What I Read in March

In the midst of March’s snow days, I discovered a new favorite author, Anna Quindlen. I picked up her newest book at the library and that was that! Quindlen’s books are such a breath of fresh air in this never-ending winter that we find ourselves in. Otherwise, my March reads were enjoyable, with nary a dud! And for an April spoiler alert: I’m reading two different trilogies… among many other great books!

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie BenedictHistorical fiction with an Irish female protagonist: yes! Besides the wonderful Irish culture that I love reading about, this book focused on the Carnegie family. It brought back memories of middle school social studies classes! I enjoyed learning more about the family and what it may have been like to be “new money” during the 1800s. Parts of it fell flat for me (unbelievable love interest, not an empowering lead character) but I enjoyed it as a historical novel. 

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAlmost every book-focused instagram account I follow posted a picture of the gorgeous bright blue cover in early 2018. When I saw it just sitting on a bookshelf at the library, I snatched it up! I loved the story, the characters, and of course, the incredible writing. Best of 2018, for sure. Also, it was interesting to have read Just Mercy last month and then read a novel that dealt with racial injustice. It made the story that much more powerful for me knowing that the plot of this story is a reality for many people in our country.

 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysA YA World War II book. I liked it but I wasn’t wowed by it. It received quite a few awards so my expectations were higher. I do enjoy when I learn something from historical fiction. In this case, I learned about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship filled with refugees that was torpedoed. The story rotated between four narrators, which I would have enjoyed had the chapters not been so SHORT! Some chapters were just a page or two. It made the story feel like I was jumping around a lot and not investing in a character as much. Had I read this as a teenager, I probably would have loved it, but it just fell a little short for me.

 

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane by Kristin HannahI quickly abandoned Winter Garden by the same author (not my taste) and plunged into this older best seller. I can’t say that the quality of the writing was that great, but I did enjoy it once I got into it. Great if you’re pregnant and want a good cry. It focused on the friendship of women through the decades. There is a sequel but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.

 

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie SpenceI love when I can say, “I’ve never read a book like this before.” It was very true of Dear Fahrenheit 451. Written by a librarian to her books, it’s adorable, funny, and had lots of great recommendations. It’s a quick read and great if you feel a bit stuck between books. As a caveat, it does have a lot of (unnecessary) language.

 

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James BrownGoodness, this was a long read. There are two components to this book: rich history of the early 1900s in the West and so many details about rowing. I loved the history. I wouldn’t have wanted less information about the rowing, though. It was a wonderful, inspiring read. Reminiscent of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken

 

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Oh dear, I found a new favorite author! Where has Anna Quindlen been all my life? Our protagonist is an older photographer who leaves New York for a small town. I won’t say more. It was so lovely!

 

 

 


Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side by Anna QuindlenBe prepared for reviews on every one of Anna Quindlen’s books!!! I’ve got them on hold at the library. I love when the setting of the novel is so crucial to the text that it is like a character. This is very true for this novel, which takes place in New York. This is the story of an upper-class family but also a story about race. Reviews on Quindlen’s newest novel are mixed but I loved this book.

 

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Glory over Everything by Kathleen GrissomI was very surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did! I loved Grissom’s The Kitchen House and I did not expect that a second book would live up to the first. Jamie was one of my least favorite characters in The Kitchen House but it was interesting to see his character develop. I liked how the format was similar to The Kitchen House, with one than one narrator. Also, I liked that Grissom didn’t feel find it necessary to check back in on every character from The Kitchen House. She introduced new characters that were just  as wonderful and interesting.

 

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik BackmanGorgeous novella by the wonderful Fredrik Backman about an elderly man and his grandson. I’m a huge Backman fan and absolutely floored that his books are translated and still read like poetry. 

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What I Read in February

Hello Readers! While I haven’t been writing, I have been busy reading (and visiting doctors for this pregnancy!). I finished my least favorite book of the year so far, as well as some other incredible books that took me by surprise. We may already be into spring, but here’s an overview of what I loved and hated in February.

 

Why Did I Even Read These Books:

 

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

those who save usPass! Why this book was on my kindle, I couldn’t tell you. But I found myself on a treadmill without headphones, so I pulled this up on my kindle app. I should have abandoned it early on, when I got to some graphic scenes that added nothing to the novel. I appreciated that the author wanted to tell a World War II story from the perspective of a German woman. There were aspects that I found interesting, but I didn’t like any of the characters. I was glad to be done with it.

 

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

sing unburied singA supernatural road trip story with a lot of drugs and horrible parenting. What about that description makes people love this book so much? It came highly recommended. I hated it. I don’t even want to talk about it. I know there is some good stuff in here – there must be if people are loving it so much – but it’s not for me.

Great February Reads:

 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonI wish I could give this book to everyone who struggles to see injustice in our judicial system. I know they wouldn’t read it, though. It’s difficult to read. And yet, there is some hope. I felt grateful for people like Bryan Stevenson who have dedicated their lives to helping the oppressed and making their plight known. Our family is passionate about justice, so this was an obvious read for me, but I do recommend it to anyone.

 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments by Rainbow RowellCute, fast read. Add this to your “beach reads” list! I needed a light read after Pachinko, which was certainly “epic” and a struggle to finish. Rainbow Rowell writes both YA and adult novels, and this was one of her most popular adult novels. I started and abandoned one of her YA novels already – too much teenage angst for me!

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineA must-read! It is laugh-out-loud funny and also heartbreaking. Such wonderful writing. I turned to Gene again and again to tell him what was happening in the book because I was so excited about it. This is one of the best books of the year for me so far.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Reading a graphic novel was a first for me! I can’t remember the last time I was so touched by  a memoir. I thought the graphics might be distracting from the story going into it. However, at no point did I wish it was a regular book without the graphics. They enhanced the story. The way Thi Bui weaves history into her memoir, with hand-drawn maps, helped me to understand the history of Vietnam. I wish books like this could be included in history curriculum in schools. It was so much easier to grasp hold of what was happening and how it impacted people than our standard history books.

 

Other Books:

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'EngleI read this book in second grade, which if you’re wondering, is too young (in my opinion). I remember nothing about that first read. There are Christian themes in here! Who knew!? I will most likely read this book along with my children as they get older, but I do wonder what age would be appropriate. Gene read this as well and we both finished it and said “huh”. He thought it was similar to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, which I haven’t read before. I’ll probably pick them up sometime this year since he loved them.

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin LeeI loved the first third of this book but grew more frustrated with it as it continued. It had everything to do with the characters. Since it was an epic novel that spanned generations, the second and third sections of the book focused on different characters in the family. They grew increasingly shallow. The first section was about a female and the later parts were focused more on the males in the family. This was probably a huge component as well. The males were more educated and more opportunities before them, even though they were minorities (Korean) in Japan. I definitely recommend, but know that the novel changes and focuses on different characters.

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What I Read in January

My goal for 2018 is to read forty books but I started off the year on a much higher note… it must have been all those snow days! Or maybe it was just a lot of really great books (TEN!) that drew me in! I quickly made it through my January list, so I was able to add on a bunch of fun reads. Here’s what I read in January – what I loved and what left me disappointed!

My “Bonus Books” for January:

January Highlights:

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House was an incredible historical fiction novel set in southern Virginia about an Irish indentured servant living with slaves on a plantation. It wasn’t what I expected. Truthfully, I wanted some flashbacks to life in Ireland but there was none of that. Despite the lack of rich Irish culture I was hoping for, I started to fall in love with the characters. I also enjoyed the format of the novel, which flip-flopped between two very different narrators. If you haven’t read this one yet (it’s a few years old), then I suggest you check it out! In February, I plan to read the follow-up to this book, Glory Over Everything.

I already shared a review of Reading People by Anne Bogel, which ended up being one of my favorite reads in January! Also, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was incredible and will probably be one of my top reads of the year.

I can’t forget two other novels I read in January, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, as well as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Both were so lovely! They had wonderful protagonists and humor, even as they tackled some heavier issues. They are light reads, perfect for a trip, or just something will renew your love of reading, should you be in a reading drought!

A Book I Struggled With:

The Refugees by Viet Thanh NguyenI ended up being able to tackle a second “Modern Mrs Darcy” book off my list: a book written by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than my own. The Refugees, a book written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a collection of short stories, set in both Vietnam and America. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s previous book, The Sympathizer, is a 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner and on my list to read later this year.

 

If I’m being honest, I didn’t enjoy it. For starters, I don’t love short stories. I’m drawn to character-driven novels, so even while I can appreciate the well-crafted short story, I want to invest in a character. Another thing that makes this book difficult is the subject matter. It’s just heart-wrenching. It was certainly not the first book I reached for each night! Even though it’s fairly short, it’s took me longer than I expected. I still would recommend it because reading hard things helps us grow. While I don’t love painful stories of refugees who face rejection and abuse, I think it’s important for us to hear these stories.

I have some fantastic books picked out for February that I can’t wait to share! Stay tuned! For more detailed reviews of each book, find me on Goodreads.

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Thoughts on Reading People by Anne Bogel

I did not expect to enjoy Reading People by Anne Bogel as much as I did. I’ve done personality tests galore over the years and always felt that the results felt short to truly capture me and explain what to do with said results. Even though I have taken countless Myers-Briggs tests, I couldn’t tell you what personality type I was before now. Bogel did an incredible job simplifying various personality tests, explaining them, and even giving helpful takeaways and recommendations on books or websites that can offer additional insights.

The personality frameworks and topics covered are: Introverts vs Extroverts, Highly Sensitive People, The Five Love Languages, Kiersey’s Temperaments, Myers-Briggs, MBTI Cognitive Functions, Strengthsfinder and Enneagram. I was familiar with all of them except Kiersey’s Temperaments, which I did find difficult to understand but grew more confident with as I reread the chapter. I thought that I would find the book redundant, but it was certainly not. Bogel even suggests jumping ahead to chapters that interest you more but I actually read it straight through and I learned something from each chapter.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who has felt unimpressed with personality quizzes they have taken before. I would also recommend it to the personality-quiz junkie who never passes up a chance to learn more about themselves!

Anne Bogel is a fairly new name to me – I only knew her from her website, Modern Mrs Darcy, where she writes about books and hosts an annual reading challenge. She also has a fantastic podcast, What Should I Read Next?, which I highly recommend to anyone who needs help finding new books that fit their reading profile. She’s an excellent host on the podcast and I promise, it is not dry at all! In fact, it’s one of my new favorites! Just be sure that you have either your phone or planner nearby that you can jot down some of the titles she suggests!

Interested in more books like this?

Another recent read (end of December 2017) for me was The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, which asks the question, “How do I respond to expectations?” and then explains the four tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. I found this book very enlightening as I discovered that I’m motivated externally and how knowing this, can help me to create structure or “external motivations” in my life to help me achieve my goals.

Coming soon… my review on The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. Anne Bogel set me on a journey to learn more about my personality type and how I relate to others and I’m continuing this journey through the Enneagram! I’ve been reading through this book and listening to Ian Morgan Cron’s podcast, Typology as well. I can’t wait to share more about the impact this has been having on my life!

 

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Thoughts on The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner

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The Fringe Hours by Jessica TurnerMy first “personal growth” book of 2018 was The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner. Apparently, she is loved in the Christian blogging community, but her name was completely new to me. I picked it up at the library simply because I stumbled upon it looking for something else and as I read the back cover, it looked like something I might benefit from!

“Fringe Hours” are pockets during the day where you can find some time to do something for yourself. They will probably vary from person to person but for a mom of young kids, I find that my available fringe hours are before everyone wakes up, during naps, and after my children go to sleep. Turner also mentions lunchtime as a popular time, especially for people who work and have a lunch-break they can use to read, go for a walk, etc. If children are at a practice or activity, a parent could also take advantage of this time. Lastly, during meals was a suggested time. This was the least likely time for me! (Walking away from a toddler and preschooler while they eat dinner sounds like a disaster waiting to happen!)

It came as no surprise to me that I have these chunks of time during the day that I could use. Except Jessica Turner was able to convince me to actually USE this time to do something for me. I was easily convinced that it was worth it to wake earlier in the morning to start the day doing something I loved, than to continue to wake up when my children wake up, whining about being hungry or needing help with something.

She asked questions throughout the book to help the reader identify passions, which may have been stifled for years or even decades! “What inspires you? Who inspires you?” I struggled at first to identify some of these interests, outside the obvious answers of reading and cooking. I think at this time in my life, these really are my passions.

If I struggled with anything in the book, it was a chapter called Embracing Help. Turner’s solution to create more time and less stress in the day, was to hire out help in areas like food prep, childcare, cleaning, home repair, and even hobbies (as in developing new hobbies). In the subsequent chapter, she discusses obstacles, with finances being the first one listed. It was difficult to read about how you need to look at your budget items and decide which things you can go without so that you can get help from outside the home, thus making your life less stressful. Turner gave an example of cutting her cable bill so that she could afford to have someone clean her house twice a month. I know many people may be able to easily eliminate some items that aren’t necessary or bringing them joy to be able to create room in their budget for services that will help them reduce stress. But I thought of the many families who do not have space in their budget to remove anything because they already have removed all the extraneous items. It felt like a potentially isolating chapter.

The other concept in the book that is a struggle for some, though not everyone, was learning to say no to things. Turner suggested holding activities up Kon-Mari style, asking “Does it bring me joy?” before saying yes to it. There are some situations where you may be able to do this and effectively say no to something because you do not have enough time to do it well. But there are many situations where you just need to figure it out and do it. There are plenty of things I’d like to say no to because they are stressing me out, but that doesn’t mean I can forego my responsibility. Turner might suggest picking up a baked item instead of taking the time to cook it yourself. But again, finances come into play, and not everybody is able to do this. Even while I could see how “saying no” does not always work, I think it is something that I should practice.

What The Fringe Hours taught me about finding time in my day to do something just for me and not feel any guilt!

All in all, a wonderfully challenging book. This genre of books is not my favorite and I can confess to seldom reading through the entirety of a “personal growth” book, but The Fringe Hours came into my hands at just the right time and was powerful for me. I’d love to hear what fringe hours would look like in your day. What times could you identify in your day where you could be doing something that would bring you joy?

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