novels in Rowling’s crime fiction series in the weeks that follow.

What’s in your stack this month?