The 4 Books I Finished in June

* Linking up with Anne Bogel at Quick Lit *

Don’t forget to check out and join The Bookspired Linkup on July 20th!

In June I read two books I loved, one book I liked, and one not-so-thrilling thriller. Not a bad run, eh? I’m going to jump right in with the four books I finished in June.


No One Knows  by J.T. Ellison

My Thoughts: This was the not-so-thrilling thriller. Aubrey, whose husband disappeared the night of a friend’s bachelor party, is still struggling five years later after he is eventually declared dead and, through various encounters with suspicious people, wonders whether her husband is really gone. It is a page turner, but I was hoping for a big payoff at the end, and I felt let down. I know a few people who have really enjoyed this book, so I would recommend it with the caveat that it’s a good story but not a thriller. I liked it better than The Girl on the Train (which I didn’t like much at all) but not as much as The Good Girl and Gone Girl (both of which I really liked). If you have any thriller recommendations, please send them my way … I like this genre, but my thrill threshold is high!

Length: 368 pages

When I Read It: May 31-June 10, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Bought it at Gibson’s Bookstore; read it the old-fashioned way.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My Thoughts: I resisted reading this book for a while, even after hearing people I trust gush about it, because I didn’t love Rowell’s big hit Eleanor & Park, so I thought her writing just wasn’t my style. Well, I was WRONG. This book is absolutely delightful. I found myself smirking, giggling, and swooning over the story of Cath, an awkward but lovable fan fiction writer, her twin sister Wren (Get it?), and the characters they meet during their first semester at college. This is a perfect book if you need a pick-me-up or want something light but well-written to take to the beach. It’s one of my favorites of the year. And I won’t hesitate before giving Rowell’s other books a try.

Length: 445 pages

When I Read It: June 10-21, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold through the Overdrive app; read it on the Kindle app on my phone.

Memorable quote: “There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”

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You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

My Thoughts: When this book went on sale for $1.99 on the Amazon Kindle deals, I snatched it up. I’d heard it was a flying-under-the-radar great book, and I really enjoyed learning more about Eleanor Roosevelt and pondering her nuggets of advice. It’s a very short book and not an amazing literary work, but still, I’d highly recommend it. There’s some great wisdom to soak up.

Length: 211 pages

When I Read It: June 10-June 26, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Bought it from Amazon; read it on the Kindle app on my phone.

Memorable Quote: “I wish with all my heart that every child could be so imbued with a sense of the adventure of life that each change, each readjustment, each surprise–good or bad–that came along would be welcomed as part of the whole enthralling experience.”

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The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr

My Thoughts: This is the second book I’ve read by Richard Rohr, and I’ve come to realize he’s one of the great religious thinkers living among us. In The Naked Now, Rohr shows us how we can move beyond our typical human issues into a higher level of spirituality. I turned down many pages of this book to mark my favorite passages. (I would have used a highlighter, but my kids take them and wreak havoc.) I can’t wait to read more of Rohr’s work. I need to space them out because it’s pretty heavy reading that takes some time to process.

Length: 187 pages

When I Read It: May 31-June 29, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Bought it at Gibson’s Bookstore; read it the old-fashioned way.

Memorable Quote: “The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. That is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.”

I mean, really. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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You can friend or follow me on Goodreads for the latest updates on my July reading progress.

The 5 Books I Finished in May

Linking up with Anne Bogel at Quick Lit

May is my birthday month, so I decided to read whatever the heck I felt like reading this month with no concern about expanding my horizons or increasing my knowledge on important subjects. The result was a diverse collection of books including true crime, an old-favorite author, a “true wuv” memoir, a thriller, and a lovable grumpy old man. Without further ado, here are the five books I finished in May:

1. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

My Thoughts: This is the crazy, horrific, intensely interesting true story of serial killer Ted Bundy. The book was written by Bundy’s friend Ann Rule, who was contracted to write the book before she knew Bundy was a suspect. At many points I could not put the book down. It is difficult to read because Bundy’s crimes were so terrible and prolific, but any fans of the true crime genre should read this book because it is so well done.

Length: 560 pages

When I Read It: April 30-May 17, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

My Thoughts: I started this book more than a year ago and put it down for some unknown reason. I picked it back up again as an antidote to the creepiness of The Stranger Beside Me and devoured the rest of the book quickly. Elwes’s stories about life on the movie set with the amazing cast of characters (Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Andre the Giant, etc.) are delightful, and fans of the movie would love this book. Several people have told me that the audio version is fantastic because the cast contributes.

Length: 259 pages

When I Read It: March 11, 2015-May 20, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Bought it at Target; read it the old-fashioned way.

3. A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

My Thoughts: I’ve read almost all of Maeve Binchy’s cozy Irish novels and decided to give this one a try during the long drive to and from New Jersey for my friend’s baby shower. While it’s not as good as many of Binchy’s earlier books, it was an enjoyable, light read for the car ride. Binchy is masterful at creating interesting characters and weaving their lives together, and her descriptions of the Irish countryside always make me want to jump on a plane and head across the Atlantic.

Length: 10 hours and 57 minutes

When I Read It: May 20-22, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold through the Overdrive app/listened to the audiobook.

4. Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

My Thoughts: I loved Kubica’s first novel, The Good Girl, so I knew I wanted to try another one of her books. When I first started Pretty Baby, I was lukewarm to it, but it picked up in the second half and toward the end I couldn’t put it down. It’s not a true thriller, but Kubica keeps you guessing about the characters: a mysterious homeless girl and baby, and the not-so-perfect family that takes them in. This would be a great beach read. I’m definitely going to put Kubica’s most recent release, Don’t You Cry, on my to-read list.

Length: 380 pages

When I Read It: May 20-30, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Bought it at Gibson’s Bookstore; read it the old-fashioned way.

5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

My Thoughts: I kept hearing amazing things about this book and was skeptical that it would live up to the hype. I started reading it several months ago and put it down because I wasn’t in the right mood, I guess. I heard that the audio version was fantastic, so I put myself on the hold list and finally got my copy last week. One of my Goodreads friends deemed the book “practically perfect,” and now I see why. Ove, a grumpy, hilarious, sad, lovable old man, is one of those characters you’ll never forget. I kept alternating between snorting with laughter and sniffing with tears. I loved this book and will probably read it again. That’s high praise from me because I rarely reread books.

Length: 9 hours and 9 minutes

When I Read It: May 25 -31, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold through the Overdrive app/listened to the audiobook

Favorite Quote: “He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.”

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You can friend or follow me on Goodreads for the latest updates on my June reading picks.

Don’t forget to check out and join The Bookspired Linkup on June 15th!

My Favorite Place To Browse

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” Lady Bird Johnson

My favorite place to browse for books is the Staff Picks section at my local library. Although tastes can differ, a good librarian won’t recommend a book that is poorly written. Most (I’d venture to say all) librarians are serious readers and see hundreds of books come through the library doors. They get the latest scoop on what’s hot off the presses and are typically knowledgeable about the best books in all different genres. There’s no incentive to recommend bad books because they’re not making any money from sales, so their recommendations can be trusted to be books they truly loved.

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I’m sure the caliber of staff recommendations varies depending on the library, but there’s an easy way to tell if it’s a top-notch selection: Check to see if any of the best books you’ve already read are included on the shelf. When I spotted Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed as one of the staff picks, I knew I’d hit the literary jackpot. Since we moved to our town a year and a half ago, I’ve read six Staff Picks books. Five of them were great, and one of them was well-written but not my style.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff – A very interesting novel that flashes back and forth between the stories of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, and a young man exiled from a fundamentalist Morman group in the late 20th century.

Precious and Fragile Things by Megan Hart – Apparently Megan Hart is known for writing erotica, but this book is not that. It’s a dark, suspenseful cabin-in-the-woods novel that would make a great beach read for any woman, particularly a mother, who doesn’t mind dark stories. A page turner.

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon – An excellent collection of fictional stories about military families on the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas. I was a military spouse for almost three years, and the characters rang true for me.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes – A very dark and graphic suspenseful novel that I could not put down. It’ll have you checking the locks on your doors and maybe even hiding under the covers. Much more suspenseful than some more recent disappointing bestsellers which shall remain nameless at this time.

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler – This is the one I didn’t like. It’s a bleak story about a broken marriage. I can understand why it was recommended, though, as the writing is very good.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin – As I shared in my last post, this book is a gem and one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. The small town Mississippi setting and complicated characters are so well done. My favorite, so far, of the Staff Picks.

Then there’s these three, the Staff Picks checked out to me at the moment.

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I’m not sure I’ll love them, but I’m pretty confident they’re worth a read.

What’s your favorite place to browse?

 

The Bookspired Linkup (April 2016)

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Welcome to The Bookspired Linkup! After announcing the linkup last week, I came down with some sort of illness involving fever, congestion, and general yuckiness which zapped me of the ability to write a new post for this week. So instead, I’m sharing a past post that fits The Bookspired Linkup theme: exploring how a book has inspired you. In this case, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman helped me to sort through some thoughts about fictional characters and their real-life counterparts. Check out the linked-up posts through the blue inLinkz button at the bottom of this post and add your own, or participate through the comment feature. Thanks for stopping by!

Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable, and the Nature of Good Fiction

originally published March 7, 2016

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last summer I read Harper Lee’s much-talked-about draft novel, Go Set a Watchman. There are varying opinions about whether or not the draft should even have been published; I don’t know the answer to that question, but I did love reading the book. Ms. Lee’s first, raw attempt at exposing the reality of racism in her world (in our world still) is fascinating, especially to a former book editor.

24817626What I appreciate most about the book, and what’s at the heart of any good book, is the truth revealed within it: all of us are far from perfect, some are seriously messed up, and most can’t get away with pretending everything’s rosy forever. Our beloved Atticus Finch is no exception to this rule.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while wrapping my head around the allegations that surfaced against longtime American entertainment icon Bill Cosby. Like many, I grew up watching The Cosby Show. I cried through the last episode, especially during Cliff and Clair’s final dance across the living room and off the TV set. At one point during my teen years I mailed a fan letter to the man himself and received an autographed picture in return. Two years ago, I took an early lunch break and hustled down the street to catch a glimpse of Bill cutting the ribbon at the opening of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Arlington, Virginia. I’d call myself a fan.

When the allegations first hit the news in 2014, my heart lurched and I hoped, of course, that none of it was true. At that time, it seemed like there was some possibility of serious misunderstanding or gross exaggeration or a pandemic of made-up stories. I had just finished packing a hospital bag, including season one of The Cosby Show, for my second baby’s birth. Shortly thereafter, as the allegations were building, I took the DVD out of the bag and put it back on the shelf.

Now, more than a year later, it seems probable that Bill Cosby did some terrible things. Setting aside the real problem – Cosby’s alleged actions and their effects on the people involved – I can’t help but wonder how to handle my relationship with Bill Cosby. Should I throw away all of my DVDs and pretend Rudi’s goldfish, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, and all of Denise’s crazy boyfriends never existed? Should I return the autographed picture? Are my good memories ruined because they never should have existed in the first place?

For me, the answers lie in separating fact from fiction, man from character. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m so personally disappointed, and I think it’s because in my mind, Bill Cosby was Cliff Huxtable. I transposed the character qualities (admirable father figure, standup citizen, just the right balance of smart and funny, someone you can trust) onto the actor himself. And maybe Cosby does have some or all of those qualities to some extent. But Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby, was my childhood TV hero.

Back to Atticus Finch: many people have been severely disappointed by how Atticus was portrayed in Go Set A Watchmen, as a racist who barely resembles the favorite hero-Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird, and there is some resentment that this “bad Atticus” exists. My own take is that Harper Lee created two Atticus Finches: one hero and one anti-hero. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Our favorite, classic Atticus is still a fictional hero to celebrate and emulate.

Like good Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable has already been created and can’t be undone. He is still and always will be a fictional hero who loves his five kids and wife and eats giant submarine sandwiches and delivers babies. The man who played Cliff may have done some terrible things, and hopefully he will be held accountable for any and all true allegations. But Cliff Huxtable is the epitome of good comedic fiction, which exists separately from the real, much more complicated world in which it is created. It teaches us lessons, keeps us company, and makes us laugh, even if the real world is breaking our hearts. We may choose never to watch The Cosby Show again. I’m still not sure where I stand on that. But no matter what, I think we can keep our good memories.

The 5 Books I Finished in March

*Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.*

March was a great month for reading. Three of the five books I read exceeded my expectations, and one of them completely knocked my socks off.  Without further ado, here are the five books I finished in March:

1. Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

My Thoughts: I heard about this young adult dystopian novel on the What Should I Read Next podcast and immediately requested it through my library. The Washington, DC setting and strong female protagonist were appealing to me. Although the writing wasn’t incredible, the storyline of a national flu epidemic and secret government intrigue held my interest. I’m glad I read this book, but I probably won’t go out of my way to read more by the author.loveisthedrug

Page Count: 352

When I Read It: February 16-March 7, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold a the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: N/A

2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

My Thoughts: I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast for months. I love the back-and-forth banter between Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft. They are two very different people, but they seem to truly enjoy and learn from each other, and they definitely entertain their listeners. I was a bit skeptical, though, when I started reading The Happiness Project because it was such a manufactured scenario – a woman with money and privilege sets out on a mission to make herself happier. Alrighty. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the book and how many great, practical tips I picked up. Since finishing this one, I’ve started one of Rubin’s more recent books, Better Than Before. More on that one next month.

thehappinessprojectPage Count: 292

When I Read It: January 15-March 11, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.”

3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My Thoughts: This is the book that knocked my socks off. It is a beautifully written, sad, yet somehow hopeful dystopian novel. I spent a lot of time marveling at how the author even came up with the story because it is so creative and also makes so much sense; I could see most of the plot happening in a real apocalyptic scenario. I heard many people rave about the book before I picked it up at the library, and now I’ll be raving for a while. Station Eleven is the best book I’ve read so far this year and the best novel I’ve read in years.

stationelevenPage Count: 336

When I Read It: March 7-19, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it, either central to her days or unseen and infrequently thought of. How without any one of these people the world is a subtly but unmistakably altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.”

4. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

My Thoughts: Jim Gaffigan is funny, especially when he talks about food and his family, which are the focus of this book. My husband Dave and I laughed our way through season one of The Jim Gaffigan Show last summer and are eagerly awaiting season two (coming in June). Listening to this audiobook read by the man himself was a good way to bridge the gap. The only problem was that it made me extra hungry.food.lovestory

Page Count: 340

When I Read It: March 22-25, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Downloaded the audiobook from my library and listened through the Overdrive app.

Favorite Quote: “I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.”

5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

My Thoughts: This was a well-written, suspenseful novel about a teenage girl’s death and her family’s quest to figure out what happened to her and how to function without her. The book flashes back and forth between present and past, and we slowly learn more and more about each member of the family. It was a page turner, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected. Although the story fell a bit flat for me toward the end, I’d still highly recommend it.

everythingineverPage Count: 304

When I Read It: March 26-31, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” (These are the first few sentences of the book, an impressive literary hook.)

 

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Two non-fiction books and three novels in March; it felt like a good balance. I’m already off to a good start with my April reading. You can friend or follow me on Goodreads for the latest updates.

Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable, and the Nature of Good Fiction

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last summer I read Harper Lee’s much-talked-about draft novel, Go Set a Watchman. There are varying opinions about whether or not the draft should even have been published; I don’t know the answer to that question, but I did love reading the book. Ms. Lee’s first, raw attempt at exposing the reality of racism in her world (in our world still) is fascinating, especially to a former book editor.

24817626What I appreciate most about the book, and what’s at the heart of any good book, is the truth revealed within it: all of us are far from perfect, some are seriously messed up, and most can’t get away with pretending everything’s rosy forever. Our beloved Atticus Finch is no exception to this rule.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while wrapping my head around the allegations that surfaced against longtime American entertainment icon Bill Cosby. Like many, I grew up watching The Cosby Show. I cried through the last episode, especially during Cliff and Clair’s final dance across the living room and off the TV set. At one point during my teen years I mailed a fan letter to the man himself and received an autographed picture in return. Two years ago, I took an early lunch break and hustled down the street to catch a glimpse of Bill cutting the ribbon at the opening of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Arlington, Virginia. I’d call myself a fan.

When the allegations first hit the news in 2014, my heart lurched and I hoped, of course, that none of it was true. At that time, it seemed like there was some possibility of serious misunderstanding or gross exaggeration or a pandemic of made-up stories. I had just finished packing a hospital bag, including season one of The Cosby Show, for my second baby’s birth. Shortly thereafter, as the allegations were building, I took the DVD out of the bag and put it back on the shelf.

Now, more than a year later, it seems probable that Bill Cosby did some terrible things. Setting aside the real problem – Cosby’s alleged actions and their effects on the people involved – I can’t help but wonder how to handle my relationship with Bill Cosby. Should I throw away all of my DVDs and pretend Rudi’s goldfish, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, and all of Denise’s crazy boyfriends never existed? Should I return the autographed picture? Are my good memories ruined because they never should have existed in the first place?

For me, the answers lie in separating fact from fiction, man from character. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m so personally disappointed, and I think it’s because in my mind, Bill Cosby was Cliff Huxtable. I transposed the character qualities (admirable father figure, standup citizen, just the right balance of smart and funny, someone you can trust) onto the actor himself. And maybe Cosby does have some or all of those qualities to some extent. But Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby, was my childhood TV hero.

Back to Atticus Finch: many people have been severely disappointed by how Atticus was portrayed in Go Set A Watchmen, as a racist who barely resembles the favorite hero-Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird, and there is some resentment that this “bad Atticus” exists. My own take is that Harper Lee created two Atticus Finches: one hero and one anti-hero. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Our favorite, classic Atticus is still a fictional hero to celebrate and emulate.

Like good Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable has already been created and can’t be undone. He is still and always will be a fictional hero who loves his five kids and wife and eats giant submarine sandwiches and delivers babies. The man who played Cliff may have done some terrible things, and hopefully he will be held accountable for any and all true allegations. But Cliff Huxtable is the epitome of good comedic fiction, which exists separately from the real, much more complicated world in which it is created. It teaches us lessons, keeps us company, and makes us laugh, even if the real world is breaking our hearts. We may choose never to watch The Cosby Show again. I’m still not sure where I stand on that. But no matter what, I think we can keep our good memories.