Saturday, October 20, 2018

The 24 Hour Readathon, Fall 2018

Getting to Know You Survey
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Hello from New Jersey! Today is pretty gloomy, which is fine with me. Who needs to go outside when there is reading to do? 
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm pretty excited to read When Dimple Met Rishi and catch up on some Lucy Knisley comics. 3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I have to confess I didn't do a lot of snack planning this year. However, I did make a giant batch of pumpkin pancakes the other day so there will definitely be pancakes at some point. 4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I've lived in New Jersey since I was five, I married the boy I started dating in eighth grade, I have two kids, and I am really enjoying expanding my editing business now that my little one is in kindergarten. 5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I figured out that this is my 15th Readathon (!) so I'm going to relax and enjoy reading lots of fantastic books. Thanks to everyone who makes Readathon possible every year! 


Friday, October 19, 2018

Readathon Prep and Tips

Tomorrow is Readathon! In a world where temperatures drop 40 degrees in one day, it's nice to know that one thing is certain: each fall and spring, readers around the world will assemble an audacious stack of books, fill their fridges and cupboards with snacks, and settle in to read for 24 hours.

If you haven't signed up yet, there is still time! Go here to join us.

Here are the books I'm starting out with tomorrow:

Comics: Displacement, Giant Days
Fiction: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, When Dimple Met Rishi, The Keep
Short stories: The Sadness of Beautiful Things, The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
I also have A Forever Family on my kindle and the audiobook of Cress on my phone.

I figured out that I have been a part of the Readathon since I started blogging in 2011, which means that this is my 15th Readathon. If you are a newbie, I have some tips for you!

1) Variety, variety, variety
Make your stack of books ridiculously large and as varied as possible. It's terrible to only plan a book or two and then find that you hate them and have to go find something else. Give yourself a lot of options and make sure that you have children's books, short stories, audiobooks, and comics in the mix--you never know what is going to keep you awake when you have been reading for 18 hours!

2) Take a break
Seriously. Get up. Stretch. Go for a walk. Take 10 minutes and clean up your kitchen or vacuum your living room. Sitting in one place for too long is an invitation to fall asleep.

3) Eat and drink well
Half the fun of readathon is planning and eating delicious snacks. But this is not a good time to triple your caffeine consumption or eat only Cheetos for a day. Your body needs good fuel to go with the snacks and lots of water. Keep drinking water!

4) Relax
Readathon is a fun day. It's not the day to beat yourself up because your kid had a soccer game or you only read one book when that crazy lady on twitter read 22. Read things that make you happy, check in and see what wonderful books people are talking about online, and revel in the knowledge that there are people all over the world who love books just as much as you do.

Happy Readathon, Friends!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: The Family Tabor

Harry Tabor is about to be honored as the Man of the Decade in Palm Springs. He will be recognized for his work in helping Jewish families escape persecution and resettle in Florida. Harry's family gathers to celebrate his accomplishments--his wife Roma, an insightful child psychologist; his daughter Pheobe who keeps talking about a boyfriend no one has met; his daughter Camille who is trying to discern where to take her anthropology work next; and his son Simon, whose new interest in his Jewish roots is causing problems with his wife. But before Harry can be honored, he vanishes into the night. Each family member has a secret, but it will be Harry's sudden memory of his actions many years ago that could unravel everything that they have worked to accomplish.

The Family Tabor is a story told in fragments: we get a bit of Harry's history and then a piece of a child's present. Cherise Wolas has written a book (and a family) that you must commit to following because it's not linear and it won't go where you expect. The present action is limited but, as each person reveals a little piece of themselves, we understand the full impact of their choices on their family. It's also an examination of how one family and its members fit within the history of a people and a religion as the Tabors decide what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

Wolas' writing is insightful and powerfully draws readers into the inner lives of her characters. It is clear that these people care for each other, even if they can't always be honest with each other. This story requires some suspension of belief with its conceit that Harry forgot something important for so long and Wolas is not afraid to leave her readers in unexpected places, but it's worth experiencing these characters and their search for where they fit in their family and the world.

The Family Tabor
By Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books July 2018
400 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Readalong: The High Wire Edition

A few years ago, I started a series called Readalongs. It fell to the wayside a bit, but I recently read a book that brought it right back to the forefront of my mind. 

As you probably know, I have two littles (10 and 5, respectively). It's fun to read beloved childhood classics with the kids in your life. But it can be even more fun is to pair books for kids and adults that have the same kind of stories. So, welcome to volume 3 of Readalongs!

Mirette on the High Wire was one of my favorite books as a little girl and I've read it with both of my children. Mirette lives with her mother in a boardinghouse. They often get interesting boarders, but Mirette is particularly intrigued by a sad man who used to be a famous high wire walker. She is determined to find out what happened to him and to convince him to teach her to walk the wire.

Older readers can find that love of high wire walking in Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond. Jules Maroni is a proud member of a circus family. But when the join the Cirque American, she discovers there is very bad history between the Maroni family and the Garcia family. Jules finds cursed objects in her costume and trailer and things start to go terribly wrong. Can she figure out who is trying to destroy the Maroni name and make her fall from the wire? 

Whether you are a kid or an adult, there is something alluring about living among the magic of the circus and climbing up to walk the wire each night. Are there other books about high rope walkers that you love?

       Mirette on the High Wire     Girl on a Wire (Cirque American #1)

Other Readalongs:
The Fox Edition
The Pirate Ship Time Travel Edition 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: Off the Clock

Laura Vanderkam's entire career revolves around people's ability (or inability) to manage their time. She studies how people order their days and the habits that make them feel productive. When she found herself with an unexpected free day, it surprised her to realize how restorative it was and how difficult it could be to make that free time happen. In her most recent book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, Vanderkam investigates how we can find margin in our lives and find good even in the necessary repetition of life.

When I heard people rave about this book, I have to admit I was dubious at first. Surely the author would advise us to take certain steps that would be possible for some and cause the rest of us to laugh a bit before putting the book aside. Instead, Laura Vanderkam guides readers to think differently about their time. While she does begin the book by urging each of us to track our time, she believes that we can all enjoy the time that we prepare for. Once you've decided on your priorities, the key to feeling like you have time might just be taking it. Vanderkam advises leaving white space in your schedule and taking concrete steps to remember unexpected beautiful moments.

It's often hard to manage our time because we don't have hard boundaries. We work from our office and from home or juggle side gigs. We certainly don't get to clock out from raising kids or caring for elderly parents. But Vanderkam is quick to point out that investing in people is a good use of time. When we spend time intentionally strengthening the relationships with our friends and family, it makes us happier and interestingly makes it feel like we have more time, not less.

Laura Vanderkam has written a book that could really change how you view and spend your time. I have a better sense of how I can enjoy my time after reading Off the Clock and I can see returning to this book when I'm feeling a time crunch.


Off The Clock
Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
By Laura Vanderkam
Portfolio May 2018
256 pages
From the library

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Readers Imbibing Peril XIII

If you've been around here for a while, you know I'm not a big fan of scary. I like to sleep at night and stories where bad things happen to kids are an automatic no for me. In spite of this, I find myself tiptoeing into Readers Imbibing Peril again every fall. This reading challenge is for readers who want to read some mysteries, thrillers, and otherwise spooky books as the leaves start falling and the temperatures start dropping.

I'm never sure I have any books on my radar that will fit and then I discover I have plenty. Peril the First asks that you read four books. I will read at least four of the books below, if not more!

                       

Career of Evil, Cormoran Strike #3 by Robert Galbraith
I need to catch up on this series before the next book comes out!

Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Valente is one of the most interesting authors writing today and I'm excited to read her take on the evil Koschei the Deathless. 

Practical Magic/The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
I know, I know. I'm the only person who hasn't read Practical Magic yet. I'm going to fix it (and read the sequel while I'm at it).

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Zombies, people. Plus I've been meaning to read this book since it came out this spring.

            Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)        Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Ok, this is nonfiction but I think it counts as a mystery!

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
This story has magic and technology and lots of readers loved it!

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
This is the first book in a series featuring two Canadian detectives investigating a case that may be connected to the genocide in Bosnia.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
When children visit magical worlds, what happens to them when they come back home?

            All the Birds in the Sky        Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)

If you want to sign up for RIP, you can join here! What spooky books are you hoping to read this fall? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: The Ensemble

The Van Ness quartet is on the brink of success. They have given their graduation recital and are off to the Esterhazy competition. If they do well, they will have no problem finding places to perform and patrons to support their music. Henry is a young viola prodigy, Jana is the brash and determined violinist, Daniel is the cellist and works hard as the oldest member, and Brit is the shy second violinist who desperately wants to feel like she belongs. Each one has the potential to destroy everything they have been working to achieve. The Ensemble follows the four musicians as they achieve success, suffer personal tragedies, and discover if there is a place in their lives for these friends with or without music.

Aja Gabel has done an excellent job crafting a story that is specifically about music, but is about relationships at its core. This unique set-up ensures that Henry, Jana, Daniel, and Brit have to be in each other's lives for better or for worse. While many of us experience this kind of closeness when we live and study and work with people during college, their music career forces our ensemble to maintain this closeness for decades and gives readers the chance to see the answers to tough questions. Is it better to date someone you work with or pine for them instead? How do you find the balance between your relationship with your family at home and your work family? Is it possible to put personal disagreements aside for the good of your work?

When an author chooses to tell a story from multiple viewpoints, you often end up liking some characters more than others. The wonderful thing here is that you truly witness each character grow and change; by the end of the story, they are very different people from the confident students you met in the first chapter. The Ensemble deserves every bit of praise it received and I am anxiously waiting for Aja Gabel to bring us new characters to enjoy. 

The Ensemble
By Aja Gabel
Riverhead May 2018
352 pages
From the library

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review: The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen

Lisa Gungor and her husband Michael were stars of the Christian music scene. They knew what they believed and their path through life seemed all figured out. But Lisa's certainty crashed into pieces the day her husband admitted he didn't believe in God anymore. They faced intense backlash from their church, their fans, and their families when they were honest about their doubts. When their second daughter was born with Down syndrome and needed several surgeries in her first few months of life, she wondered if she could ever find her way back to faith.

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen will be familiar to many readers who found that their early faith couldn't hold up to the pain and brokenness of the world. But it is also a very personal confession. Lisa even bookends her memoir with letters to her mother, sharing her grief for the way they have been separated over the years and highlighting the choices she understands now as a mother herself. She lays out the entire story of her life: the churches her family attended, listening to her parents fight, the first time she went on a date with her husband Michael, and the need to find new people when her family and church told her she was no longer welcome.

This is not a story where everything is resolved by the end; instead it is one woman's experience of an expanding mind and heart. It can be frightening for us to realize our core beliefs have changed, but Lisa explains with kindness that it feels very much like thinking you were living on a dot only to discover it is actually a line and then a whole circle. The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen is about finding the place somewhere between a handful of friends in your basement and the stage of a megachurch where you can recognize the beauty in the midst of life's pain and admit out loud what you think about love, life, and faith.

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen:
Opening Your Eyes to Wonder
By Lisa Gungor
Zondervan June 2018
214 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: Our Homesick Songs

Big Running used to be a thriving town. But the fish disappeared and one by one, families left the place that was their home. The Connor family is still there, but they have to make some major changes. Aidan and Martha work at an energy company inland for alternating months, while the other parent stays with their children Finn and Cora. The separation is hard on the entire family. Finn becomes obsessed with figuring out why the fish left and how to bring them back. Cora decorates abandoned homes like different countries until the day that she too leaves Big Running and forces the family to choose if they should leave the only home they've ever loved.

Our Homesick Songs is indeed a book about homesickness and what it means to be home. It can often be a certain place, and it is definitely certain people. The author gives us a glimpse into one such town and one such family both in 1993, when the town is slowly abandoned, and the 1970s, when Aidan and Martha meet and fall in love. It's also a story about the importance of story and music and magic in remembering our history and dreaming about our futures.

Our Homesick Songs is the perfect story to read on a hard day. It is a simple read at certain points, almost like a child's fairy tale. But in other chapters, the very adult problems of paying the bills and staying faithful to a spouse you never see take center stage. The characters go through tough times and the story does not ignore the difficulties of loving people well in an ever-changing environment, but it does leave the characters and the readers with hope. We can hope in the goodness of people and the possibility that our love for our families, our friends, and our home will be enough to pull us through the darkest of days.

Our Homesick Songs
By Emma Hooper
Simon and Schuster August 2018
336 pages
Read via Netgalley


Also by Emma Hooper: Etta and Otto and Russell and James 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesdays with David: The Great Shelby Holmes

The Story: Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes. 

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that'll take both their talents to crack. (Synopsis from Goodreads) 


Thoughts from David: The Great Shelby Holmes is a very good mystery novel. Shelby is plain incredible with the fact she can deduct almost anything. She deducted that the main character, John Watson's (Yeah, both Shelby and John's last names are spin-offs on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson) mom had served in  Afghanistan just from boxes, a medical license, and that John's mom had a limp. John may not be a genius detective like Shelby, but sometimes John sees things that Shelby might not, like things about stuff that Shelby doesn't notice, like basketball.   

All in all, The Great Shelby Holmes is an amazing book. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes mystery books. You'll be laughing and trying to solve the mystery with Shelby and John the whole way through!  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review: An Ocean of Minutes

In 1981, the world is struck by a terrible flu. Frank falls sick and there is no way he can afford the very expensive treatment. So his girlfriend Polly decides to travel to the future and work for a company called TimeRaiser. In return, they will give Frank the cure that will save his life. The couple plans to meet up in 1993, but Polly is sent to 1998 instead. She finds herself in a very unexpected world, where she is subject to the strict rules and regulations of TimeRaiser employees. When Frank doesn't show up to their rendezvous, Polly is at a loss for what to do next. She traveled across time to make sure they would be together; what will she do if they can't?

An Ocean of Minutes has been pitched as similar to Station Eleven, but I think the two books are very different. While Station Eleven skips some time, we still see people navigating the aftermath of an epidemic. Polly sees little of the aftermath, since she travels 17 years into the future and her days are restricted to the workplaces and shoddy accommodations of TimeRaiser. An Ocean of Minutes is instead a story about class and poverty and how impossible it is to "work your way" into a better life. It's about trying to find the people and places that make up your home when everything has changed.

Thea Lim has smartly given us Polly and Frank's love story in the midst of Polly's current desperation. When she doesn't know how to find him, it is that much more painful because we have seen their relationship grow and we know how much they adore each other. An Ocean of Minutes is one of those stories where you hope that your protagonist will find what she is looking for and sigh in frustration at every barrier that she encounters. But those barriers caused by individuals and bureaucracy are exactly what makes this story seem so plausible, even as they break our hearts and threaten Polly's hope for a happy ending.

An Ocean of Minutes
By Thea Lim
Touchstone July 2018
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: The Great Believers

Yale Tishman is at a turning point in his career. If he can get a group of paintings donated to his Chicago gallery, it will be his biggest success yet. But his personal life is not as hopeful--his friends are dying from AIDS and no one knows how to grieve or who will be the next to be diagnosed. He finds comfort in the unlikely friendship of his friend Nico's younger sister Fiona. Thirty years later, Fiona is desperately searching Paris for her daughter. She thought Claire was lost to a cult, but now she will do anything to reconnect with her daughter and try to make amends for the ways she failed her.

I've been intrigued by Rebecca Makkai's writing for a long time. Not every story of hers works for me, but she weaves some kind of literary magic that makes me willing to try again. With this book, she has written herself into a tough situation because every book about a group of gay friends finds itself compared to the devastating A Little Life. The wonderful news is that this book holds its own--there is a perfect balance here between a specific moment in time and the intimate details of any person's life.

Both Yale and Fiona are incredibly invested in what is happening around them, as friends, relatives, and lovers are dying from AIDS. They show how life continues in spite of loss and tragedy, because there are fights with family and you still have to make that appointment and get to work on time. But there is a specter hanging over everyday life as characters wonder if a cough is just a cough or feeling tired means that something insidious is inside your body. The costs are more than physical--there is immense pressure on the ones left behind, the ones who say goodbye over and over again and must keep the memories of their friends alive.

In my reading lately, I'm finding many good books where I am excited to keep reading, anxious to find out what happens to the characters, and invited into another time and place by careful writing. But the books that stand out for me are the ones that are just enough--the author takes us into someone's life and knows when to close the curtain and force us to go back out into the world. The Great Believers is one of those stories. I spent the perfect amount of time with Yale and Fiona and I grew to care for them. Now I am ready to leave them behind and return to my own life, prepared to be a bit kinder and pay attention a bit more because our time with the people we love is a finite gift.

The Great Believers
By Rebecca Makkai
Viking June 2018
432 pages
Read via Netgalley

Also by Rebecca Makkai: The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Bread and Wine

Lent is seen as a time for reflection. Many people give something up as they think about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In the weeks leading up to Easter, many Christians spend more time than usual in prayer and study. Bread and Wine would be a great starting place. These 72 readings come from writers throughout Christian history and across the theological spectrum, including Kathleen Norris, Oswald Chambers, Barbara Brown Taylor, John Donne, Christina Rossetti, Watchman Nee, Madeleine L'Engle, Saint Augustine, and Mother Teresa.

In a perfect world, I would have finished reading this collection of devotions during Lent and written my review right around Easter. Unfortunately, I finished it in May and am just reviewing it now. This is definitely not the kind of book you can race through. Many of the selections require some time to think about deeper commitment during Lent, the temptation and crucifixion of Christ, and the new life we experience because of Easter. As with any collection, different selections will resonate with different readers but the diversity in this book ensures that there is something for everyone.

This would be an excellent resource for any church. Pastors and teachers could certainly draw from this volume during Lent and any Christian will find new ways to think about Lent and Easter and new writers to inspire and teach them.

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Plough Publishing House November 2014
430 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: Smoke and Iron

Jess Brightwell has deliberately put himself in danger by delivering himself to the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. Pretending to be his twin brother, he offers an intriguing business deal between the Library and his family of smugglers. Jess hopes to work from the inside of the library to bring its deadly reign toppling down. Meanwhile, Morgan is imprisoned in a tower in the library, their mentor Wolfe is a prisoner, and Dario, Thomas, Khalila, and Santi have been betrayed and are on their way to certain death. In this fourth book, our heroes have to convince others to join their resistance--they have seen the evil the Library can perpetrate. Will anyone join them to stand against the Archivist Magister?

I have to confess I initially thought that Smoke and Iron would be the final book in this series and groaned a little when I saw that there would be a fifth book. But as I read the story, another one seemed like a great idea. Rachel Caine's world is so fascinating and it's easy to see how she could create another series or two about the origins of the Library and the people who swear to protect it.

Happily, this isn't a book where the epic creation of countries and societies makes up for lackluster characters. Caine has put together a large cast of characters, but it's never difficult to remember who is who and each one grows and changes as the story progresses. The characters have specific strengths, but they also have some big flaws that could ruin everything.

Rachel Caine has written a great series with a world that comes to life before your eyes and characters you have to cheer along their journey. I will certainly be reading the final book to find out what happens to this unlikely bunch of people who will fight to the end for the fate of the Library and for each other.

Smoke and Iron
The Great Library #4
By Rachel Caine
Berkley July 2018
448 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: Mother of Invention

Tessa Callahan is brilliant, but she hasn't been able to conceive one thing she wants: a child. She decides to use her abilities and resources to work on a new technology known as Seahorse. Tessa will personally assist the first three women who will be pregnant for just nine weeks before giving birth. She truly believes that this technology has the potential to help women spend less time feeling sick and more time pursuing their career and mothering their children. After the trial is underway, Tessa learns the dark origins of the technology and the secrets that allow them to continue. She will have to decide whether to see these mothers through to birth or drag the truth out into the light at the expense of her dreams and the mothers she has promised to protect.

This story asks some compelling questions. Would speeding up pregnancy actually help us? Do we need those nine months to bond with our child and prepare for a new part of our lives? If this kind of technology did exist, how would we decide who received it and who had to wait out a full pregnancy? Would having this distinction become just another round of the vaginal birth vs. cesarean, breastfeeding vs. bottle, working mother vs. stay-at-home mother wars?

Tessa seems to really want to help other women, but the reader can see where her own blind spots might hurt them even if she can't. There is a lot going on in this book, but Caeli Wolfson Widger writes compassionately and compellingly. While some of the characters in this story read like thinly veiled versions of people you might read about in the news, the questions about parenthood and the ethics of technology set in the midst of edge-of-your-seat thriller make a powerful and fascinating story.

Mother of Invention
By Caeli Wolfson Widger
Little A May 2018
364 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, June 15, 2018

Exit, Pursued by a Bear: Can We Have Nice Things In YA?

A note before we get started: This post will have spoilers for Exit, Pursued by a Bear and discussion of rape and rape culture.


In Exit, Pursued by a Bear, protagonist Hermione Winters is drugged and raped at cheerleading camp. She doesn't remember anything, so she doesn't know who the rapist is. It's even possible he is one of the boys on her squad, someone who she sees every day and considers a friend. Throughout the story, readers witness Hermione cautiously move back into her life--she goes back to school, starts seeing a therapist, and returns to the cheerleading team.

I thought this book was great. E.K. Johnston is a really excellent writer and it is clear that she cares about her characters. Hermione gets the help that she needs as she recovers from trauma, her family and friends are supportive and caring, and by the end of the book, she can see how to keep moving forward despite the terrible thing that has happened to her.

Then I did something silly and I read some reviews of this book. I found several people who thought this book was unrealistic. They wanted to know where the public shame was and why her friends took care of her instead of abandoning her. The only person who is awful after the assault is Hermione's boyfriend, but even he eventually supports her after their cheerleading teammates confront him. To some readers, it seemed unimaginable that a girl who has been raped would have a fun night with her friends or laugh with her therapist.

I guess it all comes down to the reason that we read stories. Do we read to be reminded of how terrible the world is or do we read to imagine that we can do better? When teens read this book, I think they should believe that people will be there for them if they ever find themselves in a situation like Hermione's. I know YA is not always realistic, but I don't think there is a problem with it reflecting the best of us--the parents who support us, the friends who won't abandon us, and the community that supports us even (and maybe especially) when everything is falling apart.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Inspired

Rachel Held Evans grew up loving the stories of bravery and faith in the Bible. But as she grew up, she had some questions. How could a good God wipe out a generation of Egyptian children to lead the Israelites out of Egypt or reward Abraham for almost killing his own son? Why did her church believe some parts of the Epistles were still relevant and some were not? Her pastors and professors seemed more eager to get her to be quiet than to really answer her questions, so she started doing her own research and discovered different kinds of theology. In her uncertainty, she found a way to love the complicated and unexpected stories of the Bible all over again.

In Inspired, Evans looks at the different kinds of texts that we find in the Bible. There are tales that tell us the origin of the world, war stories, stories of resistance and deliverance, and letters and recollections from the early days of the Christian church. She gives each section new life by reimagining it--Hagar tells her own story and proudly declares that she was the only person to give God a new name, Job becomes a modern professor who has an unexpected encounter with some colleagues and a cafeteria worker, and Peter stepping out of the boat to Jesus becomes a choose-your-own-adventure during a trip to Israel.

These retellings are interesting and many of them made me think of well-known stories in new ways. But Evans challenges us even further. Many people experience Christianity as a long list of things you must check off, that you must act a certain way, and believe these specific things. But it can quickly become complicated when we admit that Scripture sometimes contradicts itself and doesn't answer the questions we think it should. Instead, she turns to Jewish midrash and invites us to see the Bible as the start of conversations instead of a door-slamming, absolutist end to them.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again will be a book I turn to again and again. Evans writes with passion and reverence for the Scripture and shows us how to hold the tension of a holy, timeless book written in a specific place and time by specific people. We are a part of an ongoing story of faith--the first few chapters are captured within the pages of the Bible to teach us, to comfort us, and to help us to ask good questions.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water
and Loving the Bible Again
By Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson June 2018
240 pages
Reviewed as part of the book launch team 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: The Very Worst Missionary

Jamie Wright rather unexpectedly found herself a missionary in Costa Rica with her husband and three sons. She quickly discovered that they didn't have the right training to do this job and that they had been sent to an area with many people who were doing the same work. She had been writing about their experiences to family and supporters back home. But as she became more lonely, disheartened, and worried that they might be doing more harm than good, she started writing the truth. When she was dubbed "The Very Worst Missionary" by a supporter withdrawing their contribution, she agreed and wondered if the worst missionary is the one presenting a perfect picture while falling apart on the inside or the one who admits that they are a mess and need grace just like everyone else.

Wright starts off her book with an apology, recognizing that her story and the ways she tells it are probably not what you expect. Snark and swearing are not always welcome in books about faith, but she wields both throughout The Very Worst Missionary. She begins by explaining their family's journey to faith and how they felt like they had found a home in their local church. But it wasn't long before Jamie noticed a disparity between what Jesus said and what the people in her congregation did. In spite of her questions, she and her husband Steve took their youth group on a short missions trip to Costa Rica and felt like it might be the perfect life for an adventurous family who loved Jesus.

Jamie's life and work in Costa Rica are nothing like she expected and she realized that her family might be hurting the very people they wanted to help. This is not a book that wraps up nicely in a bow. Wright says early on that she still struggles in her forties with many of the things that she struggled with as a teenager who wandered a college campus in a biker jacket at fifteen. In part, this may be what was frustrating to me. She does an excellent job of articulating the things that are wrong with the way that the American Christian church sends missionaries out into the world. But after pointing out the problems, she doesn't offer a solution. Maybe I am putting too much on one person but I want to know what we should be doing, not just the things we as the church do terribly wrong. However, if you see some problems with the concept of modern missions, Jamie Wright is right there with you. Even if she doesn't have the answers, she has some really funny stories to keep you company along the way.

The Very Worst Missionary
A Memoir or Whatever
By Jamie Wright
Convergent Books April 2018
230 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

The summer of 2011 is one of great change for Nour. Her father has died from cancer, and her mother decides to move the family back home to Syria. Nour's older sisters quickly fall back into the rhythm of life in Homs, but Nour has never lived in Syria and finds it hard to adjust. Their neighborhood turns into a warzone before their eyes and when a shell destroys their house, they are forced to flee across borders. As Nour and her family travel, she remembers a tale that her father told her again and again: the story of Rawiya, the girl who dreamed of seeing the world and left everything she knew to go on incredible adventures. The two girls take the same journey, hundreds of years apart, fighting for their families and a place to call home.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a book that effortlessly spans age ranges--I thought it was compelling and beautiful, but can just as easily see giving it to a teen or mature middle-grade student to read. The writing in this novel is utterly unique because Nour has synaesthesia and experiences the world a bit differently than most. Joukhadar subtly reminds readers of the beauty of story and art and nature through our heroine's experiences.

The two narratives work wonderfully here--an entire novel could have been written about Rawiya or Nour but they add new layers to each other's stories. There is a beautiful juxtaposition between the magic of Rawiya's tale as she disguises herself as a boy and fights human and magical enemies and  the devastating reality that Nour's family might not all make it to safety.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a truly beautiful debut novel that I will be talking about for a long time.

The Map of Salt and Stars
By Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Touchstone May 2018
368 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: The Displaced

If you watch the news for longer than five minutes, you will likely hear someone yell about refugees and what we should (or shouldn't) be doing about the thousands of people who are displaced from their homes. It's easy to lump everyone who flees dangerous circumstances together, but their stories are as different as the refugees themselves. In The Displaced, Viet Thanh Nguyen has collected the experiences of twenty people.

In "Last, First, Middle," Joseph Azam struggles with his choice to leave behind the name his grandfather gave him. Fatima Bhutto recounts her experience with a simulation of crossing the Mexican border in "Flesh and Sand," and Reyna Grande reveals that the trauma of a separated family never goes away in "The Parent Who Stays." Marina Lewycka, who has spent most of her life in England, finds that she is no longer at home in a country where people are harassed in the streets just for looking foreign in "Refugees and Exiles."

The stories in this collection are excellent and there are such different experiences and writing styles between the covers of this book. I do believe that reading about the experiences of people from all countries and situations is crucial, but I wonder if the people who feel empathy for refugees and want to do something to help are already the ones who would read this collection. If words do have the power to change minds and hearts and convince us to see others as people, The Displaced is an excellent place to start.

Note: This advanced copy only included ten of the twenty pieces. All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the International Rescue Committee.


The Displaced:
Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives
Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Abrams Press April 2018
192 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: Only Human (Themis Files #3)

When Rose Franklin was a child, she fell into the hand of an iron giant. Years later, she has been on unbelievable adventures and discovered that aliens exist. Rose and her friends have spent a decade on an alien planet, but that won't be the most difficult thing. When they return to Earth, they find that new divisions have formed and the planet is on the brink of war. The existence of aliens might not matter after all; humanity is about to destroy itself.

This series succeeds at doing what the best sci-fi stories can--making us think about humanity because of a story about aliens. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return to Earth, they expect to find a planet that has changed because we know we are not alone in the universe. But instead of uniting people, it has turned them against each other. They use the alien robots to take land and resources and fight other nations. Internment camps have sprung up across the world as everyone turns on their neighbor with the suspicion that they might have alien DNA. Our heroes have to decide which side they are on and what they are willing to fight for.

Sylvain Neuvel has written a great trilogy where each book takes the story in new directions. Each one is told through interviews and recording, but the characters are still very vivid. In fact, I found myself missing a few of them who aren't in this final book. The Themis Files books make the existence of alien races and giant metal robots seem entirely possible and is a wonderful addition to the canon of science fiction.

Only Human
Themis Files #3
By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey May 2018
336 pages
Read via Netgalley

Saturday, April 28, 2018

24 Hour Readathon (Spring 2018)

Hour Twenty-Four (and change) Update
There has been much reading and snacking and chatting through our computers. As usual, I got many more books that I could possible read, but I still feel pretty good about reading five books and almost 1,500 pages. For a grand total of books/pages read, you can visit the 24 Hour Readathon page here

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Well, I have never read for a full 24 hours. People tend to like their worship leader conscious during services on Sunday morning and I also have to get my children there. I happily crawled into bed before 2 a.m., which was hour 15 or so. 

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! In order: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (454 pages), Awayland by Ramona Ausubel (240), Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (248), Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Bosch (369), and Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (176). 

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? Short stories are always great for Readathon, so Awayland would be great. Ditto for comics--I can see myself picking up the other Delilah Dirk comics for the next Readathon. Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a great story (which should surprise no one, E.K. Johnston is excellent), and it's Readathon friendly because it is under 300 pages!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? That's a great question, but I'm not sure. I think doing new things is fun at this point for those of us who have done many Readathons, but I also know that it is an incredible amount of work to make it happen for so many thousands of readers. 

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? I will always be reading if I can and I am happy to volunteer in any way that the benevolent and wonderful organizers need. 




Hour Twelve Update
And we're back! Here in New Jersey, it's almost 9 p.m. We enjoyed butter chicken for dinner, the kids are in bed, and it's time to get back to reading!

Here is my reading so far.

The Female Persuasion
Finished - 454 pages

Awayland
Finished - 224 pages

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
98 pages read

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Just started!


Reading is even better with carrot cake...


Hour Six Update
Hello everyone! How is your Readathon going?

I've made it halfway through Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion (about 250 pages) and read several short stories in Ramona Ausubel's Awayland. I've also had some toast, a lot of water, one cup of coffee, some crackers and brie, and a few bites of carrot cake.

I'm about to break up my day and head to my local library for their book sale. I promise to show off my new books when I get back!


It's here! It's Readathon time! Here's the opening meme. 

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My house in New Jersey. It's a little foggy now, but the sun is supposed to show up later. I'm looking forward to some outside reading!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm starting with The Female Persuasion, which I'm thrilled to be reading and I'm also looking forward to finally reading Hyperbole and a Half.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I never did manage to go on a snack run yesterday, so we will see what happens!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! Well, I just turned 31 (on Thursday). I have two kids, one husband, no pets, one keyboard, and many, many books.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I think I'm a Readathon pro by this point. I'm ready to read as much as possible without stressing about it! 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tomorrow is Readathon!

It's time! It's time! Tomorrow is the 24 Hour Readathon, the glorious event where we try to read as much as possible within a 24 hour period. If this is your first time hearing about it, hop over to the website and sign up! You do not have to read for 24 hours--it's a day to read a few good books, meet some other bookish people, and bask in the joy that is reading. There are also games and prizes!

This time around, I plan to make a delicious brioche french toast concoction for breakfast and put butter chicken in the crockpot for dinner. I still need to pick up some snacks to enjoy, but my day is somewhat planned out. I am ready to read as much as possible with two children in the house and take a small break to go to our local library book sale (yes, I need more books).


My decidedly overambitious pile includes YA (Girls Made of Snow and Glass; Exit, Pursued by Bear), short stories (Awayland; The Refrigerator Monologues; What Happens When A Man Falls From The Sky), comics (Hyperbole and a Half; Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant), literary fiction (The Female Persuasion), and nonfiction (Year of Yes). I also have my audiobook of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand ready to go for those moments when I have to do something other than hold a book in my hands.  

What are your Readathon plans? What book are you starting with? What will you be snacking on?

P.S. I wrote a warm-up post about ways to have your best Readathon as an introvert or an extrovert. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Girl, Wash Your Face

Rachel Hollis is a popular lifestyle blogger who was stymied by the emails she received. Women wrote to her, wondering how she managed to maintain such a perfect life when they felt like they were failing all over the place. In her book Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis writes about the lies she had to overcome to reach the place she is today. In each chapter, she confronts lies like starting tomorrow, not being good enough, or being a bad mother. Amidst personal stories, she encourages readers to get moving and make the life they want to live.

For me, the core of Hollis' message is nothing new. She tackles issues that a lot of women face, but I didn't really read anything  revolutionary. However, there are a few things that do set this book apart from the rest: the steps she gives you and her radical honesty. At the end of each chapter, Hollis gives readers several things that helped her achieve specific goals. She writes candidly about her traumatic childhood and the suicide of her brother, her relationship with a man who cheated on her and later became her husband, their family's devastating experience with foster care, and the time she peed her pants while jumping on the trampoline with her kids.

There are chapters when Hollis seems to believe that things are as easy as following a few simple steps. I think for many of us, the solutions to these problems take a long time to reach and they are very difficult to achieve. But I can also see how Rachel Hollis could be the extra kick in the pants if you know what you should do, but keep putting it off or making excuses. She is tougher than many lifestyle writers because she knows from personal experience that you have to put the work in to reach the goals you set for yourself.

Girl, Wash Your Face:
Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are
So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
By Rachel Hollis
Thomas Nelson February 2018
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, April 20, 2018

In Defense of Difficult Reading: Marilynne Robinson's What Are We Doing Here

Reading something fun and light can bring us joy as readers. There are some days when we just need to sink into another world and read something that my father would refer to as "fluffy." Sometimes the security of knowing that the chef will solve the mystery will making a perfect souffle is enough to make us feel a little better about life.

But I think there's another side, too. Reading can and should be fun and entertaining but it also has the capability to make us think. It can teach us about the science and history of the world we live in. Books can compel us to ask hard questions about ourselves and the choices we make individually and collectively.

I like to read for fun, but I also enjoy being challenged. I recently read What Are We Doing Here?, which is Marilynne Robinson's newest collection. The book mostly contains speeches that she has given over the past few years. They are not easy reading--the speeches consider our history as Americans, what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, and the place of both humanities and science. I so appreciated that both Robinson and her publisher saw the opportunity for readers to do some hard reading and think about big questions, even if they only knew her as the author of novels.

After graduating from high school or college, there is not a requirement for most of us to continue learning. We don't have to learn a new language, or learn how to write code for our website, or read hard books. But what are we missing if we don't?

Reading doesn't have to always be complicated or always be carefree. How wonderful it is to live in a world where we can read a cozy romance with the knowledge that they will get their happy ending and then turn to a book that explains the complexities of space or physics. Readers have the unique joy and privilege of experiencing all worlds, both real and imagined, and I intend to try to read about all of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: My Dear Hamilton

Like many of us, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie adored a certain popular musical about the life of one of our nation's founders. But they found that they couldn't stop thinking about Hamilton's wife Eliza. She was the one who ensured that Alexander Hamilton was remembered and the two authors decided to find out who she was and make sure that she was remembered as well.

My Dear Hamilton strikes the perfect balance of being familiar to readers who know a little about Alexander Hamilton while giving added depth to Eliza. They bookend the story with President James Monroe appearing to an elderly Eliza, hoping that the two can reconcile. From this point, Eliza thinks back through her life and readers witness a young woman in war time, a mother trying to provide for everyone in her family, and a wife wounded by her husband's betrayal.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have done a wonderful job in making Eliza a fully realized character, in spite of her leaving so few of her own letters and documents behind. I love that Eliza begins her story by telling readers "I was someone before I met Alexander Hamilton. Not someone famous or important or with a learned philosophical understanding of all that was at stake in our revolution. Not a warrior or a philosopher or statesman. But I was a patriot. I was no unformed skein of wool for Hamilton to weave together into any tapestry he wished. That's important for me to remember now, when every thread of my life has become tangled with everything he was...I was, long before he came into my life, a young woman struggling to understand her place in a changing world."

The book is a long one, but it's intriguing to see Eliza grow and change over several decades. It's clear from the note in the beginning to the last page of this story that Dray and Kamoie are rightly fascinated by this turbulent time in American history and the brave women and men who defined it. If you are a reader who loves historical fiction or a a person who weeps every time you hear them sing "Who tells your story? Eliza" in the Hamilton finale, you need to read this book.

My Dear Hamilton
A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
William Morrow Paperbacks April 2018
672 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mini-Reviews: The Shadow of the Crescent Moon and The Living Infinite

Three brothers eat breakfast together in a small town in Pakistan. Instead of observing Eid together, they carefully decide which mosque each brother will attend. Then they leave to go about their days--Aman Erum takes a taxi to a meeting, Sikander goes to pick up his wife Mina before work at the hospital, and Hayat rides his  motorbike to an abandoned university to meet other young people who are dedicated to freeing their home. By the end of the morning, their carefully constructed existences will be changed forever.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is one of those books where very little happens. The book only covers three hours in the lives of one family, but each of them think back through their history so the reader comes to understand who these people are and the events that have made them this way. This story is framed through the eyes of the three brothers, but the characters who really shine are Samarra, a radical young woman with ties to both Aman and Hayat, and Mina, Sikander's wife who is grieving war and loss in a very peculiar way. Author Fatima Bhutto makes it seem like there are good people and bad people but, as pieces are slowly revealed, we learn that these are just people trying to save themselves and the ones they hold dear. By the end of the book, you may want to turn back to the beginning and read it all again to see which seemingly mundane moments were actually the ones to change everything.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon
By Fatima Bhutto
Penguin Press March 2015
240 pages
From the library


In 1893, a Spanish princess stunned the rebellious citizens of Cuba before becoming a sensation at the Chicago World's Fair. The Infant Eulalia impressed people with her style, her confidence, and her willingness to speak the truth about the limitations of royalty. Accompanying her is Tomas Aragon, her secretary and the son of her wet nurse. What do they owe to each other? How will their adult lives intersect? Is it possible to move beyond the choices of their parents?

Every time that Chantel Acevedo changed perspective, I grieved for a few pages to lose the motherly insight of Amalia or the childhood memories of a princess. But she has created such unforgettable characters in a princess, a wet nurse, and her son that I would happily read hundreds more pages about any of them. Eulalia really was a Spanish princess who visited Cuba and the World's Fair in 1839. She did have a wet nurse from a poor village, but the life and character of Tomas are invented by the author. If, like me, you don't know much about this time period in Spain, The Living Infinite will give you an excellent primer on the late 1800s. But more than that, Chantel Acevedo has written a truly beautiful story about creating your own life, even under the shadow of bad choices or a royal title.

The Living Infinite
By Chantel Acevedo
Europa Editions September 2017
305 pages
From the library

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Eternal Life

Rachel is a typical modern woman in many ways: her children sometimes drive her crazy, she dotes on her grandchildren, and she has some big decisions to make about the family business. But there is one thing that makes Rachel very unique--she can't die. Two thousand years ago, she made an incredible bargain to save the life of her son. He would live and become a crucial figure in Jewish history, but she would be unable to die. All these years later, she has lived many lives all over the world. She has fallen in love, she has had children and careers, and then she leaves them all behind before her descendants can see that she outlives them. Her granddaughter Hannah is a scientist with a grant to try to prevent death and Rachel worries that she will figure out the truth about her grandmother. Is it finally time for Rachel to die? Is it even possible?

The story itself is a really engaging one. We see Rachel in the present as she tries to make good decisions, realizing that the decisions that make her a good mother are not always the ones that will keep her safe and happy. Horn also takes us into Rachel's past at several different points, but we spend the most time at the beginning with the son whose life she saved. We also meet Elazar, the boy's father, who made a similar sacrifice and follows Rachel through time. They spend some lives together, taking solace in the face that one other person knows what it is like to be immortal. In others, Rachel runs as far away as possible from the man who knows too much about her and has hurt her too many times. It is the highest of compliments that I would have followed Rachel through all of her lives, because Horn gives her characters so much of the nuance and contradiction that makes them seem to come alive right on the page.

Dara Horn writes fascinating novels that grapple with complex questions of faith and morality. In Eternal Life, the question at hand is what it means for us to be human. Would immortality render us more human as we live through life after life of mistakes and joys or would the ability to have another chance make us something other than human? If there is no end, do the moments that make life meaningful become more precious or do they mean nothing at all?

Also by Dara Horn: A Guide for the Perplexed

Eternal Life
By Dara Horn
W.W. Norton Company January 2018
256 pages
From the library

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review: Bury What We Cannot Take

San San and her brother Ah Liam return home from school one day, expecting a normal afternoon with a snack and time with their grandmother. Instead, they find that their grandmother has smashed a portrait of Chairman Mao with a hammer. Ah-Liam is conflicted, but ultimately decides to confess his grandmother's crime to the Communist Party. Soon the family has no choice but to try to flee the country to Hong Kong, lying that their father is ill. But the government will only grant three visas--one to mother Seok Koon, one to grandmother Bee Kim, and one for just one of the children. Seok's impossible choice will lead each of them to situations they never imagined.

Bury What We Cannot Take maintains a level of tension rarely seen in books other than thrillers. From the first pages when the children make their discovery, there is a very real possibility that someone will be imprisoned, killed, or lost to their family forever. This powerful book looks at the process of making difficult decisions and the repercussions that we never imagined. Everyone in this tale makes choices--Bee Kim made the choice to destroy the picture, Seok Koon decided which child to take to Hong Kong, Ah Zhai left his family to pursue another life in Hong Kong, and Ah Liam chose to put party ahead of his family. The only one who doesn't make a definitive choice is San San, but she is the one who must deal with the consequences.

Kirstin Chen is a writer who is careful and precise with her words. Beautiful writing and a tense and powerful story of the uncertainty of living in Communist China make Bury What We Cannot Take a book you don't want to miss.

Bury What We Cannot Take
By Kirstin Chen
Little A March 2018
275 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review: 1001 Ways to Be Creative

We all know creativity is a good thing. We believe in arts education in our children's schools, listen to new music, and attend local theatre productions. Some of us spend too much time gazing via social media at the beautiful pie or cozy sweaters created by our friends. In spite of this, it's hard to know where to begin. If you don't consider yourself an artist or a musician or a chef (or even if you do), how do you include creativity in your daily life? Barbara Ann Kipfer has a solution for you with her book 1,001 Ways To Be Creative. 

This tiny book contains a very large list with two kinds of entries. There are suggestions on ways to start a creative life, like taking a pottery class, designing a roller coaster, or inventing a new cocktail. Some of the points are thoughts about what it means to live a creative life. Kipfer encourages readers to remember that there is no such thing as the "right" starting place, that you will need breaks and rest, and that your creativity will grow as you continue to work on it. There are also quotes from famous creative people throughout and pages of inspiration, where the author challenges her readers to ask "what if?" or go on a creativity field trip.

This is a charming book. I think the best place for it is close to your piano or sewing corner or on the kitchen counter, nestled in with your favorite cookbooks. I'm planning to leave it on my son's bookshelf for the next time he's tempted to tell me that he's bored. While I wouldn't recommend reading straight through, I can certainly see myself flipping through its pages when I need to try something new or find a bit of inspiration.

1,001 Ways to Be Creative
By Barbara Ann Kipfer
National Geographic March 2018
320 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review: I Was Anastasia

In 1920, a woman is pulled out of a German canal. Her body is covered in scars and she won't say how she ended up in the water. When she finally breaks her silence, she claims to be the Russian princess Anastasia. The Russians insist that she and her entire family were executed by a firing squad, and many people believe that she is only looking for money and fame. She is dubbed Anna Anderson and a long investigation begins, as everyone tries to uncover the truth: is she the Princess Anastasia?

The story of Anastasia is one that has persisted in our consciousness for many years. There have been movies, books, and even a Broadway musical because we can't resist wondering if one of the Romanovs could have escaped their terrible fate. If you think there's nothing left to this story, think again. Ariel Lawhon throws you right into the action with Anna who confronts the reader, insisting that you have to come to your own conclusion after you hear her story. The action moves in two storylines, as we see Anna in the present navigate the believers who shower her with attention and the detractors who call her a liar. Years earlier, the Princess Anastasia tries to keep up her spirits under house arrest and increasingly dangerous circumstances.

I Was Anastasia is historical fiction at its best, which is exactly what readers have come to expect from Ariel Lawhon. If you know your history, you already know the answer to the question of Anna's identity. But as Anna points out, it almost doesn't matter. We want her to be Anastasia, because we want some hope to have come out of a dark, terrible story. We want Anna to be Anastasia because Ariel Lawhon makes both stories so compelling that we can't help wanting to believe.

I Was Anastasia
By Ariel Lawhon
Doubleday March 2018
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Becoming Madeleine

A Wrinkle In Time is a beloved story for many children. It's a jumping off point for young readers to love books about daring girls, impossible worlds, and traveling through space and time. For me, it was a doorway to the writing of Madeleine L'Engle and I happily tore through the remaining books in the Time Quintet, traveled through the streets of New York with Katherine Forrester, and read her reflections on life and love in The Crosswicks Journals. L'Engle passed away in 2007 and her granddaughters Charlotte and Lena wanted to give her readers a glimpse into the life of their beloved grandmother. They spent years going through her childhood letters and journals to write Becoming Madeleine.

This book is a treasure trove for the L'Engle fan who wants to learn more about their favorite writer. Voiklis and Roy started with their grandmother's earliest memories and wrote about her difficult relationship with her parents and her troubles and triumphs at school. They included photographs, journal entries, and letters from Madeleine. It's fascinating to read words she wrote as a child and young woman and compare them to her voice as an adult writer of fiction and nonfiction.

But I wished there was more of a personal touch to this book. Voiklis and Roy stop the book when A Wrinkle in Time is accepted for publication, which means we don't get to witness L'Engle as a grandmother to the authors. I can certainly understand wanting to keep your memories for yourself, but it feels as if anyone could have compiled her early letters to write this book.


Becoming Madeleine is intended for young readers, so the writing style is clear and simple. While I would have loved a more personal book, this book is a crucial addition to your bookshelves if you love Madeleine L'Engle and want to know about her younger years.

Becoming Madeleine
A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle In Time
By Her Granddaughters
By Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy
Farrar Straus Giroux February 2018
176 pages
From my shelves

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Spring TBR

Here in New Jersey, it seems we will be dealing with snow for the rest of our lives. But I hear that it is actually the first week of spring so all the spring book releases are right around the corner!

I'm linking up at the That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday to discuss all of the books we can't wait to read this spring.

1) A few years ago, a debut novel about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was a huge hit. We've all been anxiously awaiting another book from Madeline Miller and her book Circe will finally be here in April!

2) Zombies are rising up from the battlefields of the Civil War. Are you ready for any awesome biracial warrior girl to save the day in Dread Nation by Justina Ireland? I am so ready.

3) New Meg Wolitzer! New Meg Wolitzer! The Female Persuasion is out in April.

 

4) Jonathan Miles is an author who rarely seems to be discussed in literary circles. His newest novel, Anatomy of a Miracle is about a paraplegic who can suddenly walk--is this a miracle or something else?

5) Ramona Ausubel's debut novel No One Is Here Except All of Us completely ruined me. Then she followed it up with an incredible short story collection and a novel that made me care about rich people (I never care about rich people problems!). Now she has a new short story collection called Awayland and I'm ready for her to take all of my money!

6) Full disclosure: I'm reading the ARC of Only Human (Themis Files #3) right now and it's really good. If you haven't read any of the books in this series about giant robots and aliens by Sylvain Nuevel yet, get started now so you can read the last one when it comes out in May.

 


7) And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O'Connell is the author's look at becoming a mother very early in her life before she really felt like an adult.

8) I found Ruth Hogan's novel The Keeper of Lost Things lovely and charming, so I'm excited to read her next book The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes.

9) Tom Rachman writes fantastic books (The Imperfectionists, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) and I will follow him anywhere. In his latest book, The Italian Teacher, it's Rome in the 1950s and the triumphs and passions of artists and their families.

10) It's a great year for new books from authors I love. Jason Mott's The Crossing tells the story of twins who have to survive a world falling apart around them.


What books are you looking forward to reading this spring?