How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington
Severance by Ling Ma
How to Fix a Broken Heart by Guy Winch
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Calypso by David Sedaris
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – After World War II, a young Englishwoman searches for a lost cousin in France, and forges a friendship with a retired spy.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – The novel that made me feel done with historical fiction about European royalty for a little while.
The Child by Fiona Barton – Murder mystery set in England. Easy to read, I missed the twist. Good beach reading actually.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck – Not sure how I was never required or inspired to read this before but I sure am glad I finally read it. You should too.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule – The story of Ted Bundy, written by a crime writer who knew him well.
I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorenson – Listen to people, let them know you heard them, and then keep listening. Seems obvious, but this quick read demonstrates how taking it seriously can change your relationships.
Round Rock by Michelle Huneven – In this novel, the small fictitious town of Rio, California is home to a collection of eccentric and entertaining characters as well as a men’s halfway house called Round Rock, which is the center of the action. Descriptive, romantic, inspiring, and heartbreaking.
The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet by Callie Feyen – I feel a thrill every time I type in the name of a book and its author when that author is someone I know. Callie Feyen is a friend inside the computer, a gifted writer whose work I have followed for years. This is her first book. She specializes in creative non-fiction: a true story told like a tale. In this slim volume, Feyen’s essays trace a year in the life of an 8th-grade English teacher who struggles with sharing William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with her pre-teen, hormonal, spirited students. Each chapter tells how Feyen relates a story from her own life to a section of the play, and therefore makes the work accessible to modern students. I learned a lot more about her by reading this, and I look forward to the next book.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – If I was an avid reader in the 1950’s, I definitely would have picked this book up right away. I mean, if I was even alive in the 50’s. Somehow I never read this…until now. This novel is set in an alternate United States, in which books are banned and everyone watches room-sized TV’s all day long. People who have books get busted and the fire department shows up to burn them all. One firefighter has a change of heart as the country faces a war. I have to say, even though I loved the story, Bradbury’s hyperbolic poetry didn’t quite fit well in the flow of the books I’ve been reading lately, so I had to adjust my attention span and go over certain lines more than once to really feel this book. At least now I get all the references in my own era’s pop culture.
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese – Epic novel starting in a medical clinic in Ethiopia, then following twins who were born there. It’s sort of historical, medical, and twin fiction, with some romance too. Rich in detail and imagination, the story lays out entire lives for the reader, but always returning to a narrator’s point of view, which anchors the story and keeps one interested for the whole of this long read.
The Merchant of Venice Beach by Celia Bonaduce – Romance about a plucky business owner in city of its title, featuring salsa dancing, exotic teas, a three’s company of best friends, and heroine with a rich imagination. The author is a TV producer by day, and manages to write novels in her spare time. Amazing.
Artemis by Andy Weir – This novel by the author of The Martian is a much faster-paced and less sciencey caper set on our futuristic new city on the moon. Much easier (and some might say less rich) read than The Martian. I read it in a week.
What Is Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi – Collection of short stories written in a dreamy, fantastical voice. Puppets come to life. Dead people waste away under the water in a swamp. There is a key, either real or symbolic, in every story. While I was left wanting by most of them, I was inspired by the author’s use of language.
Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver – Part memoir, part self-help book about simplifying your life to make room for what matters. Carver is the woman who started Project 333, which I’m still doing (although I keep more than 33 items on hand). I read through the book once and plan to review and implement some of her suggestions into my life.
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown – In this novel, a suburban mom goes for a hike and disappears into the wilderness? Or does she? Written with great tenderness and what feels like introspection. Scenes in which her teenage daughter has visions of her lost mom are heartbreaking and creepy, too.
Plum Island by Nelson DeMille – Thick detective novel, the kind I don’t like, but I started reading it anyway, and then I had to find out what happened, and now I want those hours of my life back. Fail.
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – Woman goes back home to small town and uncovers a ten-year-old mystery. I didn’t like the way the story is told backwards, or the melodramatic sadness of the narrator,
but I live my own melodramatic sadness on occasion, so who am I to judge?
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Epic novel about the life of an aristocrat who lives through the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism, all from a distance as he is imprisoned in a fancy hotel.
The kind of book that never ends and you like it that way.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – The author won a Nobel Prize for literature so I had to read it. I guess…it was okay but post-Downton Abbey, OMG it was boring.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – A loner in a city in England who has been just fine all these years thank you very much, but one day she falls in love at first sight, and then hijinks ensue. Great story.
You Suck, a Love Story by Christopher Moore – The nice way to encapsulate my reaction to this book is to say “I am not the right reader for this book.” I don’t even know why I read the whole thing. Still, there were moments of lovely writing in scenes with the POV of the 20-year-old female vampire. Silver lining.
So L.A. by Bridget Hoida – Small-town girl has a big idea that makes her and her husband into millionaires. After a tragedy, she transforms into a stereotypical rich LA woman to hide the pain. Hijinks ensue. Still, some of the writing is pure poetry.
Eleanor Marries For Love – by Jennie Goutet Unpublished manuscript of a Regency-era romance. Well-crafted story with great period detail that is just as frustrating to watch and fun to imagine as Downton Abbey.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – A book-club book that finally landed in my hands. Started slow for me, but the author does an amazing job at making you love the title character, who unwittingly becomes the center of a loving community.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Post-…not apocalyptic, exactly, but a bleak future nonetheless. Everyone lives most of their lives in a virtual reality game called The Oasis, and one teenager stakes everything he has on a competition with billions of dollars as the prize. The writing was okay, but the story kept moving and the 80’s pop culture references made it fun.
This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: a Season of Unlikely Happiness – by Laura MunsonMunson’s “Modern Love” essay is one of the most-shared of all time. Her memoir about a marital crisis is vulnerable and raw,
and a model for grace in times of enormous struggle.
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life – by Amy Krouse RosenthalClever list of weird things the author thinks about categorized in an encyclopedia-like list. Seemed gimmicky at first, but grew on me. The whole point: “I was here, you see. I was.” That’s what we all want to say.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser – I just. I mean. You guys. You have to read this.
The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley – A study of the public education systems in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, and how the compare to public education in the US. Ripley used the findings from an international test (PISA) as a springboard to investigate and go beyond test scores to witness classrooms and children in them to see why certain countries seem to do better than others. Thought-provoking and full of moments where Ripley attempts to translate educator-speak for the masses.
Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – Sandberg’s recounting of how she coped after her husband suddenly passed away. She seems to be able to turn her own struggles into national movements. I wasn’t quite ready for her last book when I read it, but I appreciate the relatable way she comes down off her silicon tower to share what she’s learned with the masses. I totally cried reading this book and I’ve actually used some of what I learned when relating to people suffering hardships.
The Fab Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back after Baby by Jill Simonian – Fellow blogger and TV mom shares how she got her mojo back after having kids. Lots of celebrity references. I reviewed it here.
Restless in LA by Robin Finn – A restless mom reconnects with an old boyfriend on Facebook and has an affair.
The Whole Man by CF Rose – A plucky woman moves back to Southern California and runs into a hot baseball player she hooked up with years ago. Turns out he’s her best friend’s son’s high school baseball coach now, so they run into each other a LOT.
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett – In this novel, an antiquarian books dealer goes on a hunt for the provenance of what seems to be an original Shakespeare document. Hijinks ensue. It was a page turner and infused with heart as the protagonist is grieving for his dead wife during all of this.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – A novel that follows several young people escaping from Prussia near the end of World War II. They seek freedom on a doomed ship, yet you find yourself hoping for them to the very last page. This book was my intro to Sepetys. She’s so skillful and lyrical I can’t wait to read more of her work. But why, oh why, do I let myself read World War II stories? I finished this book today while eating lunch alone in a sandwich shop, literally crying in my soup.
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyers – Meyers wrote a series of books called Twilight? Have you heard of it? And then she went on to write some books for adults, blah blah and this is one of them. The novel follows a specialist who once worked for a secret government department but now she’s on the run because an operation went bad. There’s a lot of detail about her mobile chemistry lab and elaborate booby traps and evasion techniques at first, but then she gets involved in a new turn of events and has to team up with a dreamy nice guy and his Black Ops brother and hijinks ensue. Enjoyable read, even though it’s way too long (but who’s going to stop Meyers now?)
The First Circle Club by Alex Siegel – I was sent this novel to review and it seemed like a light read, for reading in bed. The author’s voice is light, but the subject is pretty heavy! A soul escapes from the deepest level of Hell to come back to Earth and kill more people. Four others are sent to capture him. Hijinks ensue. Not a bad story – certainly kept me guessing.
Unsinkable by Abby Sunderland and Lynn Vincent – Abby Sunderland was 16 years old when she attempted to sail around the world unassisted. Her ship was caught in a storm in the Indian Ocean, but she was rescued, so I knew it had a happy ending. What adventures this young woman will have in her life.
Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan Heath and Chip Heath – A businessy self-help book full of stories about people who led great changes with their companies, their communities, or their cultures with limited budgets to start with. Inspiring!
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher – Fisher’s memoir/one-woman show. I bet it was a killer show, and I wish I had seen it. It’s a quick read that jumps all over the place, but if you imagine Fisher sitting in the room with you telling these stories, it gives you the warm fuzzies.
Fields of Fire by Marko Kloos – The fifth book in the Frontlines series. Lieutenant Grayson and the Earth’s military fight the Lankies on Mars. It’s every bit as suspenseful and detailed as the first four books. Read my review here.
Elemental Awakenings by Mandy Dawson – A romance of lovers reunited through time, featuring a plucky heroine and a frustrating yet smolderingly handsome hero who isn’t just an ordinary guy.
Forever by Judy Blume – Yes, that same book. My writing group wanted to see how this YA would hold up today. It was entertaining to revisit, and a super quick read.
Merry Little Christmas by Angela Amman, Mandy Dawson, and Cameron D. Garriepy – A collection of short stories, each featuring the magic of Christmastime romance.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – A novel in which a closet biographer is hired to write the story of a famous novelist. With twists and turns, scandalous family history, possible ghosts, and missing twins. Well told and intriguing, and the ending made me cry.
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey – Lahey is a middle school teacher who implores parents to step back from helicopter parenting and let their kids fail once in a while so they can learn what that feels like and allow it to motivate them to succeed. I read this at the same time I went back to work full time outside the home, a time when I desperately need to be assured that everything will be okay without me there. My mom worked when I was a kid and I turned out okay, but that argument isn’t enough for many parents because our world is so different from the way it was back then. Anyway, Lahey makes a case for “autonomy supportive” parents and how successful and self-reliant their children will be. Peppered with real-life examples and advice from teachers and other parents, this is worth the read.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Parris – I read this book in 24 hours. It started out slow, so I could have abandoned it, but my friend recommended it and lent me her copy, so I pressed on and boom! Glad I did. All I will say about the story is that the title is about what’s behind the closed doors of the “perfect” relationship. I don’t want to spoil any of it for you!
The Nest by Cyntha D’Aprix Sweeney – Once you take money out of a relationship, everything changes. That’s a lesson told in the other family saga I read recently, The Mandibles (see below). The Plumb siblings all expect to receive a sweet inheritance when the youngest turns 40, but their irresponsible older brother screws it all up for them, so now what? Nicely woven tale about family and how so much is connected, even things that aren’t obvious.
The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok – A young rabbi is sent to Korea after the end of the war to be a chaplain to the troops stationed there. He questions everything he has learned when he witnesses the harsh beauty of this new land and people. This novel is dense and tends to veer off into long analyses of Jewish faith, particularly Kabbalah, but taken in small doses, the effect is thought-provoking and wonderful.
For Rent by Erin Huss – Debut novel about a young single mom who gets her first job as an apartment manager in Beverly Hills-adjacent. There’s intrigue, drama, cute guys, and illegal tropical fish! A light, easy, enjoyable read based on the author’s actual experience as an apartment manager.
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein – Colection of personal essays by comedian and writer Jessi Klein. Best known for her work on Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central show, Klein is an awkward, self-deprecating weirdo just like the rest of us, only with this memoir-ish collection, she pulls back the curtain to let you see. Funny, relatable, and barely name-drops at all.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – set in Cincinnati and featuring Cross Fit, interracial and transgender relationships, single parenting by choice, and a spider infestation. It was a delicious read.
Lily by Any Other Name by Julie Gardner – Unpublished manuscript. I love reading my friends’ works-in-progress!
The Pie Life by Samantha Ettus – Advice for working moms about how to let go of the idea of balance, and embrace every part of your life the way you’d savor a tasty pie. My review is published here.
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver – Another post-apocalyptic epic tale, but this time in a much more adult, much easier to imagine, and therefore far more dreadful and creepy way. The US has suffered through a massive power outage, and then many years later the economy collapses, sending the entire country into a famine and shortage of goods so great that regular people run out of toilet paper and evict each other at gunpoint. It made me a little bit nauseous, actually, but I devoured it.
The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu – This is a short story, not a whole book, but I bought and read the e-book version so I’m counting it (which shows my support for that author, because you can just read it online). In the future, every time you lie, a cold shocking rain falls on you, even if you are inside. People can’t tell lies anymore without being immediately betrayed by the relative humidity in the room. Thus, for a closeted gay man, life is difficult when he brings his lover to meet his family during a holiday. Masterfully written.
The Mindset of Organization by Lisa K. Woodruff – Blogger Lisa K. Woodruff is a professional organizer. Her blog and Facebook group have great prompts, ideas, and advice about home organization, a topic that I love. Her book is part memoir, part advice. What’s unique about it is the way Woodruff breaks down the particular challenges women face in different phases of their lives and how stuff and clutter accumulate and choke the joy out of them. This wasn’t just a good handbook for getting your shit together. It was a good read.
Love on the Rocks (With Salt) by Charlene Ross – This novella is a prequel to the novel Frosted Cowboy (which I reviewed here) and tells the story of how Lanie met, fell in love with, and was betrayed by her fiance Kyle. Told with humor and Lanie’s signature self-deprecating wit, LOTR makes you want even more of Lanie!
Damselfly Inn by Cameron D. Garriepy – A single woman moves to the country and buys an old house and turns it into a B&B. A series of unfortunate events draws the local handyman to the property to do repairs. Fortunately, he’s about her age and totally hot. A sweet romance unfolds, then bursts into super sexy flames. Great modern day romance!
The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay – A writer who penned a novel that became an international sensation is obsessed with his own popularity and the perks of a worldwide book tour and ignores his obligation to write the follow-up. Over a three-day weekend on a remote luxurious island, he flashes back on his life story, the making of his hit novel, and comes to terms with his own weaknesses. Entertaining, especially for writers and people who hate social media.
Southern Gothic: a Celine Caldwell Mystery by Bridgette Alexander – Art theft mystery solved by teen girl set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Debut novel.
The Last Star by Rick Yancey – Following City of Mirrors, The Last Star was like easy reading. This book is the conclusion of The 5th Wave trilogy, in which a young girl leads humanity’s fight against invading aliens, and sometimes, itself.
City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin – I suppose this isn’t surprising by now. I have a thing for post-apocalyptic fiction. Not sure what that’s about. Maybe it’s my innate tendency to assume the worst and hope for the best, so this genre helps me visualize what “the worst” for humanity could be? Cronin’s trilogy, starting with The Passage and continuing through The Twelve, concludes in this volume with a showdown between good and evil that would make Stephen King proud. I mean, I imagine.
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon – Super creepy novel about a multiple-generation mystery set in a motel in rural Vermont. Builds up to a “WHAT’s IN THE BOX?!” type of climax, artfully told and fast-paced enough that I was up until 1AM to find out what happened, and well, what’s in the tower.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – Billed as a salve for people who miss Downton Abbey, this novel is another fish out of water story, in which the heroine is already filthy rich but she’s from America, and new money. She hastily marries an English duke and tries to fit into his world, but it seems her new/old world tries to foil her at every turn. Filled with period details and language that evokes the time. Made me wish today’s people were as classy in their public temper tantrums as they were then.
Schooled by Anisha Lakhani – It’s like The Devil Wears Prada but set in the world of private schools in New York City. Idealistic young teacher starts the year with a noble goal to inspire her middle schoolers, gets sucked into the high priced underworld of “tutoring,” in which Ivy League-educated teachers earn thousands of dollars to basically do the rich students’ homework for them, then has an epiphany and dumps the whole thing to return to her original plan, battle-scarred and freshly highlighted, but with a new commitment to teaching. Sorry for the spoiler, but you can smell the end from the first few pages. It was cute and easy to read, with very little sex and lots of fashion label porn.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – This novel is the story of two people and one marriage, first from the husband’s point of view, then from the wife’s. The husband is a good person with a touch of wickedness. The wife is wicked with a touch of good. Or so it seems. Is it the opposite? Their lives, lived together and apart, are just like all of ours, but the author’s moments of laser focus on the details of a scene make it good reading. I read this over Memorial Day weekend.
Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos – Basically I finished Rules of Engagement and picked up Angles of Attack the next day because I had to find out what happens next!!! I don’t remember feeling that way since The Passage, so, good one, Kloos. The star of the series, Andrew Grayson, spends a lot of time just standing around watching what goes down, but that doesn’t make the story any less engaging. I already have the fourth book but I’m saving it.
Rules of Engagement by Marko Kloos – Second in a series called Frontlines – military sci fi. Set in the (near) future, this is the continued story of how an otherwordly race of aliens takes over Earth’s colonies on other planets, getting closer and closer to home. Super creepy, super suspenseful, surprisingly understandable even though it has a lot of military equipment jargon and future space technology.
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero – A blogger I really like posted a photo of this on Facebook so I got it from the library and I liked it so much I bought my own copy. I wrote a feature about the book for Notre Dame Magazine’s blog – find that here.
Muse Warrior by Erin Schachory – Upon moving to Italy with her father and brother,1 4-year-old Eden DellaLuna discovers that she has otherworldly skills and that the Roman gods are not just figments of human imagination. Her adventures and the cast of immortal characters are brought to life with colorful skill. (unpublished)
What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin – A novel set in 1980 and 2010 that switches back and forth in the story of a young girl convicted of shooting a famous movie director, then her life after she gets out of prison and is suspected in another crime. That this book is set in 2 different time periods in the Valley and Hollywood areas of Los Angeles adds to the magic of Gaylin’s evocative writing. The plot twists come one after another, making this one a page-turner for me.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen – A detailed chronicle of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the concurrent work of a serial killer. The drama of the Fair was just as compelling as the murder story!
The Martian by Andy Weir – My family watched the movie version of The Martian together and we all loved it, so I got the book from the library. My husband read it first and flew through it very quickly. I also loved it – science-y without alienating the reader, and suspenseful even though you know the ending. I recommend for older children (teens, really) as well.
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman – This collection of short stories by a veteran author was reviewed in detail in the New Yorker last year. Full of stories about the fictitious residents or visitors to the town of Godolphin, MA, the writing is lyrical and lovely, quiet and observant. My absolute favorite.
Frosted Cowboy by Charlene Ross – A debut novel by my friend and fellow member of my writers’ group, The Writing Safety Tree, Frosted Cowboy is published by Velvet Morning Press. A comedy about a 32-year-old woman putting her life back together, this is a great beach read, as they say. I read two versions before it was published and I was even more pleased by the final version, and to hold it in my hands after all this time is a delight. Here is my review.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – This is another title that was born from NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month). In this post-apocalyptic YA series, a village is stranded in a giant forest, surrounded by a fence that keeps the zombies out. It has been generations since most of the world was overtaken by them. This village is ruled by secretive nuns and burly guards. Men claim women as their wives, and if a girl is not “spoken for” she is either banished to the forest or sequestered with the nuns. The book doesn’t make much of the messed up sexism here, but focuses on the perspective of Mary, a girl who doesn’t quite fit in. Not as badass as Katniss, but still plucky enough, Mary reluctantly takes charge when the zombie shit hits the fan. The language in this story starts out strong and clean, but eventually devolves into melodrama. Every emotion this girl has is extreme and runs through her entire body, coursing through her veins. Granted, she’s being chased by zombies, but I needed a little break from that every now and then. Still, I’ll get the sequel.
Jane Jones, Worst Vampire Ever by Caissie St. Onge – St. Onge is a comedy writer whose YOU GO GIRL manifesto about Oprah joining Weight Watchers went viral on Facebook. Many of my friends are friends with her so it came into my feed early on, and I read it and fell down the internet rabbit hole, checking out her stuff. She talked about writing this YA novel in an interview. Basically she just…banged it out. I was curious so I checked it out of the library. Jane Jones is a 90-year-old vampire frozen in her teens, cursed to attend high school as kind of loser nerd over and over again. Plus, she’s blood-intolerant. In this story things actually change for her and she sets off on an adventure. The teen language was pretty cute but I can’t tell if it’s right on because I can barely relate to these kids today.
Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer – I read about Lydia Netzer taking several years and multiple NaNoWriMo challenges to finish this book so I stuck it on my library list and like magic it became available right when I needed it. It’s beautiful, weird, out of order, and thought-provoking. The story of a robot engineer and his wife who met each other in childhood and grow up together, and how their relationships with each other, themselves, and the world change and deepen during a series of dramatic events.
Unleash the Power of the Female Brain: Supercharging Yours for Better Health, Energy, Mood, Focus, and Sex by Daniel G. Amen – My son got this for me for my birthday. He’s 10, and spotted the bright cover in a bookstore. It took me a few months to read this because I did so a little at a time. Summary: eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and avoid drugs and alcohol and coffee. I’ll just leave that here.
Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich – International spy thriller involving the threat of nuclear war, skiing, poisonous frogs, and of course, a weird love story. I have no idea how this book wound up on my bookshelf, but in a fit of curiosity, I pulled it down for my first read of the year. Suspenseful and intriguing, not the kind of book I normally choose, but entertaining enough.
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya – I borrowed this Advanced Reader Copy from my pal Florinda, a book blogger, after I read her post about it. This novel traces the growth of two families in a small town outside Chicago that hosts a particle accelerator and its staff of theoretical physicists. I like the quiet, lovely prose and the sense that so much more is stirring under the surface of each character. Recommend. Great last book of the year!
Preschooled by Anna Lefler – I have known Lefler for several years through blogging and social media. She was primarily a comedy writer so I expected this novel to be mostly comedy, but it has a lot of heart, chronicling a season of life at a fancy, exclusive Westside LA preschool. Reading this right after Primates of Park Avenue kept the theme going, but I enjoyed the shift to fiction and the character development as more of an escape during the holidays. Lefler doesn’t disappoint on the comedy front – she has some great little zingers in this book that you might miss if you’re reading quickly.
Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin – I was prepared to hate this memoir pretending to be a scholarly examination of young, wealthy Upper East Side mothers, considering the author was one herself. But Martin ingratiates herself to the reader, listing with awe the extravagances they insist they cannot live without, even as she find herself coveting them. In the end, one can easily see that if you strip away the infinite resources these women have at their disposal, they’re just like any other humans. I found most fascinating the section about anxiety and their dependence on meds.
Lit by Mary Karr – The author of The Liars Club, Karr comes back again with the saga of her drinking, her struggle to stop drinking, and her reluctant embrace of religion. I like the dual use of the title word to signify a bender, and also the feeling one gets within when faith actually connects. And I’m fond of her because I truly loved The Liars Club, but this story feels more detached than the original, like it was written by someone else. Still, a good read with ever more brave revelations.
Bright Before Us by Katie Arnold-Ratliff – A novel about a young man limping through his life, not making any decisions besides avoiding doing the right thing. Love and loss, the eternal story. Took me a little while to commit to this one because the overall vibe was so sad and apathetic, but the language was lovely enough to get me over that hurdle and want to know what happened next.
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos – Kloos is one of my very first Twitter friends, from way back in 2008, and while I wasn’t paying attention he wrote 3 books and will soon release a fourth. I’ve admired his voice on Twitter and his blog, so I ordered it without even really knowing what it’s about. It’s military sci-fi, which I didn’t know was a thing, but Kloos describes the life a newly enlisted private in an inter-solar-system army of the not so distant future with such smooth detail and relatable storytelling that…I’m sold. I’m ordering the next one today. Merry Christmas to me.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – A meditation on creativity and why you should take it seriously but you shouldn’t take it seriously at all. I loved this book so much I keep it on my desk to consult when I’m feeling stuck or down. I saw Gilbert speak two summers ago and the stories she told then are in this book. It’s like a souvenir of that time I spent listening to her. More thoughts on creativity as relates to this book in this post.
The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey – Part 2 of the latest post-apocalyptic YA series that will be a movie franchise! Look, I sucked this one right up, so I can’t really say anything bad about it. But it did get a little too existential aliens vs. humans and hope and faith and blah blah blah. Yeah, yeah. I wanted more action. Next time?
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – Hooray for the latest post-apocalyptic YA series that will be a movie franchise! Part War of the Worlds, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers, part Reds, part Stephenie Meyer’s book Host, part Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s delicious and quick reading.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman – A teenager is involved in a car crash and spends a day outside her body while it is in a coma, flashing back to all the important things that have happened in her life and measuring what she has to live for in a new future.
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs – Third in the trilogy started by Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. We journey with the peculiar children from war-torn London to a secret hellish city inhabited by the dark side and end up in the Temple of Doom, shepherded there across the river Styx by the infamous Ferryman. Or Riggs’ version of those things. There are no new stories, but wrapped in the world of the peculiars, this amalgamation of ones we’ve heard before is still entertaining.
Furiously Happy, A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jennifer Lawson – Lawson’s second memoir has more of an emphasis on the various mental illnesses that have led to some of her misadventures and periods of darkness, but is still filled with ridiculous stories including the time she tried to affix taxidermied raccoons to her cats in the middle of the night. I liked this book more than Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, her first bestseller, because it seems less cobbled together from old blog posts and much more honest. Sometimes all the (admittedly funny) blather she includes in her writing comes off as a smokescreen to mask the true writer, who is really quite wonderful and doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, even if those are made out of dead animals. Oh, just read the book. You’ll see what I mean.
We Are Water by Wally Lamb – In 1963, a flood devastated a small town in Southeastern Connecticut, setting in motion a series of events that would take two generations to resolve. This novel by an author whose other work I have loved tells the story of artist Annie Oh and the family and neighbors in her orbit that don’t even know how they are connected to one another. A bit slow to get into, the book eventually became a page-turner for me.
My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, ed. – A collection of essays by women who have lost or broken up with their best female friends. It happens, and it’s heartbreaking. This is a book from the Her Stories Project, a website and collective of women who are writers. Their next book, I’m So Glad They Told Me, will feature essays about motherhood. One of them is mine! Stay tuned…
Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want by Tess Vigeland – Vigeland is a friend of a friend, so I got to meet her at a dinner party celebrating this book release. She had achieved her career dreams, and just when she was at the top of her game, she quit without a plan. This book is her story, plus the accounts of others’ similar struggles in different careers. Less a “how-to” than a “here’s what I did,” this book is a reality check and a message of hope at the same time.
The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens – The latest from this author who lives in my town. Her book launch took place at our local library, where she greeted readers and signed copies of the book. It is a story about a young man who goes on an epic hike and winds up getting lost with women of three generations, and how by saving their lives, his own was saved, too.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan – It was just a coincidence that I read The Unknown Bridesmaid and The Children Act back to back, but it worked out just fine. Fiona is an introspective family court judge who is detailed and composed and could have been a character in Forster’s novel now enjoying her own spin-off. In this novel she faces marital discord of her own while struggling with a particularly emotional case. It’s a quiet drama full of references to British family law and descriptions of concert piano work that, while they are beyond me, evoked something of an imaginary soundtrack for my reading.
The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster – The introspective child psychologist Julia treats troubled young girls in an effort to better understand the wild urges that she experienced as she grew up. Quiet and fascinating, like every other Margaret Forster title I’ve read.
The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz – A novel about a woman who leaves behind the life that was expected of her and follows a man to a new destiny at a remote lighthouse on the West Coast. Reminded me a little of Ahab’s Wife but not as epic — this story focuses on the unique beauty of small things.
The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens – Lori Lansens came from Canada and eventually moved to the town where I live now. The Wife’s Tale is a novel about an obese woman whose husband leaves her without warning, and in tracking him down she makes the same journey. She discovers our suburban L.A. enclave in the heat of summer, recounting with fictional eyes her adventures here, and the people she meets. It was all a bit stereotypical for me, but I still enjoyed reading of familiar places and recognizing the fresh wonder at our local beauty experienced by even a fictitious character.
Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. – How to be a good leader, teacher, parent, person – essentially, shift your mindset from closed to open. Seems so simple, yet example after example shows me that people are either one way or the other. My co-president of the school PTA gave this to me as she “retired,” and it blew my mind(set). It’s like a handbook for life.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Boerr – Everyone you know is reading this book, and there is a good reason this time. It’s wonderful. Even my dad read it, and he usually sticks to non-fiction. It’s a beautiful novel about two young people in Europe during World War II and how a dizzying series of coincidences connect them.
Popular: Vintage Wisdom For a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – An 8th-grader finds a “how to be popular” advice book from the 1960’s and decides to try the advice. She journals her experience in this surprisingly touching memoir.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – If Google was full of wizards and there was an analog version of it, composed of a 500-year-old subterranean secret society, and one hapless, jobless guy in San Francisco could artfully assemble a fellowship to unlock their riddle, this would be that story. And it is.
The Girls by Lori Lansens – I am reading through Lori Lansens’ work because her latest novel, The Mountain Story, is the topic of the city-wide book club discussion this year in my town. She did a reading at our local library and signed books in a special preview sale there. This novel, from the perspective of conjoined twins, is improbable and quietly beautiful. It was a page-turner for me.
Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Susan Daniels – An academically-toned explanation of the different ways people can be gifted, and how to understand, cope, and thrive as a gifted person, or a parent of one. Took me a long time to finish because it reads like a thesis.
Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young Stone – I was drawn to this novel’s theme of hope amid grief and loss, symbolized by the secret wings that the women of the Vilkas family hide under their clothes. Click here to read my full review.
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens – It’s been a few months since I let myself get lost in a story, and this one came along and sucked me right in. A novel about a lonely old woman and a little girl, and how they save each other. Beautiful.
One of Everything by Donna Carol Voss – A memoir about the author’s journey from bisexual, exploring young woman to a not-gay Mormon/adoptive mother. Click here to read my review.
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan – I enjoy listening to Jim Gaffigan’s stand-up routines, and I must have listened to the bulk of his recent work, because this book is mostly the print version of the jokes I hear on my Jim Gaffigan Pandora station. Still, there are a few new nuggets of parenting humor. I’d recommend for a Gaffigan newcomer, especially one with multiple children.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris – Yet another book of Sedaris essays, perfect for reading before bed, or while you wait for the kids in the pickup line, etc. Light and intellectually funny, Sedaris never disappoints.
Keep the Ends Loose by Molly D. Campbell – Seems like YA, but its story is far more subtle and suited for adults. The writer is a friend and colleague, and I review it here.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – A crime novel set in Victorian London and the countryside and told from the points of view of two young women, this book was recommended to me by a friend. He said it would be hard to get into at first, but I was drawn in right away, and the book took precedence over all others until I finished it during Notre Dame’s OT victory over Butler in the first round of March Madness.
The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber – A collection of stories about families who have found ways to raise children who are the opposite of spoiled, no matter their income level. My interview with the author on Mint.com’s blog here.
Secrets of the Lost Caves by Cheryl Potter – Second in the Potluck Yarn Trilogy. Click here to read my Q&A with author Cheryl Potter.
Soul Sessions by Carson Gage – A self-published novel about a youngish man’s searching for meaning in his life. Click here to read my feature.
Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman – To be read aloud to your children, preferably with a British accent, preferably while snuggling.
Elizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan – Dolan’s follow-up to her first novel. An entertaining story about a single woman who teaches Shakespeare and how she uses her knowledge to get ahead in her career and love life.
California by Edan Lepucki – Picked this up sight unseen because I saw the author chatting in a Facebook thread with another author (Tiffany Hawk who wrote Love Me Anyway) I am connected to inside the aspiring writers underground of the internets. Coincidentally it is another post-apocalyptic story, but this time the apocalypse is a slow decline following the author’s sight line along the way we live today: pollution, disease, extreme weather, financial disparity, etc. The novel is intriguing and well-told. Last book of January 2015 for me.
Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan – A second-chance story about a socialite making her way in the tangled web of Pasadena society. With a little Indiana Jones thrown in for romance. The author is a blogging colleague and I used to live in Pasadena, which make reading this novel extra fun.
The Twelve by Justin Cronin – Sequel to The Passage in which survivors of the vampire apocalypse try to remake society. The story is so compelling I tore through this in four days at the expense of many other things in my life. There is a third book, which I will save for when I have fewer tasks to blow off while I read.
The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom – A handful of people in a small Michigan town get mysterious phone calls from their dead relatives and friends. Hijinks ensue. I did not like the writing style in this but I stubbornly read to the end. Everybody dies. (Kidding.)
The Passage by Justin Cronin – Referred to in Station Eleven which I loved, so I tackled this very long book. Goes by fast. Post-apocalyptic and with vampires. But they don’t sparkle.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – My friend Charlene and my mother both liked it, so it was my last book of 2014. Number 50! Post-apocalyptic and depressing, yet hopeful. Like Contagion meets that TV series Revolution.
Scat by Carl Hiaasen – A novel that skews to young readers about kids saving an endangered panther cub in the Everglades. Fine for a cross-country flight, and good for kids who like to read.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – Written in 1906, this novel goes behind the scenes of the Chicago slaughterhouse and meatpacking district staffed by immigrants and the poorest people in the nation. Nauseating and also infuriating because it ends abruptly amidst fevered evangelism about the Socialist uprising. Yeah, yeah, it’s a classic, but come on. I wanted to find out what happened to Jurgis.
Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro – A memoir of the writer’s early 20’s, during which her father’s sudden death shakes her off a self-destructive path. Descriptive and dreamy.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – While I enjoyed learning that Australian PTA moms are just as crazy as we are, I didn’t quite get what everyone raves about. Is this The DaVinci Code of women’s fiction?
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – A debut novel from the perspective of a young teen grieving her uncle who has just died after battling AIDS in the 1980’s. I was a teen in the 1980’s. This book hit pretty close to home.
One For the Money by Janet Evanovich – Normally I would not pick up one of these brightly colored thick little paperbacks with the bold crowded titles, but my friend Tricia put it into my hands and said it had made her laugh. It did not make me laugh, but I read it. Thanks anyway!
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – A beautiful, heartbreaking tale of the life of Francie Nolan, a girl growing up in New York during the Great Depression. It’s a classic that I didn’t pick up until I learned that it is Kelli‘s favorite book, and I tend to like the books she likes. Bingo, once again.
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King – Sequel to The Shining, and pretty much just as entertaining and scary. Toward the end I had to read it until I was finished at the expense of everything else going on in my life, like getting dressed.
Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa – A memoir from this young writer/comedian about the time she went bananas and how she survived it. I also like the title because it’s a handy play on words for the town I live in, which can be amusing but I haven’t quite figured out how.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling – A collection of essays by the witty actress, writer, producer, director – not necessarily an autobiography. Confirms that Kaling reminds me of my friend Leanne even though Leanne is not Indian or a writer. Funny, but as Kaling herself admits in the opening FAQ section, it’s no Bossypants.
Rolling Nowhere by Ted Conover – Non-fiction. In 1981, a college student takes a break to hop freight trains and live like a hobo. Thirty years later he did it again with his grown son, and they did an interview on NPR, which is how I heard about it. When he originally wrote it, Conover included somber observations about mental illness, homelessness, welfare, illegal immigration, and poverty. Sadly, the problems have only gotten worse.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – A bonanza in gold goes missing in 1866 New Zealand. Hijinks ensue. This is a novel with a cast of many characters, and the story moved me through the book well enough but I wasn’t struck by the language until page 624: “So they are lovers, he thought, looking down at them. So they are lovers, after all. He knew it from the way that they were sleeping.”
Still Writing by Dani Shapiro – A soothing, encouraging love letter from a successful writer of memoir and novel to people like me. I want to sleep with it under my pillow.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness – Third in a trilogy about a witch/vampire couple struggling for acceptance of interspecies mating. With time traveling and Forest Gump-like meetings with notable historical figures. It’s like Twilight meets the regrettable Outlanders meets Harry Potter. Or something like that.
The In-Between by Jeff Goins – Meant to inspire the reader to embrace the waiting time between life’s big events using stories from his past. Writing is stronger when he shares more current tales.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs – Sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Lots of great twists and surprises, but starting to feel a lot like Harry Potter. Still, nice cliffhanger, Riggs. I’ll totally pick up the next one.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – I picked this up as an antidote to the Outlander series which I hated (only got a little bit in to part 2). Two months later I feel changed but not necessarily for the better. And now things that give me the creeps give me the howling fantods instead.
All You Need Is Less by Madeleine Somerville – A DIY guide to making your own stuff so you don’t have to keep buying things and throwing away their containers. Etc. Click here for my review.
The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson – Regenerating healthy soil will stop global warming and renew the earth. Told like a story as the author learns about soil health worldwide.
Holes by Louis Sachar – A boy does time at a juvenile detention center, digging holes in the desert. Hijinks ensue. Kyle “read” the audiobook as I read the book book. We both loved it.
Letters For Scarlet by Julie Gardner – Another unpublished manuscript by a talented woman in my writers’ group. A novel about broken hearts and healing.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling – Fake fairy tales featuring magical characters and moral lessons, with fake commentary by Albus Dumbledore. Read this with Brady, who checked it out of the school library all by himself. I’m loving reading books with my kids that can count on my list!
In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton – Dramatic retelling of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 just before VJ Day. Gruesome, terrifying, and detailed, using the survivors’ own accounts. This has been on my bookshelf for years and for some reason I pulled it down last week.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean George – A story about a young boy who runs away from home and lives off the land in the Catskills (1957). Read this with Kyle, it’s a favorite from my own childhood.
Mothers Who Think edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses – I should have read this before having kids instead of What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Published in 1999, it’s a collection of essays about motherhood. Some stand the test of time, some are precursors to mom blogs.
Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze – Teach your children how to handle money wisely and they will be more likely to become good people. Read my interview with Rachel Cruze on Mint.com.
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – A guide to teaching children to love reading and become lifelong readers. So much resonated in this. Author’s blog is here.
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith – All about growing a vegetable garden. Great resource, but also good for helping you fall asleep.
How I Live Now by Meg Kosoff – Novel about a teen sent to England from New York to live with relatives as a mysterious and unnamed world war breaks out in the near future.
Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear – Memoir of a young woman’s gradual blindness as she becomes a mother. Shockingly funny and very well done. Click here for my review.
Allegiant – post-apocalyptic YA page turning fun! Volume 3!
Jab Jab Jab Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck – A quick and easy read about the value and strategy of social media for small business. Great case studies.
At Large and At Small by Ann Fadiman – I want to write like this when I grow up. Touchingly personal and educational essays about things like coffee, ice cream, and grief.
Insurgent – post-apocalyptic YA page turning fun! Volume 2!
The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith – I’m growing a few vegetables in my backyard. I managed to check the wrong book out of the library (I needed the one that is NOT about containers, but I read it away because the pictures are so pretty! And now I want pretty self-watering pots, too.
Glitter and Glue by Kerry Corrigan – Funny, weepy memoir with excellent hindsight. Inspired me to write all afternoon.
Frosted Cowboy by Charlene Ross (unpublished manuscript) – be jealous. You can’t buy this…yet. Perfect beach or airplane read, well-written, and funny!
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – A welcome companion (review)
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – better than snuggling up with a laptop to read her blog. Even my husband and son liked it.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – I knew crows weren’t just crows.
The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin – must have been Tomalin’s PhD thesis, reading between the lines of a bunch of letters and diaries by Charles Dickens et. al.
The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg – if Steig Larsson wrote chick lit
The Parents’ Phrase Book by Whit Honea – just in case
In Praise of Stay at Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlesinger – approval for my life choices
Heartbreak Cake by Cindy Arora – now I’m hungry
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls – your parenting is just fine
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett – simple, elegant writing
Dark Witch – if your eyes glow, like really glow, during sex, you just might be an Irish witch
Divergent – post-apocalyptic YA page turning fun!
Dark Places – if any of Gillian Flynn’s friends ever disappear, SHE DID IT
Over Sea, Under Stone – little kids find the Holy Grail in Cornwall
The Liars’ Club – the memoir that started it all
S. – keep away from your kids or they’ll think it’s okay to write in library books
Karma Gone Bad – I want to be Jenny when I grow up except for the food poisoning and oppressive heat
Dot Complicated by Randi Zuckerberg – You’re sharing too much online. Wait, no, you’re not. Yes, you are.
Small Damages by Beth Kephart – she casts a spell and suddenly you’re 17 and pregnant and making tapas in Spain
Love Me Anyway by Tiffany Hawk – behind the scenes, or the first class curtain, ahem, in the world of flight attendants
On Writing by Stephen King – he may be crazy, but he tells it like it is, man.
The Dark Is Rising
This Old Heart of Mine
Stitches (Ann Lamott)
Help, Thanks, Wow
An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness
Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
World War Z
The Woman in Black
Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad – My worst nightmare. Or maybe my second worst. Either way. A beautiful book that made me sob. Click here for my review.
The Broken Circle
A Discovery of Witches
Shadow of Night
Lost in Suburbia
State of Wonder
Where the Peacocks Sing, by Alison Singh Gee
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Nurturing the Soul of Your Family
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Where’d You Go Bernadette?
The Night Circus
You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
The Entitlement Trap
The One and Only Ivan