What I Read in June

Another good month of reading – mostly audiobooks, since I tackled an 850-pager that took up a good three weeks of my spare reading time, but a sacrifice I felt was well worth it!  My thoughts on each of this month’s reads are below, listed in order of when I finished each book (no spoilers, I promise).

Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems is the final installment of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, a series of outrageously trashy novels that I have delighted in reading.  I read hard copies of the first two books, but listened to this one on audio.  I have to admit that the audio added a lot to the experience.  The Audible narrator did a great job pronouncing some of the words that were in different languages, and she had really good timing as far as dialogue and pauses for effect.  This series follow several ridiculously rich Asian families and the drama that inevitably ensues.  These guilty pleasures are downright fun!

Wildflower – Drew Barrymore

I listened to Wildflower on audiobook because the author Drew Barrymore also narrates.  I probably should have expected it, but she is extremely dramatic in her narration, which turned me off a bit.  I really enjoyed some of the stories she tells from her life – My favorite was about the filming of E.T. – but she jumps around so much, I was confused as to what she was trying to do with this book.  Some chapters are about her life and some chapters read as if they are letters to her children.  This was not a “bad” book by any means, but it was not what I expected.

Outlander – Daina Gabaldon

Whew!  This was the 850 page monster of a book I was talking about!  I had heard about this series from a lot of people – fans of the Outlander series seem to be outspoken ones, and I can certainly see why.  This was a time-traveling, bodice-ripping, epic adventure tale that was a lot of fun to read.  Forewarning: There are smutty parts, some of which made me pretty uncomfortable but by the time I got to them I was 400 pages in and committed.  While I liked the story and am looking forward to reading the next one in the series (perhaps on audio this time?), by the time I got to the last 150 pages, I was ready for it to end.  Then, Gabaldon drops a bomb (not literally) on the last page that left me wanting more.

Chemistry – Weike Wang

Chemistry was my June Book of the Month pick, and weighing in at a mere 224 pages, it was a perfect follow-up to Outlander.  In this story, the Chinese-American narrator (we never learn her name) who had always exceeded in all aspects of her life reaches a turning point where she struggles with her Chemistry PhD program, a boyfriend who wants to marry her, and her Chinese-born immigrant parents.  Most of the action happens inside her head as she tries to determine what she really wants in life and how to navigate her relationships accordingly.  Similar to Lab Girl and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (reviewed here and here), Wang weaves in scientific descriptions that serve as metaphors for what is really going on.  Overall, Chemistry was an insightful and entertaining story about self-discovery.

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

I listened to this novella on audiobook (and it was under two hours long, if you have a short-attention span) because I recently read Backman’s A Man Called Ove (review here) and really enjoyed it. The story takes place in an old man’s mind as he talks with his son and grandson about life and aging. While you are reading, you feel as if you are aging right along with him as a result of the beautiful storytelling.  I was of course crying by the end of it (what’s new, right?).  My major takeaways from this sweet story were that life is short and that the time spent with people you love is what you look back and reminisce on.

Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah, the comedian that replaced Stephen Colbert as host of The Daily Show, is the author and audiobook narrator of his memoir, Born a Crime.  Noah describes his experiences as a colored (i.e. half-white, half-black) person growing up in a black family in South Africa during apartheid.  The title is derived from Noah being born mixed race in a time when relations between blacks and whites were illegal.  The content is serious, but he adds enough comedy to keep it light and easy to read (or listen to).  I hate to admit this, but I did not realize how recent apartheid was until I read this memoir, and I certainly did not realize how complex and sometimes arbitrary the legal system was in South Africa during that time.  Life was hard for black women especially as the reader learns through Noah’s stories about his mother.  If you listen to audiobooks, I recommend this one in particular – Noah’s personal narration adds a lot to his already amazing story.

Have you read any of these books? What was the best book you read this month?

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Book of the Month Club(which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, I get a free book. Thank you!

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Children’s Book Round-Up

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Carla May has recently started paying attention when we read books together, rather than just trying to eat the pages, which has been a delightful development!  One of the things I looked forward to most about having a child of my own was snuggling and reading together. Anyway, here are some of our favorite children’s books that we have been enjoying lately:

My Favorites

Dragons Love Tacos – Adam Rubin

Dragons Love Tacos is an adorable story about the eating preferences of dragons and instructions about how to throw the perfect taco party for dragons.  The illustrations are whimsical and fun.  I find myself laughing out loud every time we read this book.

 

 

On the Night you were Born – Nancy Tillman

This book is just all-around beautiful – the illustrations, the poetic narrative, and the feelings it evokes.  It has a few interactive parts that I think we’ll like more and more when Carla May gets old enough to understand (“wiggle your toes,” “whisper your name,” etc.).  I just love this book.

 

Owl Babies – Martin Waddell

This is a special book that we received as a gift from my godmother.  The illustrations are gorgeous and it tells the story of three baby owls who wake up to find their mother is nowhere to be found.  The books is mostly their discussions as to where she might have gone.  I especially liked the rhythm and the cadence of this book – it just feels good to read it aloud.

Carla May’s Favorites

Who Wears What – Kathy Ireland

We received this book in our May Bookroo box, and Carla May just loves it.  It is a great touch-and-feel book with bold colors, interesting textures, and simple descriptive words.  Who Wears What seems to be out of stock everywhere if you want to purchase just one copy, but you can still purchase them by the case if you buy directly from the publisher (have a lot of children’s birthday parties to attend?).


Squishy Turtle and Friends – Roger Priddy

This book was a gift, and what a wonderful gift it was!  Squishy Turtle and Friends is a cloth book with a crinkly cover and lots of touch-and-feel textures throughout.  It is only about 6 pages, but each page features a different sea animal and a new tactile detail.  Carla May’s favorite is the seahorse whose fin you can lift off the page (just like a tag!).

Love you, Hug you, Read to you! – Tish Rabe

This book has a sweet rhyme and pretty illustrations of animal parents reading to their children.  It also lists off questions you can ask your young reader about the pictures.  Carla May really likes the illustrations in this book and seems to enjoy being asked questions, even if she can’t answer them yet!  This was another one from the Bookroo May box.

 

Have you read any of these?  What are your favorite children’s books for a 6-9 month old?

xoxo

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Bookroo (which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, we get some free books. Thank you!

What I Read in May

This was a great month for reading – lots of page-turners and books I had been meaning to get to!  My thoughts on each of this month’s reads are below, listed in order of when I finished each book (no spoilers, I promise). Have you read any of these? Are any of these books on your TBR list?

Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland – Dave Barry

It took me a few chapters to get into this book.  At first, it felt kind of like reality TV, enjoyable, funny, but kind of feels like you are rotting your brain, but as I got further into the book, I liked it more and more.  Barry explores some of the tourist-trap areas of Old Florida, like Weeki Wachi Springs, Cassadaga, and Key West, and shares his often hilarious arguments for why Florida is the the Best. State. Ever.

A minor critique: The author Dave Barry is not from Florida… He is from New York, so the title is not actually true…

Sweetbitter – Stephanie Danler

I can see why some people might not like this book – the writing meanders a bit and most of the characters aren’t very likeable – BUT I really enjoyed it.  The story revolves around a young woman who moves to New York City and gets a job at a fancy restaurant (allegedly based on Union Square Cafe) despite having no qualifications.  The reader gets a peek at restaurant culture and the after-hours life of the restaurant service crowd.  Some of my favorite passages were Danler’s descriptions of wine flavors and histories.  This book reminded me a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s memoirs, but with a female perspective.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul

This was one of my April Book of the Month Club selections.  One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is an essay collection by debut author Scaachi Koul, a young Indian-American woman.  Her essays discuss her experiences as a woman, as a daughter of Indian-American immigrants, and as the girlfriend of an older, white man (who she affectionately refers to as “Hamhock”).  While her essays were often touching and more often hilarious, I do wish they had a bit more depth.  The essays mostly recounted how things happened and didn’t delve deeply into how she felt about those things or what the significance of those events was.  I suppose this book just left me wanting a little bit more.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

I listened to this story on audiobook and loved it.  Ove, the main character, reminded me a lot of the main character in the 2008 Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino, in that they were both grumpy, prickly old men who were very good people deep down.  Ove is an old-school guy in a neighborhood that is changing all around him.  A family of “foreigners” moves in and starts bugging him, and the story progresses from there.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I was in tears (what’s new, right?).  This story came out as a movie last year, so I am excited to see if the film lives up to the novel.

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Me Before You was one of those books in which it took me a chapter or two to get into the story, but once I was in, I was hooked – I finished all 369 pages in just 3 days!  This is a love story between a paraplegic young man and his eccentric caretaker.  It is hard for me to recommend this book to everyone, since it totally wrecked me at the end (like full-on ugly crying), but if you like extremely sad love stories, this one might be for you!  This is another one that was recently made into a movie that I have yet to watch.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

I listened to this quirky mystery story on audiobook and really enjoyed it.  The protagonist is a young man who just got a job in a 24-hour bookstore in Silicon Valley.  He starts to notice some strange things about the bookstore’s customers and the books that they borrow and the mystery unravels from there.  I don’t want to give away too much, because piecing together clues as you listen/read is a delightful experience with this story.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood – Janisse Ray

This book was a gift from my mother-in-law a few Christmases back and it had been sitting on my TBR shelf ever since.  I finally picked it up, and I am so glad I did!  Janisse Ray’s memoir of growing up in a junkyard in Southeast Georgia was fascinating.  Similar to Lab Girl (which I reviewed last month), the chapters alternate between first-person memoir and poetically scientific descriptions of the environment.  Ray writes masterfully about growing up with a mentally ill parent and takes the reader through her journey to becoming an environmentalist.

What have you been reading lately?  Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more book reviews.

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Book of the Month Club(which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, I get a free book. Thank you!

What I Read in April

I started this month off with some light reading and then got on a bit of a nonfiction kick. My thoughts on each of this month’s reads are below, listed in order of when I finished each book (no spoilers, I promise). Have you read any of these? Are any of these books on your TBR list?

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is a delightful book that I re-read every few years. Each re-read is a nice reminder that this is it – our lives are happening right now. We don’t need to wait until such-and-such happens (marriage, children, a raise, etc.) to enjoy it – we should savor our time right now. Another takeaway is that happiness is mostly a choice*, and we can choose how we’d like to frame events and responsibilities in our lives. For example, I used to hate washing and changing the sheets each week. I have since re-framed my mindset such that every Sunday, I look forward to starting the week off with clean sheets and freshly made beds.  This book is a good reminder that sometimes it is challenging and thankless to be light and cheerful, but being happy is truly is a selfless thing to strive for. My favorite quote from this book is, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  The author has a wonderful blog on happiness and habits if you are interested in this topic.

*I am not including the effects of mental illness in this blanket statement.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was a fun, light read told through letters, emails, and memos along with some first-person narrative from 15-year-old Bee, daughter of the eccentric and stylish Bernadette.  Not a spoiler, since it is in the title: Bernadette goes missing.  This book shares snippets of Bernadette’s past and tells the story of how Bee and her father try to find her.  This was a fabulous beach read!

 

 The Stranger in the Woods – Michael Finkel

I picked this book up because my husband told me how good Finkel’s first book was and said this one had gotten a lot of buzz. It was a Book of the Month Club pick from March, so I went ahead and threw it in the cart with my April selections. While I liked the premise, I had kind of a hard time getting through this book. If it weren’t so short, I probably would have put it down and picked something else up. The book is essentially a character study of the North Pond hermit Chris Knight, but Knight doesn’t reveal much to the author so Finkel doesn’t have a whole lot of material to work with. To me, the author seemed to have had committed to writing an entire book on this particular topic, so he threw in a bunch of background and research on hermits as filler to get this story to book length when it perhaps would have been better formatted as a long article.

Sidenote: After I wrote this review but had not yet posted it, The New York Times Book Review did a write-up on The Stranger in the Woods in which they also used the word “filler,” which was pretty validating for me as an amateur book reviewer.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

I finally purchased this book on audio after a friend recommended it years back.  The story about the woman and family behind HeLa cells was simply incredible and should probably be taught in history and/or science classes.  Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in an HBO movie based on this book that came out this month.  While I am delighted that the movie will expose an entire new audience to this amazing story, I personally couldn’t finish the film.  The book was waaaaay better!  (That always seems to be the case though, right?)

 

Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

I. Loved. This. Book.  Chatham picked up a stack of books at the Midtown Reader when we went to Tallahassee one weekend in January.  He thought I would like this one especially, and oh boy, was he right!

Lab Girl is a memoir of a female paleobiologist and despite the science-y subject matter, it was a real page-turner.  The book is separated into three parts that represent three different periods of the author’s life.  Every other chapter the author describes a scientific process in nature using beautiful, poetic descriptions, and then the next chapter subtly relates these biological changes to changes that are going on in her life at that point.   I was enthralled with the storyline and blown away with the quality of writing.  I wouldn’t expect someone in the maths and sciences to write so elegantly, but as I rack my brain, other examples do come to mind (Dr. E.O. Wilson, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Hawking), so perhaps that assumption is unfounded.  At any rate, Jahren’s writing is magnificent and her story is important.  I highly recommend this book.

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Book of the Month Club(which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, I get a free book. Thank you!

What I Read in March

I got A LOT of reading in this month!  This was partly because we canceled cable, partly because I try to read while I’m nursing Carla May (when she’ll let me), and partly because there were so many page-turners that I simply could not put down!  My thoughts on each of this month’s reads are below, listed in order of when I finished each book (no spoilers, I promise).  Have you read any of these?  Are any of these books on your TBR list?

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

This book was selected as Book of the Month Club‘s book of the year for 2016, which was an award voted on by readers.  All The Ugly and Wonderful Things tells the dark story of a relationship that develops between a little girl named Wavy and a big, woolly drug-dealing young man named Kellen.  Bryn Greenwood’s writing is masterful, and she weaves the story in such a way that I was rooting for these unlikely characters to end up together.  This was an uncomfortable but extremely gratifying read that I have found myself dwelling on often, even three weeks and seven books later.

Grit – Angela Duckworth

Grit was an interesting book about how intelligence and talent are not as strong indicators for success as passion, hard work, and perseverance.  My key takeaway for this book was to not compliment our children on being smart or talented, but to compliment kids on effort and persistence: “You must have worked really on that!” rather than “You’re so smart!”

 

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

The Vegetarian is a quick read translated from Korean that won the Man Booker International Prize last year.  This book tells the story of a woman who gives up eating meat in a society that views such an act as rebellion against the social quo.  The book is told in three parts, surprisingly none of which are from the point of the view of the main character herself.  The Vegetarian was a dark and disturbing read that is also somehow beautiful.

 

Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinsborough

This was a March Book of the Month Club selection, and I picked it up because I thought it would be a nice page-turner after experiencing two dark  and somewhat difficult stories in the last few weeks.  Behind Her Eyes tells the story of a seemingly perfect upper middle class couple and the husband’s secretary who get involved in a not-so-classic love triangle.  While this story was certainly a page turner, it morphed somewhere in the middle of the book from a psychological thriller to a supernatural-type thriller.  The promotional marketing for this book included the hashtag #WTFThatEnding.  WTF, indeed.  To me, the ending was so unbelievable, it spoiled what could have been a solid book.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought!

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

This was another March Book of the Month Club selection, and has been a darling of The New York Times’ Book Review (it has been featured in four articles so far).  Hamid’s writing is pure poetry with gorgeous sentences that go on for paragraphs, beautiful descriptions of human emotions, and maybe one line of dialogue over the course of the book’s 240 pages.  This is the story of a couple whose relationship begins right before their country goes to war. Mystical doors pop up, transporting those who enter to other countries, creating populations of refugees throughout the world.  When I read the premise of this book, I thought it was going to be a commentary on the refugee crisis and conflict in the Middle East, and while the story definitely pulls from those inspirations, this book was more focused on the main characters’ feelings of connection and isolation in their ever-changing worlds and the evolution of their relationship as a result.

Marlena – Julie Buntin

Marlena was my third March Book of the Month Club selection, and it is the author’s first novel.  In the opening pages, the reader learns that the narrator, Cat, had a special childhood friend named Marlena who died far too early.  Cat, a sheltered young girl, moves to a small town in rural Michigan after her parents’ divorce and immediately becomes entranced by her beautiful, manic, and street-wise next door neighbor Marlena.  The story documents the development of their friendship and the hi-jinks they get into.  I was not aware that this was a story about addiction when I picked it up, but this issue hits home with me.  I am not much of a crier, but this story left me sobbing at the end.  Marlena was beautiful and sad, and I feel better for having experienced it.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale was a re-read that I listened to on audiobook.  If you enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend this one.  Actress Claire Danes narrates the Audible version, and her voice perfectly illustrates the creepiness of the story.  This is a novel about a dystopian future in which infertility is a major issue.  The main character, Offred, is a handmaid who is appointed to a family with one assignment – to get pregnant.  Offred remembers a time before the current social structure, in which she had a family of her own.  This was a great story the first time I listened to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the re-listen as well.  Hulu is producing a series based on this book that premieres later this month.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Dark Matter  was a Book of the Month Club pick from last summer that I am just now getting around to reading.  It is a mind-bending, science-y thriller about “multiverses,” or parallel realities.  The story is about a professor named Jason who is abducted, knocked unconscious, and wakes up in a world that isn’t his own.  This story describes his efforts to get back to his life and the family he loves.  This book was a quick and enjoyable read that leaves you thinking about life and the choices you’ve made that have shaped where you are today.

 

What have you been reading lately?  Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more book reviews.

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Book of the Month Club(which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, I get a free book. Thank you!