Monday, August 13, 2018

On the Bookshelf: One Last Summertime Reading Roundup

Hey there! Summer is starting to wind down (even though it will probably still be pretty hot for several weeks yet), and I figured it'd be a great time to update y'all about my latest reading endeavors. I have rediscovered how frustrated I get with much contemporary fiction, and found myself picking up some books and tossing them back in the library book box that I keep in my closet after just a chapter or two. Other books, I read and enjoyed for the most part, but weren't so stellar that I'd re-read them. However, never fear-in the past several weeks, I have read some truly delightful books that I really enjoyed. So let's talk literature!

I was Anastasia, by Ariel Lawhon. This was a fascinating historical novel that intertwines two narratives-that of Anastasia Romanov, in the early 20th century, and that of Anna Anderson, several years later. Anastasia's narrative moves forward in time, and Anna's moves backwards in time, which makes the book somewhat difficult to follow at times but is an excellent framework for the story. As we read the story of the Romanov family's tragedies, we also read the story of Anna Anderson, a woman who claimed to be the lost Anastasia. Piecing together bits of the puzzle, this intriguing tale brings the historical context, controversies, and mysteries to light. I really, really enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it!

A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This novel begins with Amar, a young Indian-American man, arriving at the wedding of his sister Hadia. It becomes apparent from the outset that Amar is rather estranged from the family. After setting the wedding scene into play, the book backtracks to the early days of Amar and Hadia's family, and walks us through the different events of the years that formed their relationships before picking up again at the wedding scene and continuing the story. I really loved seeing the relationships among siblings, friends, and the parents play out, and I found it fascinating to read as the kids grappled with how they wanted to practice their faith as Muslims when they were growing up.

Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly. This was a really interesting memoir from an astronaut who spent an entire year in the International Space Station. Lots of details, some which I could have done without. I didn't like the crude stuff or vulgar language, but found all of his discussion about the intricacies of living in space quite interesting! Though some of it did get really technical and hard to follow. Still, this was worth a read! 

We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia  Hunter. This is a novel based on the history of the author's family who lived during the Holocaust. It was a fascinating story that followed the different plotlines for the characters as they became spread throughout Europe (and beyond). Gripping, well-written and extremely well-researched. I loved it.

The Late Bloomer's Club, by Louise Miller. Forty-two-year-old Nora lives in a small Vermont town, and is living day by day as the owner of a diner, enjoying her life but also busy taking care of others and dealing with her feelings from a broken marriage. One day, Peggy-known as the "cake lady" dies, leaving her property to Nora and Kit, Nora's wild, vivacious sister. Will the sisters sell the property to the Evil Big Box Store that wants to move in? Or will they keep the property and fail financially? This book was very lighthearted and felt a bit like reading a Hallmark movie. It was a cozy summer read, and it was fun, though I honestly could have done without the same-sex love story subplots.

Word Nerd, by John D. Williams Jr. This was a really interesting exploration into the world of SCRABBLE. The author is the former executive director of the National SCRABBLE Association, and he gave some great insights into the history of competitive SCRABBLE, the controversies that have arisen over which words are included in the dictionaries used for the game, and the use of SCRABBLE in schools. It was a fun, light read which really helped me appreciate the game of SCRABBLE-in particular, I found it fascinating that-according to the book and different theories-SCRABBLE is thought of as a "math game" (which is one of the reasons why some people think most of the pros are male, not female). 

At Home with Madame Chic, by Jennifer Scott. This was a fun exploration of different ways in which the author has sought to bring lessons from her time in France to her home in the U.S.A. It was very approachable, and I liked that this book focused a bit on mindset and cultivating your own awareness and appreciation for the present moment (though it did get a little Zen-ish at parts). The author also included different music recommendations for Parisian (or French-inspired) music to listen to, recipes, and different chic housekeeping hacks. I really enjoyed this book! 

Not That I Could Tell, by Jessica Strawser. This was an interesting thriller-ish novel about a group of women in a neighborhood whose lives are turned upside-down when one of them disappears shortly after they had a "girl's night" around the fire pit. The characters were lively and well-crafted, and the story was pretty fascinating as the characters came to question how well they all really knew each other. I did skip a bunch of pages in the middle of the book when things got too New Agey/hippie for me (also, two of the female main characters are in a relationship with each other and the book was starting to focus on that a bit), but I did skip to the end and thought the conclusion was really interesting and touched upon an important issue.  

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. This book follows the lives of two somewhat estranged sisters in France during WWII. Vienne and Isabelle are incredibly different, with strikingly opposite personalities, so by following their lives during the war, we see very different (but important) roles that women played during Nazi occupation. The characters really pulled me into the very riveting story, and this was just a beautifully written book. I may or may not have been crying by the end ;) There is some sexual content and violence, so this is definitely an adult book, or maybe acceptable for an older/mature teen. I loved it, and highly recommend it!  

The Book of Essie, by Meghan MacLean Weir. The basic premise of this story is that 17-year-old Essie, part of a huge Christian family who has a reality TV show based off of them, finds out that she's pregnant. When she overhears her mother and some of the show's creators discussing different options (hiding her away on an island, arranging a hurried marriage, or sneaking her off to an abortion clinic), Essie decides that her time has come to take a stand for herself and start living life on her own terms. I thought this book would mainly be about how fake reality TV is and the hypocrisy we can all fall into, and while it was, I found myself being blown away by some of the powerful ways in which pretty heavy (and important) topics were discussed. I liked this book, but I thought the ending was a little rushed and glossed over some things, and I also wasn't a fan of everything in the ending, particularly from a moral standpoint. This book is kind of complicated for me, but I'm really glad I read it and I think it definitely touches on some important issues that need to be discussed. 

A Chicken in Every Yard, by Robert & Hannah Litt. I'm not an urban homesteader by any means (the only plants I can currently keep alive are some spinach, green onions, and some variety of mint or other herb that my neighbor helped me plant), but the idea of urban homesteading is attractive to me. And I'm really, really intrigued by backyard chickens. I tell people all the time that I'm not into owning pets, but if I did own pets, I would want them to be chickens that lay fresh eggs for me to eat. This book is written by a couple who runs a farm store and owns several chickens, and it's a fantastic guide to all the ins and outs of chicken owning. It answers questions like, "Will having chickens work with my lifestyle?" or "What are all of the horrible diseases and injuries that can befall chickens?" I appreciate that this book, while showing just how low-maintenance chickens are as pets, also addresses the myriads of issues that may potentially crop up sometime, so you know what you're getting into. This book seems like a great resource for anyone who is planning to own backyard chickens or is just thinking about potentially getting a small flock of backyard chickens sometime in the future. 

Thanks for joining me as I rambled about some of my recent reads! As always, please feel free to drop me some recommendations because I always love expanding my reading list :) 


  1. I'm in the middle of At Home With Madame Chic and totally agree with your review!

    Also just got We Were The Lucky Ones and was debating on whether to read...I think I will now!

  2. What a great list!! I have heard of Endurance by Scott Kelly and the others look interesting. Enjoyed reading your reviews.

    1. I'm so glad you liked looking over these, Elisabeth! I hope that you're doing well!

  3. Completely agree with your thoughts on modern fiction. I've returned several books lately without finishing a chapter because I can tell it's going to be trashy or completely dull.

    Oh I loved Endurance so much, but totally agree on the language and technical details. But wasn't it fascinating? I also loved We Were the Lucky Ones. I was SOBBING by the end of The Nightingale. Rarely does fiction affect me the way that book did. I have yet to find another book that so completely sucks me in and turns me inside out. I just read Kristen Hannah's newest book, The Great Alone. It started off fascinating and I felt like it was going to be The Nightingale part 2, but it got extremely intense with matters of domestic abuse and alcoholism, and I don't know. It missed the mark a bit for me, but it was still a good book.

  4. I'm getting my husband the space book. He is reading a memior by the astronaut tom Jones, a Catholic who took Jesus into space. He loves space books. I just started the nightingale and don't think I can do it. I'm tired of boOKs that deliberately play on my emotions. Real life is too hard.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that life has been hard, Ellen. I think it's good that you know yourself well enough to put down a book that's just not what helpful for you to read. I've never heard of Tom Jones, and he sounds fascinating-how cool that he took Jesus into space! If your husband loves space books, he also may like Spaceman, by Mike Massimino-that's another really interesting memoir from an astronaut :)