This is middle schooler, Natalie’s, big question. Her botanist mom is suffering from depression. Natalie also has a big egg drop competition for Mr. Neely’s science class. Can she use the scientific method to solve both problems?
I really enjoyed this book. Keller does a great job nailing the voice of middle school days. Also, I love books that have girls thinking scientifically – and hopefully. Goodreads says: “Because when parents are breakable, it’s up to kids to save them, right?”
Reading gets me through the long month of January. Have any reading goals for 2019? I’m going to read 50 books this year (Lord willing and the river don’t rise). I’ll be keeping track in a leather journal and on Goodreads (why I keep both, I’m not sure). If you’re not on Goodreads, I highly recommend it. It’s easy to navigate and is somewhat like an accountability buddy. Once you finish one book, it sends you an email that says, Congratulations, what’s next? Me and my personality eat up this type of thing.
I’m quite pleased with the number of books I got through in January, though it’s a bit of a cheat as I started the first two in 2018, but never mind, I’m counting it. So here you go, all good books: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, this a a worthy read for any writer. And who knows, you might be so inspired you become the next Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (of Goodwill Hunting) powerhouse.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang recently won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature – a very prestigious honor! If you like well-written middle grade with a smart and problem-solving protagonist, pick this one up. It’s great!
The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Following an invitation to finish this by the end of the year in 2018, I was a little late and finished in January. I love this book. You can see it’s worn from all the years of reading, marking up, moving, and handling. If you’re interested in religion, Jesus Christ, prophets, and history (think A LOT of bloody wars), here you go. This book has power; it’s changed my life.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Likely the tamest of the tame by King standards, I wanted to read a book that would teach me about suspense without giving me nightmares for twenty years (Hello, The Shining.) This is about a girl who gets lost in the New Hampshire woods for over a week. She gets bitten by a lot of black flies and as the sun sets, hears all the spooky sounds of the unknown… It was pretty good (and no nightmares.)
The Elizas by Sara Shepard (of Pretty Little Liars fame). I was looking for a psychological page turner and The Elizas showed up. Though originally turned off by the premise of a girl who can’t remember large chunks of her past due to drinking large amounts of alcohol (yawn), Shepard went in a different direction (brain tumor!? munscion syndrome!?) It was a page turner even if the ending was completely implausible 🙂
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This is going to be made into a movie, I’m sure of it. If you like beautifully descriptive nature writing (reminiscent of the incomparable Pat Conroy) paired with love and a whodunnit mystery, here’s your book. I’m not quite finished, but I couldn’t wait to share! (Thanks for the rec, Annie!)
Dream Work by Mary Oliver. Oh Mary, I love her so. If you haven’t read the poetry of Mary Oliver, you simply must. In honor of her recent passing, I had to check this out. What a collection! A great NPR tribute HERE.
One of my favorites, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
And now my friends, what ARE you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Does it include reading?
My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.
My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?) I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:
Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!
My friend Kate brought us the most beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because.” Patty sent my daughter a bouquet of flowers when she got her mission call Taiwan. Such a small – but big – gesture that makes me happy every time I enter the house. Happiness tip: Send the Flowers!
Two of my girls are using matching planners from BAM, because, like their mother, they cannot survive life for one day without a physical, hand-written calendar (Google calendar is great for sharing schedules, but I also gotta write!) It makes me a bit giddy to see them planning and organizing their lives. Check.
Also: these pens with the planner. Goodness, I love them.
Wasn’t I going to post books more often? Well, here you go – 8 books I read this summer and into fall as I try to hit 50 reads for the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I’ve always loved reading challenges 🙂 )
Love and Ruin by Paula McClain: Historical fiction. McClain (The Paris Wife) writes the story of Martha Gellhorn and her infamous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was one of the first and most well-known female war correspondents. RESPECT.
Where There’s Hope by Elizabeth Smart: Nonfiction, adult. I took notes upon notes reading this book. We know Smart’s kidnapping story, but here she offers more: hope moving forward. I’ve become a huge fan of this woman, watching her take control of her life and empowering women of every age. One of the most powerful stories is her father bringing Elizabeth and her little sister into his study to practice, “screaming” after a woman cornered Elizabeth in the bathroom at church (after she was returned from the kidnapping she still didn’t know how to fight back!) Elizabeth froze, not knowing what to do or react. It’s wonderful to be polite and have manners when the occasion calls for it – but do our children (esp our girls!?) know how and when to scream and bite and kick when needed? Really great book.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: Middle grade, fiction. Take it from Paige: the movie does not do this book justice! Read the book! My girls read it over and over and over, especially when they need to curl up with an old favorite. I loved it, too.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: Middle grade, fiction. Baldwin makes a lovely debut with her middle grade read about Della, the ups and downs of family and farm life, and a mother’s mental illness. Really well done! Just thinking about this book makes my mouth water and my body break out into the damp sweat of summer (that’s a compliment – Cindy brings great voice and language to this story.)
Calypso by David Sedaris: Memoir, adult. I’ve never read memoirist Sedaris before. He’s really funny, even when writing about family tragedy. He’s also extremely irreverent. Geez. You read a sentence and think did he really just write THAT? But no doubt, I get what all the fuss is about. He’s a great writer and I want to learn from him.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone Young Adult, fiction. This was my freshman daughter’s summer reading. She read it fast and said, “you should read this.” I casually picked it up and couldn’t put it back down. Real, sad, important. Justyce, a young black scholar is trying to balance two worlds – his old neighborhood and an elite prep school. It’s present-day, but he writes letters to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to figure out his place in a racist America. Head’s up: language.
I ADORE a complex medical dilemma coupled with lots of family drama. And Genova is an actual neuroscientist – as well as a superb writer. Richard, the main character, is a brilliant and world-renowned pianist. He’s also a terrible family man. So what happens when you suddenly start noticing a funny weakness in your hand and are diagnosed with ALS? It’s the family who steps up. This hit very close to home as I lost a dear friend to this horrible disease. For me, an informative tear-jerker.
What do you know? Carrie Rubin is also a doctor in real life, and a superb writer. THE BONE CURSE is book #1 in an exciting new series: a medical thriller with a supernatural element! I also kindof know Carrie through the internet and it’s always so thrilling to see your writer friends pave the way and do it SO WELL! Great job, Carrie.
Oooh…this one was kindof a guilty pleasure (in the tamest of ways!) The moral of this story is: it’s time get stone-cold sober. At least for Cassandra Bowden, who woke up next to a dead man. Did she do it? SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! She really doesn’t think she has it in her, but…SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! After flying through this book (ha), I said to self: GO FIND ALL THE BOHJILIAN BOOKS NOW.
This book is getting all the rave reviews for good reason. I LOVED it. I could not put it down. In the same vein as THE GLASS CASTLE: a family, a brilliant but mentally ill father, a child with no formal schooling who is schooled in survival and using her own smarts. After listening to the audiobook, my dad commented, “I knew a few people like that in Idaho.” Wide eyes.
After reading EDUCATED, I must have been on a survivalist kick, which is what Hannah’s written. The setting is the wild, beautiful, and dangerous Alaska. I enjoyed this book, but the mother’s horrible enabling DROVE ME CRAZY the entire book. Obviously I lack empathy. Or something.
This book is pretty astounding in its writing and its research. Bohjalian is really really good. I have so much more respect for what midwives do – and what they risk. A medical thriller with lots of family drama and ethical questions that are terribly hard to answer – right up my ally! A GREAT READ. Jodi Picoult fans will love Bohjalian (but you probably already knew that.) Also, he’s lives in Vermont! Think he’d mind if I knocked on his door?
YAY FOR DEBUT AUTHORS! I’ve known Melissa for years. How fun it was to both have debut books in June. This was a very sweet, yet realistic look at child homelessness. Sad, but hopeful. I loved all of the images of trees, throughout. Themes of hardship, sisterhood, and home run through this novel. Melissa has more books on the way and I look forward to more from this huge talent!
This book was not at all what I expected – in a really fun and surprising way! There’s this boy who doesn’t know where he is. What’s his name? Where are all the people? Why won’t his inner bully leave him be? With only one character throughout, Clark does a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged. It’s somewhat heartbreaking but somewhat not…I don’t know. I’ll be thinking of this book for a long time. “Once upon a time there was a boy…” So good!
Okay, that’s it for me. What’s kept you up at night? Do tell! I love hearing what you’re reading and yes – I’m ready for a new book!
Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.
First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.
Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:
1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.
3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.
6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.
9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.
10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.
11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.
PBS masterpiece, John Adams, Chicago PD, Hart of Dixie (only because of Lemon Breeland!), and currently it’s Amazon’s Vikings. The battle scenes are so violent that I have to constantly close my eyes, but I’m drawn to the culture and the curiosity and clash between paganism and christianity. Also: Lagertha.
New York Times, Modern Love, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and KM Weiland’s How to Help Writers Become Authors.
And…that’s all folks! What are you reading, watching, and listening to?
What I love about summer? More reading time. One day I told Paige we were having a reading hour right in the middle of the morning. We laid on my bed for a whole hour and read. It was quite blissful and I vowed to make a daily habit. It wasn’t, but I encourage you to lay aside tasks and chores and television for more words and books.
Paige finished the 7th Harry Potter book – a huge feat for a 9-year-old, but especially gratifying as this was my child who did not care much for reading; it was too hard! But then she discovered Harry. She was in mourning for days with a beloved Harry book to read, but I pushed Laura Ingalls and she’s enamored with a whole other world once again.
I just love good books. Here are my summer reads: what I loved and what I didn’t.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Covers WWII in France and serves as a warning of how insidious Hitler’s type of evil can spread. Hard to read at times as it deals with the choices mothers and fathers are forced to make during wartime. Really well written and definitely worth the read! And it will make you cry and pray for peace.
2. The Book of Mormon: I read this often, almost everyday, and always learn new life insights. It’s changed my life. And it’s free 🙂
5. The Self-Care Solution by Julie Burton: Julie reached out to me and asked if I would read and review her new book. It was terrific, a read mothers should read, study, and heed. I’ve got a copy to give away to the first person who asks! I’d love to send it your way. Congrats, Julie!
6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I resisted for months – who dares to complicate or cast a shadow on my favorite of books, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Alas, I opened the book and was quite delighted with Scout, all grown up. There’s so much controversy over the discovery of this manuscript (Google it – fascinating!), but I’m most intrigued by the fact it was the first draft of what would become her great classic. It shows the great power of an editor!
8. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: I loved this. The movie is coming out in September and Cope and I will be first in line! A great love story. How far would you go for the one you loved? Would you let your wife keep a baby that wasn’t really hers – even under serendipitous circumstances? What would you do if someone tried to take away your only child? The writing is tremendous – and you will cry! My favorite type of book 🙂
9. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: My BFF librarian, Gail, ordered Moriarty’s new book and personally handed it over as soon as it came in. What a gal, right!? As always, Moriarty nails character. She always makes me laugh and think. I didn’t love the plot as much as her other books, but I still enjoyed the read.
10. Hamilton, The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: This book is the score, with footnotes on how each original Broadway cast member was cast, and the long road of writing such a brilliant work of art. Hamilton, the Musical is now an 11-times Tony-award winning hip-hop musical on broadway. Don’t like musicals? Put that aside. This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or listened to.
Have you ever wondered how a tiny band of scholars and mercenaries defeated the greatest superpower in the world? And then went on to write a Bill of Rights and Constitution, something never before seen or heard in the world?
Do you know anything about Alexander Hamilton? “Every other founding father’s story gets told. Every other founding father gets to grow old.” Lin-Manuel has put Hamilton’s extraordinary life to music in the form of a rap: “How does a rag tag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”
I’m OBSESSED with the genius of it all. Back story: Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Rob Chernow. He was struck by the brilliant, young, ambitious founding father and told his wife, “I think this could be a hip-hop musical.” She didn’t laugh. Instead: “That would be cool.” And so it began. Chernow’s book is on my list. The girls and I don’t drive anywhere without blasting and rapping Hamilton lyrics (to Nelson’s great embarrassment). There are a few expletives…beware. It will make you grateful for America, it will make you want to “rise up!”, and it will make you cry. It’s SO GOOD!
Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!
If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.
Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…
1. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…
2. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary: Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.
3. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time. I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…
You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released – a very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.
And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!
Coming in July… (I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)
4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked every page.
6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.
7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.
8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.
10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.
And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?