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!

Reading Roundup: March 2017

People of WordPress: March. Was. FANTASTIC! I somehow managed to finish nine novels this month, thoroughly surpassing my goal of one book per week! As a high school English teacher whose time is rarely my own, I am going to just revel in the glory of those nine books for a hot minute.

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Because your time is precious — and my time is limited — here’s a quick look at the books I enjoyed this month, in order from least favored to most favored.

  1. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult. Fiction. Picoult is one of my go-to authors when I’m craving a palate cleanse and quick but engaging read. I love her novels because each focuses on a different family complexity — betrayal, abuse, deceit, forgiveness, etc. The Tenth Circle tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped at a party — and the incredible toll this experience takes on her mother and father as the family attempts to keep their unit whole. Picoult handles the challenging topic with finesse, but this novel falls short of her other works. Rating: 3 stars.
  2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. Mystery, crime fiction. This second member of the Cormoran Strike series (see #3) is gruesome — but provides readers with another solid mystery to ruminate over as the book lopes along. Strike and Robin return to their sleuthing when a frumpy (and somewhat batty) woman asks them to search for her husband — a moody author who has been missing for ten days. Though the wife is certain her husband is merely hiding away to nurse his wounds, and acquaintances at the publishing house assume the author’s disappearance is a thinly-veiled publicity stint, Strike quickly discovers a much darker truth. This novel was more difficult to follow than the first, and was peppered with characters that were difficult to keep track of, as well as book plot within the book — making for a read that required much more focus on my part. I didn’t dislike The Silkworm, but didn’t love it nearly as much as The Cuckoo’s CallingRating: 3 stars.
  3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Fiction. Almost-8-year-old Elsa embarks on an adventure after her grandmother’s death — one that involves several grumpy and/or reclusive neighbors, a wurse, numerous Harry Potter references, and a whole heap of fairy tales. Elsa struggles to come to terms with the truth about her grandma’s identity and learns to share her best (read: only) friend with dozens of others, all while dealing with the challenges that arise when one’s parents are divorced and a new sibling is on the way. Read this book for its endearing characters, bittersweet life lessons, and refreshingly childlike bursts of imagination. Rating: 3.5 stars.
  4. Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson. Utopian fiction. A utopian tale in a world full of dystopias, Perfect Little World operates under an intriguing premise: 10 families with newborn children move into a complex to raise their children collectively and function as a communal family of sorts. The novel becomes an engaging examination of family and normalcy, asking readers to reexamine traditional beliefs. Although the experiment starts out with a great deal of promise, all good things must come to an end. . . . The conclusion falls a bit flat, but readers will fly through this fascinating book, all while grappling with personal judgments and preconceived notions of what “good parenting” looks like. Rating: 4 stars. (A more in-depth review can be found here.)
  5. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. Mystery, crime fiction. The first in a series of detective novels featuring British war-veteran Cormoran Strike and his trusty sidekick Robin, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a masterfully woven mystery and race against time to find the truth about the tragic suicide (or murder?) of supermodel Lula Landry. Read it for the well-constructed characters and puzzling plot; even if whodunits aren’t your thing, this read won’t disappoint. Rating: 4.5 stars. (A more in-depth review can be found here.)
  6. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts. Nonfiction. This charming nonfiction read is about an underdog horse. Once doomed for slaughter, former plowhorse Snowman is purchased for $80 by Dutch immigrant Harry de Leyer with the intent of making the four-legged creature into a gentle lesson horse for his students at an all-girls boarding school in the Northeast. Against all odds — seriously, this horse beat death — Snowman becomes a legend and national pet. Touted as an inspirational Cinderella story, this novel doesn’t disappoint. Read it for the historical context on an era that gets skimmed over a bit (1950s) and the feel-good vibes that buzz with each turned page. Rating: 4.5 stars.

Rereads & lifetime favorites (don’t want to skew the monthly rankings, folks):

  1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Fiction, literature. Set in Great Depression-era Southern California, Steinbeck’s novella about friendship, loneliness, and power (or a lack thereof) is a quick and heart-wrenching read. George and Lennie form an unlikely pair, navigating the dangerous waters of a world that is often unkind — especially to those who are different. Read this 100-page masterpiece for Steinbeck’s strong prose and powerful symbolism; love it for its ability to transport readers to a hopeless nation in the midst of great strife. Rating: 4.5 stars.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Historical fiction. Just read it — it’s timeless and perfect, even the sixth or seventh or eighth read through. . . . Rating: 5 stars.
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (illustrated by Jim McKay). Fantasy. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book, and I’m not sad about it. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is my greatest book love, no matter how much I age. Rereading the novel in its illustrated form was a treat! If you are a fan of the series, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the illustrated version here. Rating: 5 (billion) stars.

Read anything great in March? Let me know in the comments section below.

January Reading Roundup

January: A month of renewal, self-improvement, and firmer resolve. I’m speaking about reading habits, of course. 😉

At the end of last year, pregnancy hormones took over and I was quite literally too tired to even read most days after school. (A tragedy, I know.) At the end of December, I realized that September, October, and November had skated by without so much as the completion of one book per month; and friends, that just isn’t right.

Now that the second trimester is well underway, my feverish need to sleep 70% of the day subsided somewhat and I was able to tackle several new reads in January! As a teacher, free time for reading isn’t exactly a luxury; I’m pretty content with my little stack ‘o five! I’ve officially averaged one book per week this year . . . and I’ll drink (grape juice) to that any day.

The Roundup, in particular order (most enjoyed -> most meh):

  1. Descent by Tim Johnston. Genre: Mystery/thriller. I picked up this eerie-looking novel at the local Hastings store as the store heaved its last, sobering, death-rattling breaths. At 70% off, I couldn’t have landed a better deal (unless the book had been given to me, of course). Johnston’s novel opens with an 18-year-old girl and her brother heading out for a run/bike ride in the mountains of Colorado as their parents drowse through the early morning hours of their family vacation. When an accident occurs on the mountain, Caitlin is taken and her family is left to their own devices in the grueling disconnect that comes with her absence. A once-seemingly typical family unit (though not without their flaws) disintegrates at the seams in the months that follow Caitlin’s disappearance. Although the novel was difficult for me to engage with initially, I came to appreciate Johnston’s unique storytelling ability and intentional use of language. The writing became a treat (once Mr. Johnston and I had acquainted ourselves better), and I became entangled in the greatly unexpected complexity and depth of this contemporary thriller. Where so many others have fallen short, Descent holds its own with motifs of distrust, forgiveness, personal anchoring, strife, and familial relationships. At 100 pages, you’ll be invested; at 200 pages, absorbed; and at 250 pages, feverishly racing to uncover the treasure that is Descent. Rating: 4.5/5 — Verdict: You will not regret this one. Unless, of course, you don’t read it.
  2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Genre: Fiction/humor. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Backman’s writing, it became inevitable that at some point in time, I would pick up one of his works. A Man Called Ove is a charming and quick read about Ove (Ooo-vuh, I’ve been told), an elderly-isn man living in a Swedish suburb. Persnickety, irritable, and stereotypically grumpy-old-man-ish, Ove lives alone in a house that once also held his beloved wife, Sonja. Without her, Ove spreads misery wherever he goes. (Truth be told, even with her, he seems to have been a bit sour.) When a new family moves in next door (and breaks about a dozen rules as they go), Ove has no choice but to interact with these imbeciles who can’t back up a trailer, can’t use their own bathrooms, and can’t use a ladder properly. Humph! I won’t share any further plot details at this point, as doing so would give away the premise of the novel; however, I can assure you that this book will make you chuckle, smirk, sob, and laugh out loud a time or two. Ove’s prickly-but-loveable persona are easy to latch onto in this book about friendship, loyalty, death, and living in the wake of death. Rating: 4/5 — Verdict: Cute, sweet, and heartfelt; this book has all the components of a perfect weekend read.
  3. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Genre: Historical fiction. I reviewed this one earlier this month, so I’ll just offer a few brief thoughts here. The Wonder felt like a complex read to me. Not because the language was difficult, or the plot all that challenging; but because the issues of morality, faithfulness, skepticism, and duty created such strong foundation for this novel. Although I didn’t find this book an equal to Donoghue’s Room in terms of interest and “wow-factor,” I really appreciated her intense portrait of unfailing piety contrasted with ceaseless skepticism. Rating: 3.5/5 (I’m adding a half star, FYI) — Verdict: An intriguing and not even remotely preachy novel about sticking to your guns in the face of great pressure? Yeah. Count me in.
  4. The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Genre: Historical fiction. I’ve also already reviewed this book thoroughly here, so I’ll save you some time and spare you the long synopsis. Writing is a bit clunky throughout the novel, and characters are fairly predictable; but the story offers a unique twist on a widely written-about topic: the persecution of Jews during World War II. While the novel lacks complexity, Belfoure makes up for this shortcoming with an interesting storyline and characters worth rooting for. Rating: 3/5 — Verdict: Worth a read, but not a book that will land on your top 10 list (or even your top 50, if I were to venture a guess).
  5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Genre: Dystopian/science fiction. A slow-moving tale about a group of English boarding students who are seemingly living the dream at Havisham, an immense property tucked away in a secret corner of the country. Readers discover the nature (and purpose) of main character Kath’s life as she reflects on her upbringing at Havisham and her relationships with her peers and teachers. The novel is maddeningly cryptic throughout. Ishiguro’s slow reveal of the mysterious truths that Kath spends her life trying to uncover is purposeful — and enormously frustrating. Overall, I enjoyed the questions this book forces one to consider; namely, what makes us human? And just how great and terrible can our losses be when we wait for the safest opportunities to act? Rating: 2.5/5 — Verdict: Sadly, a “meh” book for me.

The great thing about reading books? You can always find a reader that has uncovered an entirely different layer of meaning and value in a work you consider beloved or unworthy. Read any of these titles and have some insight to share? Comment below!

As always, happy reading, friends — and happy February!