Five Summer Reads

five summer reads

So far this summer I have read quite the eclectic array of books. I had friends publish books, so I wanted to read those. I also wanted to read some more adult fiction since I spend a good deal of time reading YA lit, however I do love YA lit, so I have still be reading lots of that too. While I have read a LOT of books since school got out (around a dozen or so), these five stuck out as ones I wanted to pass along in case you needed something to read by the pool, beach, or on the couch while the Detroit Tigers are losing.

Letters for Scarlet by Julie C Gardner 

I have a confession. When my friends write a book I get very nervous to read it. I mean, what if I don’t like it? How will I tell them? Thankfully this has never actually happened to me. Letters for Scarlet is written by my long-time blogging friend, Julie. I have read her blog for years and marveled at her ability to write. To be able to hold her book in my hands made me giggle happily.

The book is one I would totally choose to read on my own. Corie Harper is a late-twenties English teacher. She and her husband, Tuck are trying to get pregnant, but can’t. One day, Corie gets a letter from herself–one she wrote senior year of high school when she was best friends with Tuck and Scarlet. Corie and Tuck had a falling out with Scarlet and hadn’t heard from her since. Until Scarlet’s mom wants Corie to find her and deliver the letter.

Scarlet, on the other hand, does not want to be found. She has a great job and finds out she is pregnant. She thinks having the baby would be a terrible idea.

Both women are running from the memories of one particular night their senior year. The book gives you bits and pieces that just keep you turning pages to find out what happened…and if Scarlet will keep the baby…and if Corie and Tuck will make their marriage work.

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr

I love historical fiction because I feel like I am getting a glimpse of life from a different time in a way no history class could ever teach me.  All the Light We Cannot See does this so beautifully. The story is engaging, sure, but the writing!  The writing captured me and just would not let go in the best kind of way.

The novel is really two stories that wrap around into one. Marie-Laure lives with her grandfather in Paris near the Museum of Natural History. At age six, she goes completely blind, and he builds her small models of Paris and it’s roads so she can have a 3D map of sorts to learn her way around. When the Nazis capture Paris, they are forced to run away to the walled city of Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle. Marie-Laure is unaware that they have carried something extremely valuable and dangerous with them.

Werner is an orphan who lives in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. He is brilliant at building and fixing radios. The Nazi party catches wind of this and recruits him into the Hitler Youth. Eventually Werner finds himself in the basement of a building in Saint-Malo trying to fix some equipment. His story is about to meet Marie-Laure’s…or has it already?

The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet

Jennie is another one of my very wonderful blogging friends. I’d already read (and loved) her memoir, but this was my first time reading her fiction. As usual, I was nervous I would not like it, especially since this one was being touted as a romance. Romance is not what I would pick up, but it’s summer and I love Jennie and I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a go!”

I am so glad I did! This book is not what I would think of when I think of a typical romance…or maybe I have the wrong idea of a typical romance? Chastity is a single mother and high school English teacher in France. One of her students is the son of Viscount Charles Jean Anne de Brase. Now, don’t let not knowing what a viscount is get in your way of reading this one. I know next to nothing about France, and I was able to figure it all out with context clues. Jennie’s writing is accessible to anyone who wants to read it!

Chastity is unimpressed with the Viscount’s off-putting personality when she asks to meet with him about his son’s academic performance. She has pretty much written him off as a total rude snob, when her ex-boyfriend–straight from prison for drugs–shows back up and wants to spend time with their son. An accident involving their son throws the Viscount further into Chastity’s life than she could have imagined.

Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

This book may be my new favorite YA read. Having dual narrators is hot right now, but Schusterman takes that to a different level by having the narrator always be Caden Bosch, but from different states of mental health and awareness. Sometimes he is first-person narrating from the reality of his family and friends, other times it’s from aboard a ship with a deranged Captain and a talking parrot who both give him direction. Is he hallucinating? Is this a different world he has created for himself? Does he have another personality? Other times he falls into second person narration when he seems the most disconnected from reality. His ship world and the “real” world are connected, but you have to keep reading to find out how.

This might be the most beautifully tragic journey into and through mental illness that I have ever read.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Anything in the genres of paranormal or fantasy are a big stretch for me. In fact, I have never read Harry Potter (Don’t shoot!).  But I had A) heard this was very good and B) let myself get intrigued by the real photos that were used. I flipped to the back of the book and learned via the interview with Randsom Riggs that he found all the photos first and would write little stories to go with them. I found this a fascinating way to jump start a novel.

Jacob, a sixteen-year-old, finds himself traveling to a remote island off the coast of Wales in search of some family history. He finds, instead, and abandoned house that used to be Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After searching some more, he finds that maybe these children were more than just strange…and maybe, somehow, they are still alive even though it is said they were all killed in a bomb attack during WWII.

Just like with Stephen King novels, I found myself drawn to how real Riggs made everything seem before introducing the paranormal/fantasy elements. I was already drawn in and invested in the characters before what would normally turn me off occurred. I was already hooked! I look forward to the next in the series (that I will have to borrow from my own classroom library!).

So what have you read so far this summer? Anything I should add to my list?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

Open Boxes by Christine Organ

Book coverThe book Open Boxes by Christine Organ is not just another feel-good book meant to tell you how to connect with your inner spiritual flower child. It is an inspirational collection of essays that demonstrates how our every day lives are filled with beautiful grace, amazing wonder, and incredible miracles.

I will admit when I read the description of the book, I figured it would be one of those hippie-dippie books that gives me instruction about how I can meditate and self-love my way into a happier, calmer life. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t so much didactic as it was inspirational.

Organ postulates that our lives are like a series of tightly sealed, organized boxes that we file away, keeping separated from other parts of our lives. In order to lead a more connected, spiritually peaceful life, we should open those boxes and make connections. She organizes the personal essays in the book into the three ways she imagines the boxes being opened and shared: Grace, Wonder, and Miracles.

Early in my reading, I found myself grabbing for my pencil, marking up the book as I read, dog-earring pages to come back to. Rarely do I identify so much with someone else’s spiritual journey. Mine has always felt very unique in that it all took place–is taking place–in my own head. Organ’s journey is very similar in that she embraces her doubts.

“We have doubts and questions. We see inconsistencies, and there are times when we don’t know what to believe. But there is no shame in admitting the presence of spiritual doubts. In fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith” (73).

She also recognizes the need to be vulnerable and take chances in order to be our best and produce our best. I struggle with this in my writing as well as in my teaching, mothering, and wife-ing I know that in order to do the great things I have dreamed about my whole life, I have to open myself up. I have to allow mistakes and criticism. But it’s so hard. Organ says, “The prickliness of vulnerability is a touch of pain accompanied by the feeling of freedom that comes from having done something truly authentic, personal, and unabashed” (61).

The other areas of the book, Wonder and Miracles, are no less inspiring.

“Sometimes the weight of wonder is just too much, the awe too overwhelming, for me to grasp” (127).

From her faith journey to her struggles with vulnerability to her miscarriage and learning to embrace self-care, I kept finding more ways to personally connect with Organ. But probably the most significant connection I felt to her was in the way she describes wonder and miracles.

Every day I marvel in wonder at a million things, but at the top of the list are my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t run my fingers over Alice’s sleeping face or Charlie’s fingers or through Eddie’s hair. The fact that I have them is a miracle, and watching them grow and learn is a wonder.

She even touches on prayer in the Miracles section, but it’s not in the way you think. Organ does not talk about times she prayed for miracles and they happened.  Nope. Instead she discusses the “tricky” nature of prayer–who is it really for? What is it supposed to do? She muses that prayer is not for changing circumstances, but for giving the person doing the praying a different perspective on those circumstances. For providing a peace. She even likens prayer to a form of therapy.

I could go on and on. This book is beautiful. I personally connected to so much. Not everything, but enough that it kept me reading and nodding and marking up the pages with “ME TOO!”

If you are in a funk emotionally or spiritually, I recommend Open Boxes. Even if you are not, it’s a lovely read that will reaffirm what you know and help you to believe in the miracles and wonder of this world we live in, this life we have been graced with. It will help you mentally open boxes and see all the ways we are all connected.

Open Boxes is available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, nor are the links affiliate links. I was sent a copy of the book to read and review, but all opinions are my own.

Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster

Oh my 518L04RBZJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_goodness I needed to read some Jen Lancaster. It seems like everything I have been reading has either been a super heavy topic or it’s long or it’s serious nonfiction.

I’ve read everything she’s written up to about 2012, so I went out and bought Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late For her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not For Dinner. I need to catch up with my Jen Lancaster.

I’m not usually a chick lit person, and I still stand behind Lancaster books not being chick lit. You know, other than I can’t imagine any guy ever wanting to read it. But she doesn’t write mushy gross romances, and she makes me laugh right out loud. So she is one of my favorites.

Just like all her memoirs, Jeneration X is a fast read. Instead of telling one long story like her previous autobiographical works, this one is more of a collection of essays all with some sort of lesson for “reluctant adults.”  Since I consider myself one of the most reluctant of adults, I figured I would either learn something (HA HA HA) or laugh a lot (YES). I laughed a lot.

Long-time fans have criticized this book as seeming like a bunch of blog posts bound together in a book, and yes, I suppose it could seem like that. But really they are essays, not blog posts. And they all have some sort of (loose) lesson about adulthood. And everyone one of them is told hilariously.

Even the posts that are about more serious lessons like estate planning and how friends are your family don’t take the serious, preachy turn they could. No, no. Lancaster would never do that. Rather she makes you laugh, nod your head and say “for sure” about whatever it is she is talking about.

If you need a quick, funny weekend read, I suggest anything by Jen Lancaster.

Challenge Completed

I think every year for the past five or so years, I have done the GoodReads book challenge. You are supposed to set a goal for how many books you want to read in that year.  Almost every year I put 24 – two books per month.

When I compare my goal to many of my friends, it is low. They aim for like 50 books. If I didn’t have to work or keep my children alive, I bet I could read 50 books a year. But, alas, people need me to do things, so 24 is the goal.

I have never met this goal. I usually start out Ok, but then drop off as spring comes and I get out of control busy with end of the school year things like grading and graduation.  I pick it back up in the summer, but not usually to a point where I can recover because once school starts up again, my reading life grinds to a halt.

Some how I managed to not just meet my goal of 25 books this year, but to surpass it! As of right now, I have read 30 books this year and I am on number 31.  Currently I am reading The Liar’s Club  by Mary Karr.

I’ll be honest too, that I have always tried to right up a review of the book over under my book categories, and not having time to write it up has held me back from starting a new book. I decided I had to let that go and just enjoy books. If I get them up there, awesome, but if not, at least I am reading, right?

So tell me, what are you reading?

I have a bunch of books from my classroom library on my To Read List including Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell and all of the John Green. The problem is that they are all checked out right now…by my students!

I guess that’s not really a problem.


Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of the children’s book Stand UpContest closes at midnight!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Over spring break Cortney and I took Eddie to Chicago. We went to some of the typical fun tourist things like Shedd Aquarium and the Lincoln Park Zoo. While Eddie was swimming in the hotel pool (on the top floor), Cortney noticed a little new/used bookstore a couple blocks downs from our hotel. The next night, after dinner–and a few beers–Cortney suggested we walk to the bookstore. And then he bought us each one book.


How do you decide on just one book when you are standing in an old, creaky building filled with words?

So I scoured the shelves.

I picked things up. At some point I had 10 books in my arms.

In the end, I chose Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I really didn’t know anything about the book other than I saw on Facebook that a group of friends had read it and discussed it and they liked it.

And the cover looked interesting.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Continue Reading…

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress {book review}

It’s my mom’s fault I am such an avid reader.  In the 35 years that I have known my mother, I have never known her to have fewer than five books checked out of the library at a time.  There is a spot near their fireplace that is a bottomless piles of books–the titles change each time I am there, but the pile is constant.

Mysteries are my mom’s brain candy of choice and I would not be surprised if she has read every mystery in our local library.  Twice.  From time to time she will read a non-mystery book that someone recommends to her.  (In fact, she picked up The Great Gatsby after my review of the movie.)  A couple weeks ago she asked me if I had ever read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.  It was autobiographical and pretty “cute” my mom said.

Continue Reading…

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter {a review}

There is nothing more frustrating to me as a reader than when characters fail to communicate with each other and get angry and make life-changing choices based on that miscommunication.

It’s also what propels me through a book the fastest because I have to know how messed up they are going to make their life by doing instead of talking things over.

This was my love/hate relationship with The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Keep reading…

A Good American

9780425253175_p0_v2_s260x420I’m a sucker for historical fiction.  Make it American historical fiction and I will be lost in the book for as many hours as I can possibly devote to reading each day.

That is how it was with A Good American by Alex George.

Before signing up for this book review, I read, “This is the story of the Meisenheimer family, told by James, a third-generation American living in Beatrice, Missouri.”

Done and done.

Some of my most favorite novels are stories of family histories: East of Eden, Middlesex, Fall on Your Knees, and anything by Wally Lamb.  I love to follow a great story of a family through multiple generations…to see how history weaves itself amongst the choices and secrets and directions the characters’ lives take.

A Good American was no different.

The story starts with Jette and Frederick in Germany and follows them as they immigrate to the United States at the turn of the century.  Rather than the typical story of immigrants on Ellis Island, however, Alex George has his characters come ashore in New Orleans and travel up to Missouri.  They live through wars and prohibition growing their family.  There are deaths and births, failures and victories.  And there are plot twists that will break your heart and make you burst out laughing.

The writing flows so well from one chapter to the next, it was difficult for me to stick my bookmark in and call it a night at the end of a chapter.  George left each chapter with a hint of a tease that made me want to read on.

Sometimes, however, Alex George’s blatant foreshadowing annoyed me.  Instead of just ending a chapter or section, he almost always had to add a “but that wouldn’t be the last time…” or “or so they thought…” or something along those lines.  The book, to me, didn’t need these obvious teasers; the plot itself was intriguing and endearing enough to push the reader to want to read one more section…one more chapter.  I felt that these little lines were too obvious and assumed too little of the audience.

It was easy to overlook the obvious foreshadowing, though, because as I said, the plot was really good.  I liked the development of the characters, although there was also a tone shift once the narrator’s character was born and he began talking about his own contribution to the family story.  I suppose, since this is a first person novel, that is to be expected.  But I didn’t enjoy that part of the book nearly as much as the beginning.

Overall this book was one of those perfect “winter” books:  just right for curling up with in a big chair under a blanket while sipping hot chocolate.  It reads as if you are being told an actual collection of stories from someone’s past, so it makes for a lovely companion on a chilly evening.

It left me remembering why I love books like this: I love to get caught up in the characters and their lives as if they were real.

Come see what others think and follow {or join in} to our discussion at BlogHer Book Club.

Legal Stuff: This post is sponsored by BlogHer, but all opinions are my own.


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