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My Top Ten Books of 2015

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Best Books of 2015 from MomAdvice.com

My friends, it seems impossible that another year is coming to a close here on MomAdvice.  Each year I share with you my top ten books of the year, but I have to admit that I think this year was probably the toughest year I have had to choose. This year is actually the most I have read in a single year. I will update this post once the year comes to a close, but I have read 65 books so far and all of them were really incredible!  For me, this is a crazy amount, but I attribute getting in so many more than usual thanks to my new audiobook addiction I have acquired!

Whoa, This List Is Different Than the Previous Years….

Please be sure to really read the book descriptions and do your own research on these selections if you prefer “cleaner” literature! I typically shy away from controversial books and this year, I figure you are all grown-ups and can figure out if something doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. A lot of these books challenged me to think differently on things from reproductive rights to death row to mental illness to immigration to being gay…I am really excited about sharing these because they made such an impact on me as a person! 

What Is My Reading Motivation?

What keeps me motivated? Definitely our Sundays With Writers feature!  Many of the books on this list also include a discussion with the writer where I get to ask them my most pressing questions about their stories. My heart always pitter-patters like crazy when I send out an interview request, but even the most seasoned writers have been gracious and generous to share on our site. I haven’t had a single writer turn me down yet and it adds another element to these stories for me and for you.

Can I Motivate You? Join Our Book Club!

I started a small  MomAdvice Hangout Facebook group and we will be running a monthly MomAdvice Book Club discussion there. Each month we will have a new hostess who will be able to introduce to you a new book to read and discuss. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to send me a request. We are keeping the group private for now so people can really chat and get to know one another!

Can We Be Friends?

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2015:

 

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Prompted by the selection of this book for the  NPR Morning Edition Book Club, I decided to put myself on the hold list at the library for Fates and Furies. As soon as the book came in, I headed straight to the library to pick this one up and dove in. NPR’s selections never disappoint and are often meatier books than I would typically gravitate towards and this book held true to my beliefs about their selections.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

There are two sides to every story and Groff really illustrates it in this ambitious novel chronicling a marriage over decades. I wanted to put this book down when I started it because it built so slowly that it left me wondering where we could possibly be going?

But then…we were there.

And it is THERE that had me flipping the pages as quickly as possible uncovering the couple’s secrets page by page. The winding turns of marriage, the highs, the lows, the career losses, the family secrets, the lack of appreciation of one another, the true reality of marriage.

How Groff was able to build both a solid story, wildly wickedly twists at the end, write a book, set up a series of plays for Lotto’s career as a playwright written within the book, and then write him a small opera…Well, one can only imagine the creativity such an undertaking takes.

Groff admits to being ambivalent about marriage and I do think that those undertones pull through. Being ambivalent doesn’t mean that you don’t find love with your mate though and the highs in this marriage are some beautiful ones.

This is a novel to sink your teeth into for book-lovers who want something heavier to indulge in this year.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

I was completely enchanted by The Royal We, a fictional tale of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy. Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

Stay tuned because Heather & Jessica will be joining me this Sunday for our Sundays With Writers series to share more behind their fun story and a little glimpse at what we can expect from the movie adaptation!

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You The Sun is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.

I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.

You can also read my interview with Jandy Nelson in our Sundays With Writers series to hear more behind this beautiful story!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Once again, I hit our must-read list and Vanessa Diffenbaugh had recommended this one saying, “It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.”

It is true. It is impossible to read this book and not think differently about our broken court system and those on death row. Bryan Stevenson founded an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative whose sole purpose was to defend those who were most desperately in need. His cases include people suffering from mental illness, addiction, poor, the wrongly condemned, and women & children and his stories illustrate case by case how these people wound up on death row and how they worked to defend them.

At the center of it all is Walter McMillian who was wrongfully accused of murder and Bryan’s efforts to redeem this incredible man before he is executed. I flipped the pages as quickly as I would a legal thriller hoping for redemption for Walter and his family.

Bryan is a masterful storyteller, offering heart and humanity to the wounded, and is a true American hero. Everyone should read this book.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Everyone has been telling me to read this book and I kept putting it off. Why in the world would I read a book about a grumpy old man? Welp. You guys were right. This book was incredible!

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This is the most beautiful fictional book on aging that I have ever read. It really served as a reminder to me how we all have things that happen to us that shape us as we get older and how we often neglect to listen to those layered stories of our elders. I laughed and cried over this sweet story of Ove & the stray cat that claimed him.

The touching story of his beautiful bride and the difficulties of seeing your friends age and forget you just really pulled at my heartstrings.

Beautifully written supporting characters in the neighborhood just brought the whole story together for me and rounded out the beauty of finding “home.” 

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes

This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch!

If you love it, you will be happy to know that it looks like the next book is in the works. This is one that would be fine as a stand-alone though, if you aren’t feeling committed to another series! Add this to your must-read steamy book pile!

 Lucky for you, this is the first in a possible trilogy so we can look forward to more antics from Joe!

Be sure to check out our interview with Caroline Kepnes in our Sundays With Writers series to get the scoop behind this guilty pleasure read!

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another.

The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is, by far,  one of the best books I have read this year!

Don’t miss my interview with Bill Clegg about his haunting book and process for creating this gorgeous story!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’m not even going to lie, this novel is absolute perfection from start to finish. Never a lag, never a dull moment, audible gasps at shocking plot twists, a steamy sordid love affair…friends, THIS is unbelievable. Now as a disclaimer, the love affair lies between two women so if you don’t want to read that, then continue on with your life. That being said, it is tastefully done and the love affair scene is more Snow Flower & the Secret Fan rather than that cheap stuff in 50 Shades of Grey. I could not put this book down and actually bought it for my Kindle (due to its whopping 596 pages in length), and kind of already want to reread it again. Or just have you all read it so I can talk about it. I mean- it’s THAT good.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I could not put this down and can’t wait to dig into more of her books now that I finally know what all the fuss is about. This book was amazing!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Be sure to read my interview with Jennifer Niven about the real-life Finch that inspired this story!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

First, don’t read any reviews on this one. Just read it so you can have fun with the surprise- kind of like the shocking twist in GONE GIRL. It’s got that element of, “WAIT, WHAT?!”

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

This is one of those books that you want others to read just so you can talk through it. I avoided reading any reviews on this and I am so glad I did because half of the fun in this one was making sense of this unusual family and just what makes them so unusual. So beautifully executed that it reads like a memoir, it was such an enjoyable and believable read that you want to go on a narnia of fact-finding on Wikipedia to discover all of the inspiration behind this novel and read more about how many of these cases featured were true.

Although the execution of delivering the information in a mixed up timeline can be confusing for the reader, the originality of this unique & heartbreaking story made this a book that I just couldn’t put down.

I will say that this is a pretty polarizing book- people absolutely love the twist or they absolutely hate it.

I loved it.

So there.

Just as fascinating as the book is my interview with Karen Joy Fowler and hearing why she thought this would make for a fun exploration in her story.

 

Ten Honorable Mentions for 2015:

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

I could not put this book down! This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.

Fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette & Wife 22 (thanks to the hilarious correspondence between colleagues & family) will really love this one!

You can read our interview with Elisabeth Egan this month in our Sundays With Writers series!  I can’t recommend this book enough!

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go is Southern Grit at its finest in this dark debut novel! Joy creates a compelling coming-of-age story about a teen boy growing up in the Appalachian Mountains whose father deals meth in their small town.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

If only life were that simple. This story is beautifully told and the ending was a strong one, despite the feeling of hopelessness for these people.

Read my interview with David Joy and dive into more of his recommendations for great Southern Grit!

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

I have never read a survival story like this book and I have thought about it ever since I shut the pages. It was one of the most difficult reads I have ever read and I will never forget this memoir or how extraordinary Amanda’s journey was.

Amanda Lindhout lived in a violent home and escaped her life through her issues of National Geographic that she collected and dreamed of traveling to a life far better than her own.  At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.

It is impossible to read this book and not be moved by Amanda’s journey. Although it is frustrating to read how naive she is by throwing herself into places that she knows are dangerous to prove the world wrong (which she acknowledges in her story), her ability to transcend the brutality and exit her body is an extraordinary study in survival and her will to live.

If you loved (and could endure) survival stories like Unbroken, I think this one brings new perspective on how women are treated in Somalia every single day and you will be moved by Amanda’s story and what she now gives to Somalia since being held hostage.

This is graphic, brutally graphic. Amanda glosses over much of what she endured probably to save the reader from the imagery, but what she tells is so horrific that you will be thinking of this story long after you close the final pages.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

This is a twisty dark psychological thriller with an unreliable and unlikeable narrator. The novel has a slow start, but builds beautifully once you get going.  Not a character in this one feels trustworthy, taking the reader along on a bumpy train ride when a woman in town goes missing. The comparison to GONE GIRL is warranted, but the ending is far more satisfying. The book kept me guessing and each character was beautifully fleshed out.

Usually in alternating viewpoints, I want to skim chapters, only enjoying one point of view. In this one, I looked forward to each viewpoint as it built upon the mystery. I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to see this book adapted to film.

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

I heard about this book on NPR since it was their first Morning Edition book club selection and we know I am all about anything NPR-related.

When a Chilean mine collapsed in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. This book is the story of the miners and what they  experienced below the surface. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hector Tobar gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories and tells these beautifully. It helps to offer an understanding of the families and the personal stories of these miners, as well as adds insight into what it would be like to work in this type of job.

When I read stories like this, much like the beautiful book UNBROKEN, I am reminded that I would die in the first day because I am a very weak, weak person. I could not exist in this kind of tomb-like existence. It is an incredible testimony to the strength of these men and the love they had for their families.

This is a survival story unlike any other I have read. The harrowing tale of these men trapped in this mine is completely unbelievable and what they do to survive together is just as unbelievable. The story of their survival proves that miracles really do happen and I am so glad I got to read the stories of their days in this mine as well as what life is really like after you become a hero in the eyes of the media and public.

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be as author to capture all of these stories of these men in one book…and do it so well. I am so happy NPR Morning Edition selected this as their first book club pick so I could dig into something that was outside of my usual genre this year!

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This was an absolutely beautiful story about what it would be like to come to America as an immigrant. Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving. A must-read this year.

Read our interview with Cristina Henriquez to learn more about the immigrant stories that inspired this book!

  Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan STradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

This book was just the quirkiest book ever and I loved it. It reminded me of one of my favorite quirky Midwest-lovin’ movies, Drop Dead Gorgeous, but with smarter humor. Have you seen it? If you love this book than you will love that film!

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down! Fans of Eleanor & Park will really appreciate the quirk in this one!

You can read my interview with J. Ryan Stradal and read more about his passion for food & the Midwest in our Sundays With Writers series.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One will be hitting the theatres in movie form thanks to the direction of Spielberg (no biggie!).

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Ernest Cline wasted a lot of ’80’s references on this poor girl who apparently knows nothing about the era, but it didn’t take away from the unique concept that he developed in this story. Following Wade Watts as he works to discover the ultimate lottery ticket in a virtual world was such a treat as a reader and felt as though, you too, were in the world with him. The twists at the end really brought it all together beautifully!

Although this was out of my typical genre, I really loved the unique concept and think it just might be a bit of the foreshadowing of what might be to come in 2044.

Everything I Never Told You By Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I selected this book for my local book club this month after discovering it was the #1 book of all the books on Amazon for 2014. How could you not select this after making that discovery?

This is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in.  I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece.

Be sure to read my interview with Celeste Ng to read more about her reaction to writing the best book of the year on Amazon!

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, Manning weaves a rags to riches story of Axie Muldoon. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

Axie goes from orphan to midwife to lady to prisoner,  and Manning creates a compelling story of what it would be to be like to work as a midwife under scrutiny of the law for your services in the mid to late 19th century. Controversial in her services and notorious in her community for offering birth control to those who needed it, it’s an incredible journey to follow and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A beautifully woven love story between two orphans (one being the infamous midwife, Axie) who met on the orphan train and find each other later in life adds to the beauty of this story as they create a business together as adults.

A couple of things to note with this one. It’s  a long one (464 pages), but was a really incredible read that was worth diving into! Secondly, if you have strong opinions on women’s reproductive rights this one will give you a lot of food for thought and would lend itself really well to a book club discussion. I had many opinions of my own about reproductive rights and this one really illustrates the necessity of birth control options during such an impoverished time in history. It was an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it!

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past four years!

My Top Ten Books of 2014

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!   Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2015 or share your links to your own round-ups! Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

This post contains affiliate links. I promise to only recommend what I truly love!

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2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees

Monday, November 9th, 2015

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

I love, love, love voting on books for the GoodReads Choice Awards. If you haven’t participated before, GoodReads members can vote on their favorite books from the year in a variety of categories. I absolutely love peeking at all of the books that are listed and I use this list to gather fresh books to add to my library stack. This is the cream of the crop each year and I am rarely disappointed when reading a book from these annual gatherings.

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Today I’m listing out the GoodReads Choice Award Nominees for 2015 and including links to our own reviews and author interviews to the books that I have tackled.  Personally, I have a hard time scrolling through all of these on my phone so this post is secretly just for me.  As always, I LOVE new friends on GoodReads and would love for you to join me there so send me a friend request!

Let’s take a peek at a few of this year’s nominees from my favorite categories that we cover here on MomAdvice. For the full list head over here to check out the selections and vote! 

Best Fiction

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal  (Be sure to check out our Sundays With Writers with J. Ryan)

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

Inside the O’Briens (Reviewed HERE)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Girl at War by Sara Novic

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Reviewed HERE)

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg  (Be sure to check out our Sundays With Writers With Bill Clegg)

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Best Mystery & Thriller

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (Reviewed HERE)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The Escape by David Baldacci

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Gathering Prey by John Sanford

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Memory Man by David Baldacci

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (Reviewed HERE)

Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb

Marrow by Tarryn Fisher

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Best Historical Fiction

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Reviewed HERE)

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

Best Debut GoodReads Author

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

My Heart And Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Hurricane by R.J. Prescott

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Girl at War by Sara Novic

The Strongest Steel by Scarlett Cole

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The Mason List by S.D. Hendrickson

Best Young Adult Fiction

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone  (Be sure to check out our Sundays With Writers with Tamara)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

My Heart And Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Be sure to check out our Sundays With Writers with Jennifer)

Wild Reckless by Ginger Scott

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Best Non-Fiction

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

One Of Us by Asne Seierstad

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Work Rules by Laszlo Bock

Between the World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

2015 GoodReads Choice Awards Nominees from MomAdvice.com

Remember there are many more categories, these are just a few our favorite categories that we share about on MomAdvice! Happy reading, friends! xo

 *this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though! 
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October 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, October 30th, 2015

October2015MUST READS

I can’t believe another month is behind us and hope you guys have a fun & safe Halloween weekend. This month I have eight new books to share about for this month of reading, but more importantly than that, I have a big ol’ braggy announcement.

2015-reading-challenge

It looks like I met my reading goal for 2015! I’m feeling SO proud that I have got sixty books under my belt and I certainly have YOU to thank for that!

If I didn’t have this space to share in, I certainly would have more time to read more books..

Wait a minute…

Now that I think about it YOU hold me back from dream of accomplishing 100 books.

Just kidding!

In reality, I love having lots to share with you each month and these monthly round-ups serve as motivation to read a lot and to read a diverse amount of books. Thank you for motivating me and I can’t wait to see how many more books I can share with you before the year is over.

Let’s dig into a fresh stack, shall we?

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I have been working my way through the list of must-reads by the authors featured in our Sundays With Writers series and this book was recommended by Elisabeth Egan as a must-read. I picked it up from the library and the way the book was set up was so different than anything I had read before. I was having a hard time digging into it and kept putting it aside, but I just didn’t want to give up on this one because it had come so highly recommended.

That is why I want to say that there are cases where an audiobook can bring an entirely different reader experience and that was the case with Dept. of Speculation. The narration by Jenny Offill is pitch perfect as you dive almost into one’s stream of thoughts about marriage and parenting. It’s not the pretty stuff, but the meat of marriage and the difficult moments of parenting that are so raw and real. It was, in fact, the kind of book where sentences made the hairs on my arms stand up from their beauty.

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes – a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions – the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

 

Although I muddled through it in book format, the audio version really helped me navigate the story in a really beautiful way. I am going to be thinking about this one for a long time!  This would be a really great one for a first-time audiobook user too since the audiobook is just over three hours of listening time, a quick & satisfying listen! 

5 Out of 5 Stars

This-Is-Your-Life-Harriet-Chance

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison

There is so much beautiful layering in this book that I just couldn’t put it down! 78-year-old Harriet discovers that her husband had won an Alaskan cruise before his passing and, with an expiration date looming on the prize, she decides to take that cruise with her best friend. When her best friend unexpectedly bails on her, Harriet finds herself on a boat out to sea, but she isn’t alone thanks to her husband’s visits.

We grow to know Harriet in a unique way as chapters alternate with a,“This is Your Life,” game show theme and we jump along the timeline of Harriet learning more about all of the life experiences that have shaped her, the people who have betrayed her, how she was treated when she was a child, how she felt as her marriage and parenting were failing, and what it was like for her to care for a husband who mentally was no longer there.

The book twists and turns, secrets are revealed and an unexpected guest joins Harriet on the cruise. It was a beautiful story that makes you consider what your own, “This Is Your Life,” show might look like- with all the good and the bad moments in it.

Jonathan Evison joined me on Sundays With Writers so when you are done with the book, be sure to read his interview to learn more behind this incredible book! This book has been optioned for screenplay so be sure to read it before catching it in the theaters! 

5 Out of 5 Stars

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book was another must-read author recommendation, this one was recommended by Liz Fenton in her Sundays With Writers interview. Somehow I had missed this one in between her other two incredible books Forever Interrupted and Maybe In Another Life.

I can now say that I’ve read all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and this is, by far, her best work.  After I Do is a brutally honest portrayal of a failing marriage that gives us glimpses into our own marriage struggles that we deal with daily and how, what once was endearing, can be the things that we can’t stand about our spouse.

Lauren & Ryan take a year off of their marriage in a temporary split to see if they really are meant to be together. As they navigate the world without one another, they discover a lot about themselves and each other.

A hopeful book filled with a family of characters that feel like your own, Reid’s book makes you feel like part of the family as you root for Lauren & Ryan to find each other again. Highly recommending this one!

Taylor Jenkins Reid will be joining us this month in an upcoming Sundays With Writers- stay tuned!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Once again, I hit the must-read list and Vanessa Diffenbaugh had recommended this one saying, It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.”

It is true. It is impossible to read this book and not think differently about our broken court system and those on death row. Bryan Stevenson founded an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative whose sole purpose was to defend those who were most desperately in need. His cases include people suffering from mental illness, addiction, poor, the wrongly condemned, and women & children and his stories illustrate case by case how these people wound up on death row and how they worked to defend them.

At the center of it all is Walter McMillian who was wrongfully accused of murder and Bryan’s efforts to redeem this incredible man before he is executed. I flipped the pages as quickly as I would a legal thriller hoping for redemption for Walter and his family.

Bryan is a masterful storyteller, offering heart and humanity to the wounded, and is a true American hero. Everyone should read this book.

5 Out of 5 Stars

7-Jen-Hatmaker

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

With her signature wit, Jen Hatmaker takes a year-long fast for Jesus, tackling one excess after another in the average American life. From whittling down her closet to seven items, to eating only seven foods, to reducing her waste, to trimming her spending; she documents her daily struggles and triumphs through the lessons learned.

What really pulled through for me most was how much we take for granted and how, with a bit of trimming, we have the ability to transform the lives of the poor. If we are to love Jesus, we are to love the poor like He did. Not only are we reminded about our own individual choices, but she really sheds light on the excessive spending of churches, money spent only on themselves when it could be better served for the greater needs of the world. This comes up often in the book as Jen’s church has chosen to spend on those in need rather than their own building and selves.

It would be impossible to read this book and not feel moved to give more. Although I would consider myself a minimalist, there is ALWAYS room for improvement and this gave me a lot of food for thought. I shed many tears through this one for those in need and unwanted. While expecting a light read, Jen delivered a life-changing practice that we could all be challenged to try.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One will be hitting the theatres in movie form thanks to the direction of Spielberg (no biggie!). I selected this book to work for my local book club and planned an outing to the Secret Door Games store to pick up some holiday gifts for our kids. I thought this book would be just perfect for the event.

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Ernest Cline wasted a lot of ’80’s references on this poor girl who apparently knows nothing about the era, but it didn’t take away from the unique concept that he developed in this story. Following Wade Watts as he works to discover the ultimate lottery ticket in a virtual world was such a treat as a reader and felt as though, you too, were in the world with him. The twists at the end really brought it all together beautifully!

Although this was out of my typical genre, I really loved the unique concept and think it just might be a bit of the foreshadowing of what might be to come in 2044.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The-Secret-Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

No one can ever believe that I have never read a Kate Morton book, but I think the covers to her books have always kept me away. I decided to not judge a book by its cover and to dig into my first book this month by her. I guess you guys were right, she really IS good! 

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

All I can say is, holy plot twists, Batman! This book was a SLOW build for me and I wasn’t sure at all where the story was going. Since this was my first Kate Morton novel, I had no expectations of where the story was heading or how her writing works, but in the last hundred pages there were about three plot twists that completely shocked me. It ended up making the whole slow build thing a little more worth it.

Overall, really happy I added this one to my book stacks this month! If you are a Kate Morton fan, please let me know which of her books is your favorite so I can be sure to add it to my next stack!

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Life & Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

The Life & Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

This book is dark and unusual as the reader dives into the life of Sophie Stark, an eccentric and unusual filmmaker, beginning from her very first college documentary and on.

“It’s hard for me to talk about love. I think movies are the way I do that,” says Sophie Stark, a visionary and unapologetic filmmaker. She uses stories from the lives of those around her—her obsession, her girlfriend, and her husband—to create movies that bring her critical recognition and acclaim. But as her career explodes, Sophie’s unwavering dedication to her art leads to the shattering betrayal of the people she loves most.

Told through a chorus of voices of people who know her, the reader discovers more about the creative genius that she was and the lengths that she will use people to achieve the films she wants. The reader never really understands Sophie Starks, neither do these sea of voices, but the intrigue about her holds you until the final page.

Disturbing and raw, this reads more like a documentary than a piece of fiction.

4 Out of 5 Stars

2015-Books-Read

 

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

July 2015 Must-Reads

August 2015 Must-Reads

September 2015 Must-Reads

October2015MUST READS

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

September 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

September 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

How do you make time for reading that many books? This is one of the top questions people ask me. It’s funny, I don’t know how you don’t make time for books. I can’t stop consuming great books and I would rather be reading more than about 90% of the things I have to do during the day so I find every available pocket I can and I just push a book in there. Ten minutes between buses, cooking to audiobooks, every minute after those kids head to bed, an hour where I force myself to sit in my trashed house (IGNORE THE MESS) and read.

Heck, even the bathtub with my favorite book tray is fair game. Scrubbing is so overrated!

If you want to read, you make it happen and you ditch all the crap in your life that prevents you from reading. See you, reality television! Goodbye, Facebook surfing. So long, Pinterest (Oh, wait! Don’t stop pinning ME!).

Now that you know my secret (I know that was mind-blowing!!), let’s dive into this month’s stack of books. This month’s stack is a really diverse selection of books and I have a Sundays With Writers all lined up with three of our authors for you this month. Several of these books are the ones that I have been told everyone is going to be talking about this year so I figured I would get the discussion rolling on these and hear what you have to think about them too!

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Prompted by the selection of this book for this month’s NPR Morning Edition Book Club, I decided to put myself on the hold list at the library for Fates and Furies. As soon as the book came in, I headed straight to the library to pick this one up and dove in. NPR’s selections never disappoint and are often meatier books than I would typically gravitate towards and this book held true to my beliefs about their selections.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

There are two sides to every story and Groff really illustrates it in this ambitious novel chronicling a marriage over decades. I wanted to put this book down when I started it because it built so slowly that it left me wondering where we could possibly be going?

But then…we were there.

And it is THERE that had me flipping the pages as quickly as possible uncovering the couple’s secrets page by page. The winding turns of marriage, the highs, the lows, the career losses, the family secrets, the lack of appreciation of one another, the true reality of marriage.

How Groff was able to build both a solid story, wildly wickedly twists at the end, write a book, set up a series of plays for Lotto’s career as a playwright written within the book, and then write him a small opera…Well, one can only imagine the creativity such an undertaking takes.

Groff admits to being ambivalent about marriage and I do think that those undertones pull through. Being ambivalent doesn’t mean that you don’t find love with your mate though and the highs in this marriage are some beautiful ones.

This is a novel to sink your teeth into for book-lovers who want something heavier to indulge in this year.

 

This is the book that everyone is talking about so be part of that discussion (whether for good or bad) and get in there. Ironically, Lauren’s literary agent is Bill Clegg and I happened to read Bill’s book this month too so I just have a big love-fest for this guy and the work he is bringing into the world!

FYI- There are some graphic scenes and language in this one.

5 Out of 5 Stars

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions.

I told you I have big love for Bill Clegg this month and I am excited to have him join me in our Sundays With Writers series this week to dive into how he was able to tackle this ambitious novel. You won’t believe his writing process so be sure to check in on Sunday! 

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another.

The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is one of the best books I have read this year!

5 Out of 5 Stars

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Everyone has been telling me to read this book and I kept putting it off. Why in the world would I read a book about a grumpy old man? Welp. You guys were right. This book was incredible!

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This is the most beautiful fictional book on aging that I have ever read. It really served as a reminder to me how we all have things that happen to us that shape us as we get older and how we often neglect to listen to those layered stories of our elders. I laughed and cried over this sweet story of Ove & the stray cat that claimed him.

The touching story of his beautiful bride and the difficulties of seeing your friends age and forget you just really pulled at my heartstrings.

Beautifully written supporting characters in the neighborhood just brought the whole story together for me and rounded out the beauty of finding “home.” I wish I could give this more stars than five because I would!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

I try to make time for the books you are recommending and Cindy from Hello Dollface said this is one I must put into my book stack. She was, of course, right! This book was just the quirkiest book ever and I loved it. It reminded me of one of my favorite quirky Midwest-lovin’ movies, Drop Dead Gorgeous, but with smarter humor. Have you seen it? If you love this book than you will love that film!

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down! Fans of Eleanor & Park will really appreciate the quirk in this one!

FYI- There are some graphic scenes and language in this one.

I’m excited to have J. Ryan joining us next month in our Sundays With Writers series. I REALLY loved his answers to my questions and am so excited for you to peek behind the curtain at how he created this incredible book. 

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the Sun remains one of my favorite YA books that we have featured here and I loved getting to share about Jandy Nelson’s writing process in our Sundays With Writers series. Since she was already such a big favorite of mine, I couldn’t wait to dig into The Sky is Everywhere this month.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This was a really solid read and Jandy’s poetic writing is such a treat in this hauntingly beautiful tale of two sisters and first loves. I didn’t love it in the same ways that I loved I’ll Give You the Sun, but if this lady wrote the phone book I would read it and find beauty in it. 

I would recommend this one for a quick YA escape!

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

I selected this book for my local book club this month for our annual mimosa kick-off. Well, it wasn’t an annual mimosa kick-off until now, but I am hoping it sticks! I was looking for something a little lighter that people who were just jumping back into the reading game for the year might enjoy and this one really delivered.

Although the premise of the book is light, it still speaks a lot of truth about how we use social media and the image that we put out there for the world to see. So many times what is really happy and what we are sharing are so different and this lead to a good discussion on how we use social media in our own lives and how we filter those images and updates for the public.

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate’s two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

I love books with a magical realism theme and the idea that you can rewrite your own history through your Facebook status was such a good one. It also makes you think about how we present ourselves online and how our reality are often so different!

I was so happy to have our first writing duo in my Sundays With Writers series and you can check out their interview over HERE! Have a good laugh at their FB status updates they would post if they would come true. Our book club sure did!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Amy’s 2015 Bookshelf (join me on GoodReads):

Books Read in 2015

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

July 2015 Must-Reads

August 2015 Must-Reads

September 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

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August 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, September 4th, 2015

August 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I hope you guys had a great month of reading this month! I am excited to share with you my favorite reads from the month of August! I think this is the first month that the Sundays With Writers interviews have been ahead of my round-up, but with the back-to-school craziness, I was falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and couldn’t even get in a few pages in the evening. Has anyone else been doing this too?

I have been trying to read one book off of the What the World’s Top Authors Say You Should Be Reading list and I am discovering that these are often meatier and lengthier than the ones that are usually in my stack. I can admit that I find it is stretching me a bit out of my usual genre, but in really good ways!

This month I tackled a book that was over 500 pages of the world’s tiniest font.

Magnifying glass font.

No joke.

I am pretty proud that I still snuck in a few other books to share this month despite all that tiny font!

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts & opinions.

I am going to start with this one because I have still been thinking about this storyline and how good it was.  I could not put this book down! This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.

Fans of Where’d You Go Bernadette & Wife 22 (thanks to the hilarious correspondence between colleagues & family) will really love this one!

You can read our interview with Elisabeth Egan this month in our Sundays With Writers series!  I can’t recommend this book enough!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

I selected this book to read this month from our recommended reads list from our weekly author interviews. This book was over 500 pages so it was definitely a commitment for me to sit down with, but I closed the book and felt so inspired by it that I can see why everyone recommends this one as a must-read!

There is so much good in this book about the power one person can have over another. Peekay endures terrible cruelty from his peers that most children would never pull through bravely. It is through the influence of one great man after another that his life is transformed from a victim to a fighter and we are reminded how with one small gesture or a few words of motivation, you have the ability to transform someone’s entire path. Lots of big life lessons in this novel that are so inspiring. I doubt you could read it and not feel transformed yourself by Peekay’s beautiful journey!

You get to witness the heartbreaks and triumphs of boyhood in this beautiful coming-of-age story. It would lend itself well to a book club discussion and would be an incredible book to read with your teen!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions.
The Good Girl made my top ten this past year and was one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. I’m so happy to say that Pretty Baby delivers the perfect punch, once again, that made me fall in love with Mary Kubica.

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated!

This author has an incredible gift for creating an unstable environment where you never feel like you can trust any character in the book. The storyline kept me up into the wee hours of the night and guessing until the final page. On a personal note, I have also discovered the author is as genuine as they come and I’m so thankful to have watched this book unfold through social media as she has created it! I hope you can snag this one soon- it’s a good one!

Be sure to check out our interview with Mary Kubica on her first book The Good Girl too!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go is Southern Grit at its finest in this dark debut novel! Joy creates a compelling coming-of-age story about a teen boy growing up in the Appalachian Mountains whose father deals meth in their small town.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

If only life were that simple. This story is beautifully told and the ending was a strong one, despite the feeling of hopelessness for these people.

You can read my interview with David Joy on the blog this month! I particularly loved how immersed he was in his own genre of writers and the recommendations he offered for books!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

It has been such a treat this summer to read the Little House books with my own little girl. Little House on the Prairie  follows Laura and her family as they leave their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out for Kansas. They travel for many days in their covered wagon until they find the best spot to build their little house on the prairie. Soon they are planting and plowing, hunting wild ducks and turkeys, and gathering grass for their cows. Pioneer life and the daily struggles of food, farming, and the dynamics between Laura’s family and the Indians were powerful themes to talk about together.

Now we are moving along and started On the Banks of Plum Creek together where the family moves into town and learns about what is like to live in a community and go to school! We are pretty excited to dive into this next book together.

5 Out of 5 Stars

Amy’s 2015 Bookshelf (join me on GoodReads):

2015 Books Read

Read With Me This Year:

sundays-with-writers-1

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

July 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

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Sundays With Writers: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven

 

In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.

 

You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye (GIVEAWAY)

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

sundays-with-writers-1

Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart. I love the thrill of discovering new talent and also have experienced the struggles of writing your first book. The process of idea to publishing was so much harder than I had anticipated and I love bringing these new talents in front of you for those very reasons.  I received a copy of Under a Dark Summer Sky from NetGalley and it was one of my favorite reads this summer (you can read my review here). I just know that this will be a favorite for you too especially if you love historical fiction.

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye

If you have been waiting for the next The Help, friends, this is it. I really want to get this book on your radar because the story is so beautifully told and it is about something that happened in history that I was never aware of. Under a Dark Summer Sky is a perfect balance of fact and fiction.  I have no doubt, you will get swept away in the storm that hits Heron Key in 1935.

It is hard to believe that this was a debut novel- it was so perfectly executed. I love when I am transported into time in a historical fiction novel and learn something I have never known before and that was the case in this one. This well-researched book perfectly combines fact and fiction into an incredible story about a hurricane that ripped through the Florida Keys. The racial tensions of the people combined with a camp of misplaced disturbed war veterans creates an incredible conflict within the town when all of their safety is at risk as a hurricane approaches. I just know you will fall in love with this perfectly woven story (and learn a lot about the 1930’s in the process!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s learn more about the real-life hurricane that inspired this incredible book today!

Vanessa Lafaye

I would consider your book to be the next The Help, tackling a time of racial tension and segregation between blacks and whites, but creating this perfect storm of emotion and disaster within the pages to play on these issues. It feels like you can cut the tension with a knife from the first chapter until you close the last page. What was it about this era that appealed to you and why did you decide to set the book up in Florida around a natural disaster?

I’m delighted with comparisons to The Help, as it’s one of my favorites.  I didn’t choose the era or the setting, the story chose me! I often say that this is the book that almost wasn’t.   I stumbled on it at a low point in my life, after I had cancer the first time and had failed to get 2 novels of women’s fiction published. By pure accident, I discovered the story of the veterans and the hurricane, and it captured my imagination.  I felt compelled to dramatize it although I had not written historical fiction before.  I was appalled that the events have been forgotten, even by people living in Florida.  The veterans changed the course of US history, and I was consumed by the challenge of bringing that story to life. I never expected to write a book set in Florida.  It turned into a big nostalgia trip, almost like a love letter to my home state.

As a reader, you really capture the hurricane so well that I felt like I was there witnessing it all. What type of research did you do to set up this pivotal moment in this community? Have you experienced any major hurricanes yourself?

Growing up in FL, hurricanes were a regular summer feature, but I never experienced a bad one.  When I discovered the story, I read some excellent factual accounts, which are referenced in the book.  I watched videos of survivor stories, also referenced in the book.  But when it came to write the storm scenes, I set myself the task of making the reader feel like they had been through a washing machine.  It was a huge challenge, using only words on a page, and harrowing to write those scenes, sometimes overwhelming.  So it’s good hear that you think it comes across.

bonus-marchers

(Source: Wikipedia)

The most surprising thing for me, as a reader, were how these World War I veterans were placed into these communities on projects after the war, and the havoc that it creates in these towns (both for the soldiers themselves and for the community members). Misplaced, homeless, and without work, these men were thrown into these racially divided communities nursing a lot of issues from being in the war. How did you learn about this occurring and why do you think it makes your story more compelling?

The story of the veterans in the hurricane led me to explore their experiences during and after the war, which is where I learned about the Bonus Marchers and their treatment by the government.  I found it incredible that these dispossessed, desperate men helped to bring down one President and damage his successor, yet they have disappeared from history.  Writing about a southern state in 1935, I could not ignore the issue of segregation at that time, which led me to study the treatment of African-American soldiers in particular.  Most of the veterans in the camps in the Keys were white.  I chose to focus on a black minority because of the links to the other characters that I wanted to portray.

I always have a favorite character in each story I read and there was just something about Henry that had me rooting for him from the beginning until the end. I loved how you developed him, particularly his experience from serving as a black soldier to his struggles to fit into a segregated community of unacceptance. Was there one character in particular that you had a fondness for and were there any in the story that you related to the most personally?

Henry is also my favorite. I admire him so much.  His experiences should have made him bad or crazy, but basic his goodness has survived.  I have a fondness for people who refuse to let life beat them down.  Henry is certainly damaged, but he’s not beaten, despite everything.  I relate most personally to Hilda – although I hasten to add that I was never a beauty queen!  I wrote her first scene when I had gained a lot of weight after cancer treatment and felt very bad about myself.  I couldn’t fit into my clothes. I poured all of that into Hilda’s character, which was quite therapeutic.

This book was published in the UK first under the title of Summertime. I am always curious about title switches when books come to the US. Why did you change the title?

Debut authors don’t have much say in these decisions!  The publishers know what will work in their market.  We get consulted, but ultimately it’s a decision for the professionals.  The book has a different title in each country where it is being published:  Norway, France, Italy, Germany, and Holland.  Norway is ‘Sommerstorm’, France is ‘In the Heat of Summer’, Italy is the equivalent of ‘Summertime’, and I’m looking forward to seeing the others soon!

I have a special fondness for debut novelist and this book does not read like a debut novel to me, but a seasoned veteran in the field of writing. How long did it take you to research and write this story? What has been the most surprising thing to you about the process from story to publishing?

It’s great to hear that you’re fond of us debutantes, because it’s a big old hill to climb, for sure. It took me 2 years to research and write – but I was working 2 jobs at the time as well!  I don’t have kids, which is what made it possible, I guess.  And I was very highly motivated to get the story out.  I really wanted it to be published during the centenary of WWI (2014-18)! The most surprising thing about the process has been working with bloggers like you.  Before I had this experience, I had no knowledge of book bloggers, or their importance to the whole publishing industry.  I worked for 30 years in academic publishing, which is very different, and has nothing to compare.  So I was astounded to learn of how many bloggers are out there, how much time and energy they devote, and just how much influence they have over readers.  It’s been a revelation.  You guys have transformed fiction publishing.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

It’s actually 3 books: The Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker.  Is that allowed?  These books were among the first, along with Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which opened my eyes to the history of WWI.  Before that, like most Americans, I was ignorant of this period, but it’s a huge deal here in England.  I finally understood what the veterans had sacrificed in that awful, stupid war.

Vanessa has graciously shared 3 signed copies of her book to give away on the site this morning (all the way from England)! Enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can connect with Vanessa Lafaye on GoodReadson Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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July 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, July 31st, 2015

July 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I can’t believe that summer is already coming to a close in just a few short weeks for our family. Summer reading is my favorite kind of reading… you know, the kind done poolside? I have snuck in quite a few books this month and I’m excited to share a fresh stack with you. We have everything from teen angst to historical fiction to developing good habits in business to family dramas to comedy to a little smut. What are you in the mood for? I am pretty sure I have a great pick for you this month!

Let’s dig into my July pile, shall we?

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

I renewed my Scribd membership this month so I have been digging into some of the books that I have had in my library for awhile. One of those books was, My Notorious Life.  If you are a fan of Dickens or have enjoyed Fingersmith, I think you will really love this incredible story.

Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, Manning weaves a rags to riches story of Axie Muldoon. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

Axie goes from orphan to midwife to lady to prisoner,  and Manning creates a compelling story of what it would be to be like to work as a midwife under scrutiny of the law for your services in the mid to late 19th century. Controversial in her services and notorious in her community for offering birth control to those who needed it, it’s an incredible journey to follow and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A beautifully woven love story between two orphans (one being the infamous midwife, Axie) who met on the orphan train and find each other later in life adds to the beauty of this story as they create a business together as adults.

A couple of things to note with this one. It’s  a long one (464 pages), but was a really incredible read that was worth diving into! Secondly, if you have strong opinions on women’s reproductive rights this one will give you a lot of food for thought and would lend itself really well to a book club discussion. I had many opinions of my own about reproductive rights and this one really illustrates the necessity of birth control options during such an impoverished time in history. It was an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I listened to the audiobook of this throughout the week through my Scribd membership and found it it to be absolutely fascinating, as did my husband.

The Power of Habit  was one of the most interesting books I have ever read on habits and routines. What could have been a very dry topic on our scientific responses and why we implement good/bad habits in our life, ended up being an absolutely fascinating piece. The book tackles everything from how DJ’s get us to listen to certain music, to how businesses use surveys to control our habits (again, both good and bad), and even how brands target consumers to make their products a part of our routines when they had never existed before.

The end of the book offers valuable advice on how to break bad habits by identifying your habit loop and how to get the good stuff back in your life. I wouldn’t say that this was a book of solutions (unless you count the last part), but more a share of research and science behind why we do the things we do and why so many of us can’t break our bad habits.

I really recommend this book for both professional and personal development and the audiobook version of it was fantastic!

5 Out of 5 Stars

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  (currently available for pre-order, hits stores on August 18th!)

I received an advanced reader of this one from Netgalley.

In this story we learn that for fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

It would be hard to follow up such an incredible book like The Language of Flowers and I think this was a valiant effort, although it might be missing some of that charm of the author’s first book. This book is beautiful in its own way though and it reminded me a lot of, The Same Sky as it tackles the issue of illegal immigration and two sweet kids neglected by their alcoholic mother, struggling with poverty and placement in society. I would recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans.

I have asked Vanessa to join us in a future Sundays With Writers and I look forward to sharing more about her own very compelling story that shaped this incredible book next month!

4 Out of 5 Stars

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes

I received an advanced reader of this from Netgalley.

Hey, remember the smutty book I was talking about in the opening paragraph? Yup, this is it. Avert your eyes if you can’t handle it! This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch!

If you love it, you will be happy to know that it looks like the next book is in the works. This is one that would be fine as a stand-alone though, if you aren’t feeling committed to another series! Add this to your must-read steamy book pile!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

This is another book that I enjoyed through my Scribd membership this month and am SO happy that I finally read. It’s got the sweetness of Eleanor & Park going for it and made for an incredible slow build love story. Those are the BEST kind, in my opinion!

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

When two broken people find each other it is often a rocky road. This beautiful book takes you on an incredible journey as two sweet kids, bearing unfathomable burdens, find each other and discover that being broken doesn’t mean you can no longer experience joy or be loved. This book is perfect from start to finish and gets bonus points for the perfect last words spoken in a book!

Keep in mind, this is another long one (I can’t believe I tackled two big books in one month),coming in at 426 pages, but the pacing was just perfection!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This is another one I tackled on Scribd (that poor company is losing money on me this month- geesh!) and, yes, I know I am the last person in the world to read this one. I decided to go for it once I heard it was going to be made into a film and one of the casting decisions that was announced (yay!)

If I’m not the last person on earth to read this, I can’t recommend this one enough! This was the cutest quirkiest love story ever. Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

I fell in love with Don and found myself laughing out loud often at so many of the scenes in this one. I wish the ending had not felt so rushed and I did have a hard time figuring out The Father Project results (told from Don’s perspective), but I adored this book anyway! This was a great summer read!

Did you read the sequel to this one? I’m not seeing great reviews on it so I’m on the fence if I want to read it or not! Let me know!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Amy’s 2015 Bookshelf (join me on GoodReads):

2015 Best Books to Read List

Read With Me This Year:

July 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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My husband laughs about how much research I do to prepare for these Sundays With Writers interviews, but I love researching about the people behind the books just as much as I love the books themselves. Today’s guest, Erika Swyler, is an author that I have found completely fascinating as I have read more about her.  She wrote a beautiful book called The Book of Speculation and instead of going about the whole writing process the traditional way at a computer, she did it longhand. Instead of sending files to land an editor, she decided to try binding books herself to catch an editor’s eye.

It’s because of her unique methods that I wanted to feature her today in our interview series. I can’t wait for you to read this book and this interview with Erika!

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

I knew I was going to love The Book of Speculation because it had so many ingredients in it for success with me- librarians, old books, a bit of magic, and a glimpse at the old carnival life. The book has been compared to Water For Elephants and Night Circus, but definitely stands on its own and is an ambitious debut novel from this first-time author.

When Simon, a young librarian, receives the gift of a book that is a travel log for a carnival in the 1700’s, he discovers a drowning death of a circus mermaid that is coincidental to his own mother’s drowning death (a former circus mermaid herself) that happened even on the same day. If their family is cursed, his sister could be the next victim and he will do anything to save her. The chapters alternate between the travel log (complete with unique sketch drawings) and present day as Simon tries to stop the curse on his family. The author manages to bring these stories together in a beautiful way with a satisfying conclusion to these mysterious drownings.

You can read my full review of this book here as well as a few other great must-reads for the month of April!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s settle in with Erika Swyler today and learn more about her debut novel! 

erika-swyler

I can admit, I am a bit of a nut about books and movies that have to do with the circus. I understand that you lived at the library for months researching the history of circuses in America to write The Book of Speculation. What is it about the circus life that fascinates you and what is the most surprising discovery you made while doing your research?

Circus life fascinates me because it’s so much about people finding and building family. Shows are living, breathing things with all these fascinating interpersonal dynamics. The life seems so rootless, yet these intense bonds form between people in shows. When you look at circuses and carnivals closely they make you question your ideas about what a home and family are.

the-wallendas

It was surprising to discover how far back some families can trace their history with the circus. The Wallendas were already established and touring in the 1780s. That’s insane. They’ve been practicing circus arts for essentially half of circus’s history. That’s a bigger footprint than P.T. Barnum.

Your book has a lot of unique elements in it, but one of them that really stood out to me was the use of illustration in your story. Did this add more pressure to you to create these and how do you think it makes your book more interactive for your reader?

Illustrating added pressure, but it also offered me far more control than most novelists have their first time out, and it kept me mercifully busy. When most people are sweating and waiting for edits, I was up to my ears in charcoal and graphite. That was a very good thing. I had total freedom as to what the illustrations were, and that let me build on aspect of a characters I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. My circus master, Peabody, sketches in his journal. Actually showing the reader the illustrations says so much about him, his journal, and the plot. Illustration lets readers look at the exact images the characters in the book are seeing. That’s smashing a wall. You’re looking at the drawings, you’re in the book.

erika-swyler-2

I think the most surprising thing I discovered about you while researching for this interview is that I read that when you prepared your manuscripts of this book to send out to various publishers that you hand bound and tea-stained each of the copies to give them the feel of an old book, similar to the one that Simon receives in the beginning of this novel. Do you think that the work you did to create a unique reader experience for them ultimately helped you land your book deal?

Binding the manuscript put the story on the outside. It’s rare to see a book look exactly like what’s in it. I had an inkling that whoever connected with the manuscript as art would connect with the story, because it is about old books, bibliophiles, and beautiful objects. I also suspected that I was selling myself based on my ability to work hard. Making books like that is a huge time investment. I wanted people to know that I was willing to break my back to make this book happen. Ultimately, that came across. Once the manuscripts were out, things moved quickly. And I found my dream editor.

I understand you are now an expert in Japanese Stab Binding. For those of us reading our pathetic e-books, what is this binding process and why did you chose it for your manuscripts?

I’m more a jack-of-all-trades than an expert, but I’ve gotten pretty good with this type of binding. Japanese Stab Binding is a method where you sew through an entire block of paper rather than stitching together folded signatures. Each stitch goes through both covers and the pages. The stitches are visible, and the thread can be used to make decorative patterns. It’s used a lot in photo albums, for binding loose pages, and for quick and dirty paperback repair.

Stab binding made sense for the manuscripts because it’s relatively cheap, fast when compared to other techniques, and it’s visually striking. Being able to sew loose pages meant I was able to work with standard copy paper and splurge on covers rather than losing money on typesetting and printing. It’s also a very human stitch. When you see a book with a stab binding, you get a sense of how it’s done and that you understand it. It’s a binding that feels like history.

I often feel like I was born in the wrong era and it seems that might be something you and I have in common! I read you do your first drafts in longhand and on your collection of vintage typewriters. Do you have a favorite typewriter in your collection and why do you love these retro methods of book writing so much?

I write a lot longhand and on typewriters because it keeps me from editing. Computers have given us this terrible habit of writing a word then deleting it over and over again. You don’t do that longhand. I also find that characters and scenes demand different voices. Writing by hand feels very different than using a typewriter, which is a universe away from writing a laptop. Some characters want the typewriter. Sometimes if I’m really flying I switch around between hand, typewriter, and computer.

I do hoard typewriters. The oldest I have is an Underwood Champion from the late ’30s, but my favorite is a 1958 Hermes 3000. It’s mint green and fabulous. The keys feel right, it has great control over margins and spacing, and I can really move on it. It’s a beautiful machine. My husband got it for me. He supports what I do in a very deep way. He can’t write the words, but he makes sure I have the tools to write them.

There have been comparisons to The Night Circus and Water for Elephants with this book. In what ways do you think your book is different from these and why do you think there is such a fascination with the circus life in literature?

So those comparisons are huge and humbling. But there are some major differences. First, the fantastic element. Water for Elephants has both feet in a lush reality. The Night Circus floats in the fantastic. The Book of Speculation dances in between. I love the idea of everyday lives being infused with elements of wonder. I’m essentially mythologizing the ordinary—that’s the oldest trick in storytelling, but one that’s often overlooked. Then there’s scope. The Night Circus and Water for Elephants both span a lifetime (albeit magically enhanced in some instances). I went big and set my scope as 250 years of a family’s history. It asks readers to look for overlaps and intertwining stories. Essentially, I got to write historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism, mystery, a family saga, and literary fiction all at once.

Circus demands that you gawk, while also maintaining an intense wall of privacy. It’s impossible to watch a circus performance without wondering about artists and what their lives are like. Acts are billed as “the best” or “the only.” It’s the nature of writers to need to know what “the best” is like without makeup and lights. Combine that with a secretive culture and you might as well just wave a red flag at us.

Circus (PBS series)

Do you have any books on the circus or documentaries that you could recommend for people who want to learn more about the circus life?

There’s a wealth of information out there. The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top by Janet M. Davis is pretty fantastic. For that specific carnival cadence, Howard Bone’s Side Show: My Life with Geeks, Freaks and Vagabonds in the Carny Trade is about as atmospheric as it gets while revealing surprisingly little. That perfectly captures the “insiders only” feel of carnivals and circus. PBS also made a six-episode series, Circus, which is incredible. As far as access to modern circus life, it’s unbeatable.

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we will add it to our list of recommended reads for our readers!)?

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I suggest people read it because it may freak them out. It’s also what fearless narration looks like. It’s bold and bizarre in all the right ways and full of incredible visual writing. It’s a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished. It’s the book I dream about writing.

 You can connect with Erika Swyler on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

Sundays With Writers: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this interview today! It’s not every day that a girl gets to feature the author of the #1 book on Amazon of 2014 so today is incredibly special. I have a feeling that many of you have read Everything I Never Told You and will enjoy hearing the story behind the story on this book.

We read this book in my local book club and I thought a lot about it after I closed it. It dealt with racial tensions that I had not been aware of and also spoke to me because so many of us have things we never tell the people we love and it makes you think about your own family and words that are unspoken.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is such a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in. I think it is important to set expectations though with genres and I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece. This is a beautifully written family drama and for fans of this genre, you will really fall in love with Ng’s storytelling.

This book was featured in our Must-Read List for March!

It is such an honor to have Celeste Ng join me today. If you don’t know how to pronounce her name- check out her Twitter handle (AWESOME!). Now that you know the important stuff, let’s settle in with a cup of coffee and hear more from Celeste about her debut novel.

Celeste Ng

You open with the death of Lydia in the very opening sentences of the book and then build the story from there. Why did you decide to start with her tragic death and then work your way out in the story?

In earlier drafts, the book began quite differently: “At first, they don’t know where Lydia has gone.” And neither did the reader, until about thirty or forty pages in. What I realized, eventually, was that this pointed the reader in the wrong direction. It prompted the reader to focus on whether Lydia was alive or dead, rather than on what happened within the family to lead to her death.

So in the last draft of the novel, I changed the opening and put Lydia’s fate right up front. Once you know that Lydia is dead, that information colors everything you read afterwards.

Race plays a big part in this novel and, to be honest, I was embarrassingly unaware of racial discrimination among Asians in the 70’s, particularly in the disapproval of the relationship between the white mother (Marilyn) & the Asian father (James) in the Lee family. Was this something that you had heard about, researched, or have you experienced this discrimination firsthand?

Unfortunately, discrimination among Asians isn’t just limited to the 1970s. It still happens today, both overtly and in what we might now call microaggressions: small actions, often not intended as malicious, that remind people of their otherness. With one exception, every moment of racism or racial tension in the novel is something that I or someone I know personally has experiences firsthand. And these moments aren’t rare: every person of color I’ve spoken with has experienced something similar, no matter where they live.

Your book was selected as the #1 book of the ENTIRE YEAR on Amazon in 2014. First, what was it like to find out that your debut novel was selected as this and, secondly, do you feel added pressure to deliver something just as epic in your next book?

Here’s how I found out about the Amazon pick: I was sitting in my living room drinking tea and playing with my son when someone tweeted “Congratulations!” at me. I actually had to tweet back, “On what?!” So the whole experience has been surreal, and I’m very grateful to Amazon’s editorial team for championing the book.

I do feel some pressure to deliver another book that will live up to the response for this first one—how could I not? But honestly, the expectations have an upside as well. Writing is such an uncertain job; you work for years on a single project and hope that when it’s done, someone will read it. Having so many people read and respond to the book makes me more optimistic that people will want to read the next one, too.

The title of your book, Everything I Never Told You, is the anthem of every character in this book as they all have their own secrets and struggles that they can’t seem to share with others. Was there anything you have never shared with someone that you wished you would have and what message do you hope your readers will walk away with from reading this book?

My father passed away unexpectedly over a decade ago, and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly. (None of us did.) I think about that a lot, about what I’d have said if we’d have another chance to talk. And even now, I often think of things that I’d like to share with him—not important things necessarily, just jokes he’d have enjoyed or observations he’d have gotten a kick out of.  More than the Big Important Topics, those kind of small things are the glue that holds a relationship together. I guess I hope that readers will close the book thinking about how life is short—and precious—and will make a conscious choice to never take the time they have with loved ones for granted.

As a mom, I really struggled with Marilyn leaving her family behind in this book because she felt she did not get to pursue her own dreams. I will admit, I was actually pretty angry with her as this family hobbled along in her absence. I think being a mom does mean sometimes we have to put our dreams on hold in order to make our family lives work. Did you sympathize with Marilyn? Have you ever had to put anything on hold in your own life because of your family?

It’s totally okay to be angry with Marilyn! (She makes some questionable choices, as do all the other characters.) But you’re right, being a mom, you’re in a constant juggling act trying to balance the needs of your family and your own needs. This is true for any parent, of course, but in today’s world, it’s especially true for mothers.

As a working mom myself, I end up putting my family before my own wants a lot of the time—as do most parents, I think. Sometimes these are small things: maybe I’d rather have chicken one night but I cook spaghetti because that is what my kid will eat. Sometimes they’re larger: for example, I’d love to go on a writing retreat, like the ones at McDowell (where someone brings you your lunch every day while you work!) But that would be a huge strain on my family, so it’s off the table, at least for a while.

And in fact, I’d miss them too much if I were away for so long.  That’s the thing that makes it hardest: you’re not just choosing between something you want and something they want, you’re choosing between something you want and something they want that you want too. Your desires get all mixed up with your family’s and it becomes hard to even tell what you yourself want.  So yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Marilyn.

What can we expect from you in your next book?

The next book is still very much in draft form, so I won’t say too much about it yet—I’m still working out the details! But it takes place in my hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and focuses on a family living there and a mother-daughter pair (with some secrets in their past) who move in from out of town, and the ways those two families get entangled and stir up trouble for one another.

If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be? (read all the recommendations from authors HERE)

Just one? That’s a very hard choice to make. I’d go with The Bluest Eye, because Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite authors and that book says so much about race and culture and identity and love, and it’s beautifully written to boot.

You can connect with Celeste Ng on GoodReads, on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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