Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Month of Faves: I Love December


There are so many things I love about December. I will try not to keep you reading for the next two hours though, and only talk about four of them!

For my entire life, I have gone to a Christmas Eve Service the night before Christmas. When everyone circles around the dark church with their candles and sings "Silent Night," it officially feels like Christmas is here.

For the past few years, we have counted down to Christmas with the kids using Christmas books. They get to unwrap a Christmas-themed book each night and I love watching them enjoy stories they haven't read for months.

My husband is a genius and he put twinkly Christmas lights up in our bedroom. When you curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book or have kids come in for early morning snuggles, everything is a bit more homey and magical.

We all know that one of the happiest things about the cold weather is a warm drink. Personally, I love Nutella Hot Chocolate, some apple cider made in the crockpot, and the pumpkin spice and peppermint mocha coffee creamers I can only get in the winter.

What are your favorite holiday things?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mini-Reviews: A Thousand Nights and Wonder Women

Lo-Melkhiin is the ruler who selects a girl from each town and village. He takes them as his wife, only to kill them before the sun rises the next day. When she sees the king coming to her home, our heroine ensures that she is chosen instead of her beautiful sister. The bond between siblings is strong and her sister begins to pray to make her a smallgod - a spirit that can intercede on behalf of the living. And the new queen lives. She spins stories that keep her alive and her tales start to become reality. Can the power of a woman defeat an ancient evil?

This story is loosely based on One Thousand and One Nights, but it subverts expectations by focusing on the love between sisters instead of the romantic relationship between a man and a woman. The women in our tale are never named, but they are powerful all the same. The stories that our heroine tells to save her life are not fantastical. Instead, they are the tales of her own life, of the day to day moments of living in the desert and the bonds between family members. It sometimes seems like YA is an endless parade of re-tellings, but I'm happy to report that this one is worth adding to your toppling to-be-read pile.

A Thousand Nights
By E.K. Johnston
Disney Hyperion October 2015
328 pages
Read via Netgalley

The ladies of history sat quietly and worked on their needlepoint, right? Not so much, according to Sam Maggs. In her collection Wonder Women, Maggs brings scientists, doctors, and inventors to vivid life. Each chapter teaches about an amazing woman in a way that sounds like chatting with a witty friend. These women lived all over the world in every century and Maggs shows the impact of these trailblazers as she places their biographies alongside interviews with women working as computer scientists, biologists, and CIA agents today.

This collection will boggle your mind as you realize the sheer number of amazing women that you hadn't heard of before and make you laugh at Maggs' humor and appreciation of the things that have changed for women. We don't just get to read about these women's lives and adventures, we also get to see them through the illustrations of Sophia Foster-Dimino. This book occasionally feels like it was written for a YA audience, which may bother some people, but I would be hard-pressed to think of a book I would rather give to young women.

Wonder Women:
25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
By Sam Maggs
Quirk Books October 2016
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's Monday and I read books!

Guys, I finished books this week! I read Mary Oliver's Upstream, a collection of essays. I finally finished listening to Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks and I finished reading Miroslav Volf's The End of Memory. I'm currently reading Michael Chabon's Moonglow. I need to get a move on, since it's due back to the library soon.

I know that this week is going to be a busy one, but I am excited for some great reading time between Christmas and New Year's (and of course, getting some books for Christmas)!

    The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World   Upstream: Selected Essays


What are you reading this week? Is your December full of holiday magic or crazy stress?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Readathon Mini-Reviews: Public Library and Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Like many of us, writer Ali Smith is concerned about the future of our public libraries. She lives in the UK, where downsizing or closing libraries is a frequent occurrence. So she wrote stories about the value of books, reading, and libraries in our lives. She went a step further and interviewed other writers about the impact that libraries had on their development as writers and as people. Although there is no story called Public Library within these pages, the memories and stories contained here serve as a battle cry for readers to fight on behalf of those beautiful places of magic and possibility that we call libraries.

The stories in Public Library are varied and many of them have nothing to do with libraries themselves. Each one is narrated by an "I," although I don't think they are supposed to be Smith herself. Some have a touch of magical realism, like the woman discussing World War I with the ghost of her dead father or the person whose chest starts to sprout roses immortalized in a poem by John Milton. The actual stories themselves were interesting, but I'm hard-pressed to remember the details just a few weeks later.

Public Library And Other Stories
By Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton November 2015
220 pages
Read via Netgalley

Jenny Lawson has had a weird life. She grew up in a poor family where her father worked as a taxidermist. Childhood memories include being entertained by puppets made of dead animals and swimming in a cistern. She tells the zany stories with true affection for her life and family, even as she reveals that the family propensity for stuffed animals seems to be emerging in her adult life.

It took me a while to get into this one, but I ultimately found it pretty funny. Jenny had some weird experiences handed to her, but she also relates those stories in a really wry and humorous way. She excels at poking fun at herself, but it's not all jokes in this book. She is honest about the pain (literal and emotional) of becoming a mom and her experiences with anorexia and anxiety.  I will be hard-pressed to forget how she thought her boyfriend was going to murder her when he was just trying to propose and just how terrible Jenny is at making party small talk.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened
By Jenny Lawson
Penguin Group March 2013
370 pages
From my shelves

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Month of Faves: 5 Books On My Winter Reading List

A Month of Faves

Today we are talking about the books we are looking forward to reading this winter. Don't forget to visit Estella's Revenge, Traveling with T, and GirlXOXO to see more winter favorites. Grab your reading list and a mug of hot chocolate and let's talk books!


The Mothers is perhaps the most buzzed-about book of the year, so I have to see what the fuss is about!

Michael Chabon's newest novel is MoonglowI haven't disliked one of his books yet.

I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan, so of course I have to read Lauren Graham's memoir Talking As Fast As I Can. 



Difficult Women is new Roxanne Gay, short story style.

I'm enjoying a lot of nonfiction these days, and the history of Bellevue seems like it will be a fascinating read.

Girl in Disguise
imagines the life of the first female Pinkerton detective. You're already intrigued, aren't you?


Blackout is time travel + WW II, so it's right in my wheelhouse.

I know that Amor Towles has a new book out, but I still haven't read his debut Rules of Civility

I think Burial Rites sounds like the perfect winter read, with its Icelandic setting and murder mystery.

What is on your winter reading list?

Monday, December 12, 2016

It's Monday and the reading is slow

Hey bookish friends. How are you doing?

I am feeling the December slump very seriously. There are a million things to do. I am having a tough time getting more than one or two posts up each week and even the reading is slowing down. I pretty consistently read two books a week, but this week saw me only finishing Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There. I'm still working through Miroslav Volf's The End of Memory and I'm also reading Upstream, a lovely collection of essays on reading, writing, and nature by Mary Oliver. If you are looking for something quiet and beautiful, that collection would certainly fit the bill.

             The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World      Upstream: Selected Essays

How are you all doing with the reading and the blogging and the holiday prep?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mini-reviews: Lessons in Belonging and Love Warrior

Erin Lane is probably the poster girl for going to church. Her husband is a pastor and she recently graduated from seminary. But she finds it surprisingly difficult to fit in at a church. Her knowledge of theology makes her bristle in the face of ignorance about church practices, and she is decidedly uncomfortable with platitudes and superficial social interactions.  In Lessons In Belonging, Lane tries to find out if there is a place in the church for a smart feminist troublemaker with a penchant for asking lots of questions.

There are an abundance of spiritual memoirs from people in their 20s and 30s who feel that it is difficult to belong in the churches of their childhood. It's so much easier to just leave when someone lets you down or hurts you. But Lane discovers that disillusionment is the first step in belonging. Just like any other relationship, being a part of a church means being vulnerable, truthful, and willing to pick your battles and love in spite of your differences. Lane doesn't pretend to have all of the answers, but her questions will seem very familiar to many people who both love the church and feel like they sometimes don't belong there.

Lessons in Belonging From A Church-Going Commitment Phobe
By Erin Lane
IVP Books December 2014
208 pages
Read via Netgalley

Glennon Doyle Melton was feeling good about her life. She loved her family, and had a much beloved blog and a NYT bestselling book. But then she found out that her husband had been cheating on her for years. Everything she thought she knew about herself, her life, and her family seemed to explode around her and she found herself at rock bottom. But Glennon remembered that she had been here before, as a young woman who was an alcoholic and bulimic and held a positive pregnancy test in her hand. In this memoir, we follow a woman as she starts over again to learn who she is, what she believes, and what she will do to fight for love.

This book has been overshadowed by the reality that writing about your life always means writing about the past. As Love Warrior comes to its end, the author has learned a lot about herself and has hope for the future of her marriage. But this manuscript was completed several years ago. As Glennon currently promotes this book, she has separated from her husband and is currently dating Abby Wombach. In spite of the changes to her life since finishing this book, the story itself holds up as raw and beautiful. She writes about the ways that we compromise who we are to fit into perceptions of who we should be and the truth that we must know and love ourselves before we can truly love and know others. If you are in the midst of heartbreak, this is your book. If you have read and loved Glennon's writing before, this is her best work yet.

Love Warrior
By Glennon Doyle Melton
St. Martin's Press September 2016
272 pages
From my shelves

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Monday and someone is nine years old!

Hello bookish friends! It's been a whirlwind couple of days around here as we celebrated a certain little boy turning nine years old. He had a friend over to play and watch a movie on Friday night, we had the family over for a party on Saturday, and we finished off the weekend by going out to lunch and visiting our favorite indie bookstore for kids! He picked out four new books and little sister came home with two.


I didn't pick out any books at the bookstore, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. This week, I finished reading Wonder Women and finally got around to Lyndsay Faye's Dust and Shadow and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. 

       Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History   The Underground Railroad

I'm currently reading The End of Memory and I just picked up a big pile of holds from the library, so my next read will be Wally Lamb's newest novel I'll Take You There

          The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World   I'll Take You There

What are you reading this week?


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

Jennifer Teege is perusing the shelves at her local library when she spies a surprisingly familiar image on a book cover. The picture is of her biological mother and the book is about living with the legacy of a Nazi father. Jennifer is shocked to learn that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the infamous commandant portrayed in Schindler's List. Her life goes into a tailspin as she tries to come to terms with a beloved grandmother who was deeply in love with a war criminal who would have murdered Jennifer because of the color of her skin.

This book very intelligently has two authors. Jennifer Teege tells her own story, while Nikola Sellmair writes the history that surrounds her family. She details the life and atrocities of Goeth and the history of the places that Jennifer visits. The two voices are essential to this story. Jennifer's reactions, are of course, primarily emotional and personal. Sellmair's careful research places her story within the larger lens of history.

Jennifer's discovery spurs her to re-examine her entire life. She connects with her mother for the first time in years, and tries to sort out her feelings about her childhood as a black child in a mostly white neighborhood. She remembers growing up with an adoptive family who adored her, but made the difficult decision to cut ties to her biological family. She wonders how she can ever look her Jewish friends in the eye again and walks through the camp where her grandfather reigned in terror over the prisoners.

One of the most fascinating and disturbing parts of this book is Jennifer's realization that she is not alone in this bizarre situation. While she had no knowledge of the actions of her grandfather, there were thousands of spouses and children who knew exactly what was happening during the Holocaust. Multiple generations downplayed the atrocities committed or insisted that their loved one could not have been a part of such a thing. Even the descendents who were not alive during the war live with extraordinary guilt. How can a person atone for the actions of their ancestors?

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me
A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past
By Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair
The Experiment April 2015
240 pages
From the library

Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's Monday, how was your Thanksgiving?

Hello bibliophiles! How was your Thanksgiving?

It's been a good week here. It was great to spend Thanksgiving with my family, even if we only saw some of our siblings via Skype. We have officially decorated our house, my parent's house, our church, and we even saw Santa Claus ride through town on a fire truck. Christmas season has officially started at our house.

This week, I read the memoirs My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me and The Middle Place. I found it difficult to read solely about a cancer diagnosis or the knowledge that your grandfather was an infamous Nazi, so I simultaneously read Blind Submission which hit the literary mystery sweet spot.

           My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past     Blind Submission    The Middle Place

Now I'm reading Sam Maggs' Wonder Women and Lyndsay Faye's Dust and Shadow. I guess we're hitting the time of year where we catch up on those books we meant to read earlier in the year and enjoy some backlist titles!

         Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History    Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson

What are you reading this week?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Truevine

In 1899, two young boys were taken from the field they were working to become part of the circus. They spent decades being heralded as cannibals, aliens, and sheep men as people paid admission to see these two albino black men. But George and Willie Muse rarely saw any of the profits from their international stardom and their family back home in Virginia didn't know where they were or even if they were still alive. Their mother Harriet was determined to find them and to give them some control over their own lives, regardless of the cost.

Truevine is an intriguing read in many ways. Author Beth Macy struggles with being both an accurate reporter of facts and a kind fellow human as her research indicates that the often-repeated Muse Family story may not be quite what transpired. The book opens with Macy meeting Nancy Saunders, George and Willie's great-niece. She is a fierce protector of her elderly Uncle Willie and disinclined to let this white journalist talk to him. Nancy continues to believe that the boys were kidnapped, even as Macy accumulates evidence that their mother may have initially arranged for them to join the circus.

One of the most revealing moments in this book is when Macy questions if the circus might have been the best place for George and Willie after all. While the owners and managers certainly took advantage of the brothers, she examines what life was like for people considered freaks both inside and outside the circus tents. George and Willie were seen as different everywhere they went, whether they were up on stage or just sitting outside their home. It is impossible to escape the shadows that hang over this story: many of the people that the brothers performed alongside at the circus met terrible ends and the town of Truevine itself has a dark history of racism that is not as far in the past as we would like to believe.

Truevine: Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and A Mother's Quest
A True Story of the Jim Crow South
By Beth Macy
Little, Brown, and Company October 2016
432 pages
From the library

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's Monday and the holidays are coming!

Hello bookish ladies and gentlemen! How are things in your little corner of the world?

We are very much looking forward to the rest of the year. We have given in a few days earlier than usual: the tree is up (just lights, no ornaments yet) and Christmas music is in occasional rotation. It will probably be full-time towards the end of this week. We'll be spending Thanksgiving with my family and then looking forward to a certain little boy's ninth birthday (someone please hold me).

I finished A Thousand Nights pretty quickly and then went to the interwebs to discover if this would be the first book in a series. Apparently, E.K. Johnston is writing a related book that uses some of the events in A Thousand Nights as background for a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I will definitely be checking it out next month. Then I read Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior. I'm a big fan of hers and I think she tells her story with such grace and compassion for both herself and her ex-husband.

        A Thousand Nights        Love Warrior 

I'm currently reading My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, which is a really fascinating but difficult read. To give my heart a break I'm concurrently reading Blind Submission, a novel about an assistant at a literary agency who receives a manuscript that seems to be about her.

          My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past   

What are you reading right now? If you are celebrating this week, have a happy turkey day! Don't forget to eat some pie and watch Gilmore Girls on Friday!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: Patient H.M.

Henry Molaison was a normal boy until the day a car struck him while he rode his bike. After the accident, he suffered frequent seizures. Henry began seeing doctors in an attempt to heal his brain. In his late twenties, a doctor tried a radical new procedure: a lobotomy. It didn't heal his seizures, but it did leave Henry unable to form long-term memories. He became known as Patient H.M. and was a constant source of study by scientists and surgeons for the rest of his life. Henry provided much of what we know today about the brain and how it works.

I have to admit that I picked up this book partially because it sounded fascinating and partially because it was compared to The Immortal Lives of Henrietta Lacks. The comparison is a fair one, as Dittrich blends the history of brain science and lobotomies along with his own grandfather's story as both a scientist and a part of his family. Dr. Scoville is Luke Dittrich's grandfather and the one who performed the procedure in question.

In spite of Dittrich's best efforts to be impartial, it is hard for the modern reader not to find fault with the methods and ethics of Dr. Scoville and his peers. The doctors frequently experimented on patients in mental facilities, many of whom suffered only from being different than their families or society preferred them to be. The most terrifying possibility is that Scoville operated on his own wife, Dittrich's grandmother.

Reading Patient H.M. is a fascinating experience. It's a deep dive into the horrors of mental health and brain study in the past without ignoring how much we have learned from their dubious methods. The story is a tragedy, as we see the life Henry Molaison led as a result of medical experimenting and the cost of the author's discoveries about his family. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in medical history and ethics, how our brains work, and every reader who appreciates good nonfiction.

Patient H.M
A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
By Luke Dittrich
Random House August 2016
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mini-reviews: Faithful and Behold the Dreamers

Shelby is a pretty typical teenage girl. She and her best friend Helene are attached at the hip until the night of the accident. Shelby is driving, but she isn't the one who is hurt. Instead, Helene is left in a coma and Shelby is left to deal with the consequences and guilt. She retreats from the world first to a mental institution and then into her parent's basement, Is it possible for Shelby to forgive herself and move on with her life when her best friend will never wake up?

Faithful is a novel that pays attention to all kinds of relationships: friendship, romance, and families. In some ways, it is a typical coming of age story as Shelby drifts away from and comes back to her parents and her small town and discovers who she is and what she wants out of life. She learns that it is possible to love someone while knowing they are not the person for you. But each step is made harder by her excruciating guilt as she wonders if she deserves any sort of happiness.

This book can be tough to read as Shelby sabotages her own life, but this is an Alice Hoffman story. That means there will always be just a bit of magic and the hope that these characters can find a happy ending,

By Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster November 2016
272 pages
Read via Netgalley

In the fall of 2007, Jende Jonga gets an incredible opportunity. He starts a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. This job will give his family security and ensure that his wife Neni can continue in pharmacy school. As Jende becomes an integral part of the Edwards family, the lines between employer and employee become fuzzy. When the financial market and Lehman Brothers collapse, can either family escape the destruction?

Behold the Dreamers is a book that is both incredibly specific to the years before and after the financial crash and a universal look at trying to survive as an immigrant in America. Jende and Neni have come to America from Cameroon and they have big dreams for their futures and that of their small son. Through his job, Jende has a literal front row seat to the inner workings of the wealthy in New York City. He hears the business deals that his boss brokers in the back seat and drops him off at the hotels where he is unfaithful to his wife. He sees the heartbreak of the neglected wife trying to keep a brave face and her snobbery about other people. But Mbue has not taken the easy path of making the rich bad and the poor saintly. Instead, we get a multitude of complicated characters who are trying to do their best with what they have.

This is a book full of impossible choices and characters who get knocked down time and again by life. But somehow this story manages to encourage its readers that all is not lost. Even if America cannot grant all of our deepest desires, there are still moments of joy to be found on its shores.

Behold the Dreamers
By Imbolo Mbue
Random House August 2016
380 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It's Monday and we are still reading

So...we had an election. I feel like I'm still processing things a bit and there are a lot of people who are writing things more eloquently than I ever could. I will just say that we are watching and listening. We are doing a lot of talking with our kids about what it means to be kind and what it means to use our voices for other people. We are doing a lot of reading because reading (of course) teaches us empathy. And it's sometimes good to escape into someone else's world for a while.

Last week, I read Lessons in Belonging From A Church-Going Commitment Phobe. I rather adore spiritual memoirs and as a lady who is married to a pastor, I try to pay attention to the things that compel people to leave churches and the things that convince them to put down roots in a church community. Then I read The Wild Girl, which was my first time reading a book by Kate Forsyth.

Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe     The Wild Girl

Now I am reading and very much enjoying A Thousand Nights and then I'm continuing my Nonfiction November streak with Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior

A Thousand Nights     Love Warrior

What are you reading this week?