#UnreadShelfProject2018 Wrap Up!

What’s better than an end of year wrap-up? If you ask me, not much. 🙂 I’ve been loving reading all the “End of Year Best Of…” lists, but before I get to my favorite books of 2018, I want to look back at my goals for this year — specifically how did the Unread Shelf Project 2018 go?!

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This was my original photo of the seven books I absolutely promised myself I would read this year. Update: I read them all!

Let’s start with the stats:

Unread books owned as of January 1st 2018:
Read: 10
Donated: 6
Remaining: 0 (HORRAY!!)

Books purchased in 2018:
Books purchased AND read in 2018: 13
Books purchased and NOT read in 2018: 13

Here’s a little more of the breakdown —

READ 2018 UNREAD 2018
Owned Pre 2018 10
Purchased New 2018 5 8
Purchased BOTM 5 4
Purchased Used 3 1
Library Books 7
Audiobooks 9
Lent by Friend 6 4
Gifted by Friend 2 2
Gifted by Publisher 11 2

And now, on to how I feel about it:

The fact that 20 out of the 58 books I read this year are books that I purchased tells me two things: I did a great job of reading books that I didn’t pay for and I also made some serious progress on my unread shelf. Overall, I’m happy with the progress I made!

This little study is also a great way for me to see that while I did a great job this year reading books lent or given to me, I also bought more books than I can read. I’m going to set a rule of only FIVE books outside of Book of the Month selections for all of 2019, and I can only get a Book of the Month pick if I’ve finished the selections I already chose. The bottom line is that I have so many sources of receiving books, and I really don’t need to purchase books (except when sometimes I definitely do….), so I’m going to limit but not restrict that number.

And what about the specific Unread Shelf Challenge?

Overall as a challenge, I really liked the specific prompts that each month presented. A lot of the times the books on our unread shelf are books we’ve been avoiding for one reason or another, and the little kick in the butt is exactly what we need to read them!

One challenge that surprised me was ‘read the book you most recently purchased’. I loved that one because it made me realize how frequently I get a book and add it to the bottom of the pile, and then end up losing the anticipation that had caused me to hit purchase in the first place.

I’m not sure if I will participate again, but if not this challenge maybe another to help me check off some books. As I hinted to in my Gift Guide, I’m very interested in the Read Harder Challenge!

If you’re interested in the challenge and how it broke down from month-to-month, you can check out all the challenges and reviews here! Let me know if you participated in a similar challenge this year and how it went for you!

Here’s to continuing to read our shelves in 2019 🙂

Feel Learn Wonder Bookish Gift Guide

Happy Holidays Readers! If you’re anything like me you love the holidays and all that comes with them. This year I wanted to share a few bookish items that would make great gifts whether you’re treating yourself, putting together a list for your fam, or trying to get ideas for that other bookworm on your list!

Year of Wonder

[Full Disclosure: I received this book from Harper Books for free, but this is not a sponsored post. This book, The Year of Wonder, was the inspiration for this post in the first place, so I figured I’d just throw it out there first.]

I think this book would make a great gift for anyone with an interest in classical music, whether they’re a newbie like me or a certified expert! The idea is that each day of the year has a dedicated song and essay in this book, and throughout the year you can grow your knowledge and appreciation of classical music. I want to save most of it to enjoy throughout 2019, but I will say that I read the page for January 1st and listened to the song about 7 times. The music seems to be available on Spotify and there is a dedicated Apple Music playlist you can download!

Books!

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And now, on to the obvious. My criteria for giving a book as a gift is pretty simple in theory, but can sometimes be a little limiting. In short a book cannot be too sad, too violent, too potentially offensive, or too racy. That doesn’t mean it needs to be boring! For those on your list who need books meeting those criteria, here’s my list of six favorite books of 2018 that gift well to others:

Totes!

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If 2018 was the year of anything in the book world it was the year of totes from publishers! I personally love my Riverhead Books tote and have seen a whole bunch of designs out there by others.

Book Journals!

Trust me, book people love to journal and track. 🙂 I saw two new designs for 2019 that piqued my interest, including one by Book Riot for their Read Harder Challenge that they host annually, but never had a formal tracker for before!


And there you have it – there’s a quick rundown of some of my favorite things for every bookworm on your list 🙂

 

What I’m Reading: December

While November was full of nonfiction books for me, I’m looking forward to an entertaining (fiction filled) December. I had been holding off on getting new Book of the Month books until I read the two I had, but I was eager to get two selections this month! So I’m thinking of doing a bit of a Book of the Month Readathon this month with titles I’m really excited about —

Circe by Madeline Miller

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I got this from Book of the Month when I got The Silence of the Girls. Apparently I was feeling the Greek Mythology Retelling genre that seems to have sprung up recently!

Calypso by David Sedaris

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I got this one back in July I think! I was so excited to see it as a selection and immediately added it to my box. David Sedaris is a favorite author of mine, I find all of this work absolutely hilarious and am excited for this new collection, which I hear is a little more serious than his others.

Severance by Ling Ma

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This one was a December pick for Book of the Month, but not a recent release. When they took this strategy last year, I ended up with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been seeing Severance around #bookstagram and decided to give it a go despite not always totally loving the distopian thing. I hear great things about this one!

For Better or Worse by Margot Hunt

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This was a November selection for Book of the Month that I passed up on mostly because I hadn’t heard anything about it and wanted to read a few reviews first. The reviews were great and now I’m excited to add it to my library, and a marital thriller sounds like an entertaining way to end the year!

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you’re planning to read next month!

November Reading Recap

November was a slow reading month for me. I really wanted to participate in Nonfiction November, but in order to do so I had to slow things down. I tend to read nonfiction more slowly than my usual reading speed, and I also spent a lot of time blogging to keep up with the NN blog prompts! Not to mention some extra long days in the office that kept me away from my books. 🙂 I learned a lot and am really glad I did it, even though I only got through three books this month.

Here they are!

Bad Blood by David Carreyrou
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Nonfiction
Tone: Intriguing, Suspenseful, Shocking
Structure: Linear timeline, told mostly in the third person until the author gets involved
Read if you like: Investigative Journalism, American Fire, Killers of the Flower Moon

Playing Through The Whistle by S.L. Price
Rating:
2.5/5
Genre: History/Nonfiction
Tone: Reverent
Structure: Linear timeline – detailed history interspersed with scenes of sporting events
Read if you like: American history, Janesville

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Graphic Novel/Memoir
Tone: Thoughtful, Literary, Tragic Humor
Structure: Graphic novel spelling out a nonlinear history of a father daughter relationship
Read if you like: Family dynamics, LGBTQ stories, Graphic Novels (sorry for the lack of comparisons – this book is so unique to me!)

And that’s it! Despite being a slow month, it was a pretty good month and I’m really happy with everything that I read. What did you read this month?

Reads Like Fiction

I get requests for this type of book all the time (particularly from my mom. Hi Mom!), and my response is always one of two answers. 1) DEADWAKE BY ERIC LARSON or 2) You’ve read Deadwake? Well, books like this don’t really come along that often…

Seriously though, I think Deadwake is one of the best narrative nonfiction books of our time. This is one book where the realness of it adds value.

Imagine being in a submarine, so literally far below the ocean’s surface, where humans shouldn’t exist, and your two options outside of 100% perfection and sucess are either being discovered and bombed by the British causing immediate death, or fearing discovery, losing oxygen due to not being able to surface for more air, causing a slower death. The writing in Deadwake that exposed me to the conditions of submarine warfare truly blew me away but in a way where I wanted to keep reading and experiencing the story.

Aside from the haunting truths about marine life, Deadwake also a love story. Not only that, a presidential love story. I’m sure how many  of you are fans of The American President (the movie) or Scandal (the tv show) but to be there’s no better plot line than a presidental love story.

And finally there’s the story of the rich and famous – of the people who get to sail on a luxury ship from New York to London. We all loved the Titanic for the glitz and the glam and the Lusitania is no different in that regard.

So glitz, glam, love, shocking nonfiction, and of course one of histories greatest disasters. Deadwake is truly one of my favorite narrative nonfiction reads and can confidently say it reads like nonfiction.

 

Book Review: Playing Through The Whistle

Author: S. L. Price
Published: October 4, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction
FLW Rating: 2.5/5

Aliquippa, Pennsylvania is a fascinating place. It’s one of the top two towns in the country to produce NFL players, but with one of the lowest average incomes. It’s a town that has truly been through it all and is a great way to learn about the last century of American History. That being said, the breadth of this book was both too wide and too narrow to be an enjoyable reading experience. I’ll explain more but first, the synopsis:

Playing Through The Whistle is the story of  Aliquippa, a suburb of Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania, that has been through it all. From steel mills and labor unions, to becoming WPIAL and State champions in both football AND basketball, to handling racial tensions and gang violence in the 80s, Aliquippa can serve as a microhistory of the 20th century in the rustbelt of America.

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To me a nonfiction book needs a cohesive plot, and in this case that storyline that flowed throughout the book was a modern day football game. But throughout the 450 page book, the modern day plot line only popped in to cover about 4 pages, and honestly didn’t add any value in my opinion because I didn’t really get enough of it to understand it’s significance. Part of me is also a little upset that the book was started with the modern day scene because I got excited about that aspect and then I never felt like it was fulfilled. Long story short, I felt like this book just lacked a story. (You won’t find this in my “Reads like Fiction” post later this week!)

To come back to what I said in the beginning – I felt like this book was both too wide and too narrow. The book spanned from the early 1900s to present day, but as the plot progressed through the century, the writing was incredibly detailed. I struggled with this because it meant there were so many names, and I wasn’t sure whose names to remember and whose names I could forget. Trust me, remembering all of them is not an option. Since the plot was so laser focused at times, it had to move quickly and I felt like I was both a little bored and a little rushed. I didn’t like the tempo!

Since I guess what I’m saying is that I wish this book were a little more focused on the story and told from a little higher of a level. I do think Aliquippa should receive the attention it deserves, so while I’m not sure I would tell you to read this whole thing, I want to share some of the highlights. If these pique your interest then by all mean, pick this one up! And let me know how you like it!

  • Aliquippa is on the forefront of labor unions – as the steelworkers needed to unionize to protect the worker’s rights
  • Aliquippa remained (relatively) above racial conflict until 1978!
  • Once the steel mills closed, there was a white migration out of Aliquippa that the town had to adjust to
  • The options for Aliquippa youth became football success or dealing on the streets
  • Two of the NFL players to come out of Aliquippa were Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett

This (obviously) only skims the surface of what is covered in this book, but if it piques your interest check out this book! In my opinion, the book could have been done better and wasn’t my favorite book to read, tempo-wise, but there is so much to learn about Aliquippa and so much that can be learned from this story.

Be the Expert/Become the Expert

This is a post written for link-up post for the month of Nonfiction November! It’s hard to say what I’m an “expert” in, but I’m going to choose a topic that I think I stumbled upon pretty randomly, but am enjoying — OKLAHOMA CITY.

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What a place.

Now, I must admit I’ve never been to Oklahoma City. It’s not a place I’ve ever particularly wanted to go, but in the past year or so Oklahoma City has seemed to spring to life in my… reading life.

I read two of the most facinating non-fiction books on the topic and interestingly enough, I had new downstairs neighbors move in who moved here from Oklahoma City! You bet I’ve been asking them to confirm all the crazy things I’ve been reading!

So about the books:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

David Grann is a fantastic nonfiction writer – he’s a NYT reporter by day, and in his free time he’s written two best selling nonfiction books, one of which was adapted as a movie last year! Killers of the Flower Moon is a work of investigative journalism in to the mysterious murders of indigenous people in Oklahoma.

What this teaches us about Oklahoma: As many of you may know, outside of California, Oklahoma is the most seismically active part of the United States. Why? Fracking. Which means that there’s oil in Oklahoma, and where there’s oil there’s almost always conflict. In this case the indigenous people claimed control over the oil based on land rights, and the white men didn’t want to see that happen. I’ll leave you in suspense about what went down in Oklahoma over the land rights and the oil, but I’ll let you know that this issue prevails to present day and I have it on pretty good authority, that the state of Oklahoma is still pretty divided along racial lines over this issue.

Next Up: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

Will I ever stop talking about Boomtown? It’s unlikely. Boomtown is the fantastic history of Oklahoma City from the founding of Oklahoma to the 2016 season of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. Did you know that the team is named Thunder because Oklahoma City allowed Boeing to test their supersonic jets over the city. Just another example of the city’s search for greatness.

What does this teach us about Oklahoma City: Pretty much everything! We learn about the founding of Oklahoma that literally involved everyone running in from all of the surrounding states at “noon”, bearing in mind that noone had synchronized clocks back then. We learn about the fantastic city plan by I.M. Pei that never took hold. We learn about the Oklahoma City bombing and all of its tragic affects on the population. And we learn about a basketball team that tried its hardest to reach greatness.

I feel like I know a lot about Oklahoma City at this point, but I can’t be a true expert until I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Maybe one of these days I’ll get there and I’ll definitely let you know what I think!

Book Review: The Nightingale

We made it! Thanks for hanging in there for four reviews this week! Back to Nonfiction November next week!


Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that Kristin Hannah books are hard to pick up, but are so so worth it. They’re tough for two reason – the expectations are high and the page count feels astronomical. I’m so happy to say that The Nightingale lived up to the hype and the pages flew by, as I couldn’t get enough of the story.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters during the German occupation of France in WWII. Each has different experiences, coming from completely different places in life.  Isabelle, the younger sister, has to flee from Paris and develops a great interest in joining the resistance, whereas Vianne, the older sister whose husband is off fighting in the war, would prefer to keep her head down and stay safe until the war is over. Their individual struggles during the war illustrate the heartbreaking and, honestly, terrifying years of WWII in France.

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Part of the hesitation for me in picking up this book is that I just feel so. damn. saturated on WWII historical fiction. I’ll do a post on all that I’ve read and my recommendations on that another time, but in general I’m enjoying learning about other periods of history and parts of the world. This book, however, was better than I could have hoped for a WWII historical fiction read. The characters were so compelling and the plot moved quickly through the time period, not leaving you time to dwell on the already known facts. There was love, there was loss, and I loved both the intensity of the scenes and the way the book was able to move on to keep spirits relatively high.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is a twist in the end. Don’t worry, these reviews are always spoiler free, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the ending quite so much (I can get bored of tidy endings to historical fiction novels), and this one kept me tied in to the story until the final minute.

If you’ve read The Great Alone and aren’t sure you can handle another experience that’s quite so emotional, I would say this one is less emotional.  I teared up a little at certain parts, but it wasn’t like The Great Alone where I straight up bawled for the last 100 pages.

Overall, I would suggest you cast all doubts aside and pick up The Nightingale. This book was truly readable and compelling despite all my greatest reading fears! I’m glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and went for it.

Book Review: Come With Me

Author: Helen Schulman
Published: November 27, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I still cringe when I read the title. Ok I had just had to get that out. There is one scene in this book that was the absolute worst. It ended with the title, and I’ll never be free of that experience. I’m struggling with how to express how annoyed it made me because I truly really liked the rest of the book, it just takes me a minute to remember what actually happened in this book. But when I do.. oh, then I recommend it!

Come with Me is a modern story about a family living in Silicon Valley. Told through multiple perspectives, Come With Me is able to paint a picture of modern life through a moment of tragedy in a community.

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While writing that synopsis I wanted to write the word MODERN over and over and over. It just is so modern – it features a family in which the mother is the main source of income for the family; where the father is a former talented journalist in a world that doesn’t pay for media; and where the son in the family maintains a long distance relationship through the use of his smart phone. But the main point of conflict in the novel is an issue as old as time — depression and suicide.

I think the contrast between the modern world the characters are living in and the old as time story of depression of a teenage boy made the tragedy of this story that much more powerful. There wasn’t any cyberbullying or AI involved in his suicide, it was just a tragedy. And the responses from everyone in the community felt real.

As you can probably tell from this review, I really genuinely liked this book. But I feel the need to say that because it’s not an easy book to like. It took a while to get in to, and it’s not incredibly plot driven, and that scene. Ugh that scene. It just ruined it. I think this book has so much potential and if you are a contemporary fiction lover who can handle a bit of… sex? I would say definitely pick it up. But if you’re at all sensitive, I just have to keep it honest, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe it is, but when things get weird, just skip to the next chapter.

This book is out November 27th so if it sounds up your alley definitely check it out! Thanks so much to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Our Homesick Songs

Author: Emma Hooper
Published: August 14, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 2/5

This book. I wanted to love it so badly (do I start all not great reviews this way?), but this is a classic case of the prose getting in the way of the story for me. The vagueness of the story and the uniqueness of the prose, led me to feel confused about what I was reading and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s to feel confused about a book. I can handle a little mystery but when I’m 80% through the book and still don’t totally know what I’m reading, I get a little upset.

Our Homesick Songs is about a family in a Canadian fishing village, but there’s one problem: there are no fish in the village. While the Connor parents go off to find an income in other places, their children are left to fend for themselves and cope in their own ways.

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Therein, in that synopsis, lies the problem. It’s a little too vauge – it’s not set in a specific time or a place, so the whole thing feels very anecdotal. While I was writing the synopsis I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “is it about a family in a fishing village with no fish?” Somehow it all just felt so damn metaphorical. Is it about all North American towns that rely on one source of industry? Literally no idea.

I find it really hard to review this book, because despite reading 90% of it (I know I gave up at a weird time), I don’t feel like I grasped what happened. It confused me, it frustrated me, I felt like I wanted to empathize with these people but I just couldn’t even tell what was real and what wasn’t.

Maybe the problem is that I’m reading too far in to it, or maybe I wanted more action and wasn’t quite in the mood for a character driven novel, or maybe, just maybe, I was experiencing a book hangover from Where the Crawdads Sing and I just couldn’t get in to any book that came next. Whatever it was, this one didn’t work for me.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought! (Thoughts that don’t agree with me are also welcome!)