2018 Favorites

Can you believe we’ve almost made it to the end of 2018? I absolutely hate the saying, or any allusion to the concept, of time going by without us realizing it. I just want to live every moment and have so many moments to come! Call me sentimental, but what this means is that I love to look back on the year that just past and recognize the length of it and all the great books I’ve read along the way.

At this point I’ve reviewed almost all of the books I’ve read this year on this blog (since I started keeping up with it in April!) Instead of reminding you which of (ALL) the books I read this year I loved the most, I decided to keep my wrap-up to books published in 2018 only.

Of the 22 books I read published this year, I gave 10 of them five stars. That’s pretty high praise for the books that came out this year! And so as to not leave any out, I’m going to be quick and organize them by genre for you. Hopefully this will inspire you to pick one of them up in early 2019.

One of my favorites questions I’ve seen going around Bookstagram recently was “What was your favorite book of 2018/What should be my first book of 2019?” I loved that this question was one in the same, because I love this community of sharing book recommendations and enthusiasm. I hope you decide to pick up one of these great books and I hope to hear what your favorites of 2018 include!

My FAVORITE Genre going in to 2018: LITERARY FICTION

When it’s good, it’s SO good: NONFICTION

A (Generally) Less Well Liked by me genre: Historical Fiction

 

Your turn! Let me know which books you’ve enjoyed this year, and which of these, if any, you think you’ll pick up!

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!

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!

A Look Back on 12 Months of Nonfiction

Last week I shared with you some of my all time favorite non-fiction books, but I for the first “challenge” of Nonfiction November I’m going to take a closer look back on the nonfiction reads I’ve read over the past year.

When I look through my list of non-fiction reads since last November, the things that jump out to me are a) a lot of them are backlist titles with pub dates backing back 1999, and b) these are some of the best books I’ve read in the last twelve months!

In total, I’ve read fifteen nonfiction books, which I’m stoked about! I’ve talked about them a lot recently so I’m just going to organize them by mood here. I’ll link to another blog post if I’ve raved about it recently!

If you’re looking for….

A peek in to military culture, coming from a place of love: Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A book that will change your views on rape culture forever: Missoula by Jon Krakauer

A way to understand what goes on behind closed doors in North Korea: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nightmares for days (seriously though), but via an incredibly compelling tale: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A way to indulge your inner whale lover: Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

A story about a city, that’s really about a team, and will warm your heart forever: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

A cautionary tale that teaches you to respect the danger of backpacking: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

A way to understand the side of America who’s voting for Trump: Janesville by Amy Goldstein

An escape in to the middle of the ocean: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Toree DeRoche

A front seat to the 2016 election: Unbelieveable by Katy Tur

A coming-of-age slash fundamentalist mormon memoir: Educated by Tara Westover

History with a side of comedy along the Apalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A calm and collected version of the 2016 craziness: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

An irreverant memoir of the military and christianity all at once: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper

An often untold history of the largest city in America: The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these titles! I truly recommend them all!

October Reading Recap

You guys, I have totally failed you! (If you want to know why, check out Monday’s post!) I read five books last month and reviewed ONE. But anyway, here we are. I still think it’s worth summarizing the books from last month — and believe me, reviews are coming soon! Gimme a couple weeks to write them, but they’re all scheduled so in theory they will be written very soon.

Here’s what I read!

The Silence of the Girls
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Tone: Optimistic through trying times
Structure: Told mostly through the perspective of Achilles slave, with some other scenes thrown in there
Read if you like: Greek mythology, Circe, strong women

Where the Crawdads Sing
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dramatic, hopeful
Structure: Told primarily through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist
Read if you like: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Beartown, The Great Alone

Our Homesick Songs
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: 
Structure: Told from two points of view in two timelines – when the parents met and in present day
Read if you like: Little Fires Everywhere, Unique writing styles, Station Eleven

Come with Me
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Sexually charged, sardonic
Structure: Told through the perspective of each family member
Read if you like: Books set in Silicon Valley, The Circle, Sourdough, Startup

The Nightingale
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Adventurous, loving, emotional
Structure: Told through the perspective of two sisters in different parts of France during WWII. They sometimes overlap, but are often separate
Read if you like: The Alice Network, All The Light You Cannot See, WWII historical fiction in general

Where I’ve Been

Hello my lovely readers,

I have been pretty absent on the blog for a while now. While I was keeping up with some posts and reviews in September/October, they were getting shorter, less heartfelt, and less consistent as the days went on. I finally decided to take a break until I wanted to write again, because producing bad content was worse than producing no content, in my mind.

I’ve spent the last six weeks or so working on myself, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you by way of a catch up. I have a ton of bookish posts in my mind for you, so keep an eye out for that as I work back towards a more regular posting schedule.

So here’s what I’ve been up to:

I doubled down on my job.

20181101_164456-01I’ve had a rocky year with work. For the first three months, I was absolutely miserable at my job, and luckily was able to find a new one. As this was only my second job out of school, no surprise here, that transition was hard. To make things worse, less than two months in to my new job, I found out I had to take two licensing exams within, effectively, two months. I studied for them, but honestly, I didn’t give my all to the test or my job during that time. I ended up failing the first test, and decided not to take the second because I wasn’t prepared for it. By the time all of that was over, I realized I hadn’t given my work my full attention in a very long time.

I want to succeed in my professional life, so I decided to commit to that. One of the best things I did was buy an Erin Condren Life Planner JUST for work. It makes so much sense to me now that I would need this, but so often we use planners for school work or personal life things and not for work. Buying a planner for work, setting daily goals, and achieving them has been huge for me. I’m working hard, feeling successful, and if I do say so myself, impressing myself for the first time in a long time.

I started Meal Prepping.

If you’re like me, you want to eat healthy. I’ve always struggled with eating healthy — I find it so weird that feeding ourselves is one of our biggest struggles as humans, but I’ve decided it’s relatively universal because think about how many services there are out there to help people feed themselves. I’ve been super anti formal “meal plans” for a long time, but somehow fate brought the Workweek Lunch Meal Prep Program and I together. (To be clear WWL is not a diet program and is sooo customizable/flexible so that’s a huge reason I decided to go for it!)

By fate, I mean the instagram algorithm. I was following WWL hoping it would inspire me to start eating the way she did, and a couple weeks in to following Talia, she started her Meal Prep Program. It’s only $8 per month so I put it on my personal card (aka I didn’t ask my boyfriend to pay for it) and got started. It’s an investment at first (I spent about $60 on meal prep containers from costco) and a learning curve (my first prep took me over 3 hours and most things tasted bad), but four (?) months later, I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve become more comfortable in the kitchen, I look forward to cooking every week, I save so much time and so much money, and I finally am able to eat the way I’ve always wanted to eat – healthy meals that make me feel full without feeling bloated. If you’re at all interested, feel free to ask me any questions, or just try Workweek Lunch for yourself

I participated in the Transformation Challenge at my Orangetheory Fitness Studio.

The basic rules are work out 3x per week for six weeks (I  did this!), weigh in at the beginning, middle, and end (I  missed the middle weigh-in), and then do some other challenges (I didn’t do any of these). As you can tell I’m not going to win. I violated 2 of the 3 rules, but the one that I did stick to is, in my opinion, the one that matters.

Three times a week may not seem like that much, but trust me it was surprisingly challenging. There was a time when I was going away for the weekend and went to a 6:50 – 7:50 pm class on Thursday night and was back at the studio for my third class of the week at 6:10 am the following morning. To that end, I attended my first (ever?) 6:10 am gym class. And not only that I attended MANY of them throughout the challenge. I got back in a routine and it felt really good. It may not sound like much but I’m extremely proud of myself for doing 3 classes per week for 6 weeks, and as an added bonus and I can totally feel the difference in my strength levels and the way my clothes fit. Horray!

I got braces.

This is the big one in terms of my mental health over the past month or so. Braces are something I’ve been thinking about for a long time — probably since I moved back from New Zealand, so 3 years ago! I never felt secure enough in my life to take the plunge until recently. I now know that I will be staying in San Diego for long enough to have the treatment, I’m at a new job where people know me, have friendships that I feel secure enough in, and am in a relationship I feel comfortable in (I should hope so haha It’s been 4 years!).

These things may sound vain, but getting braces has really rocked my confidence and I don’t think I’d be able to do it if I knew I had to make new friends or interview for a new job in the near future. I felt like I was at a comfortable place in my life to take the plunge and change my appearance for a year and a half for the greater good of the rest of my life. (I’ll be 30 1/2 when I get them off!) All that being said, it’s been incredibly difficult – physically and mentally – over the past week, but I think I’m starting to come around on the other side of it now.

So that’s it. That’s where I’ve been for the last six weeks – exercising, eating well, getting braces, and working hard at work. And all of that hasn’t allowed for a lot of time or energy to write passionately, consistently, and meaningfully about books on this page. But that’s something I want to change. And as I’m settling in to these new routines, I’d like to start again with this blog. So I hope you’ll keep reading! Thank you for being here!

Required Reading Regarding Brett Kavanaugh

Alright, internet. We’re getting political. A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on “diverse books” and mentioned that I don’t like to talk about political or serious things if I feel like I may not know exactly what I’m talking about. But here’s the thing — over the past year, I’ve read two of the best books I’ve ever read that have taught me the importance of spreading knowledge of the prevalence and effects of sexual assault in our society.

I agree that it’s obvious – men shouldn’t rape women, and men who rape women shouldn’t be appointed to the Supreme Court (and yes, I know it was an attempted rape). But beyond the obvious there is so much that can be learned from reading about this topic. So I have two recommendations for you:

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer

This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important.

This book will teach you that a rape between friends is a rape, that someone who commits one rape is extremely likely to commit rape again, that being raped can ruin your life, that rape victims feel a disproportionate amount of guilt, and that trying to get a rape case prosecuted is so much harder than it sounds. Seriously though, I learned so much and my life has never been the same. I’ve never been so blown away by a book, and I cannot. stop. thinking. about. this. book.

So read it — here’s the amazon link, because trust me it’s worth it. AMAZON LINK.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Does this blog really need to talk about Beartown again? (For real, if I need to I will.) This book is one of the most informative and moving pieces of fiction of I’ve ever read. Central to this story is a rape – ok sorry I ruined the plot twist, but you probably saw that coming. The response from the community – her family, her friends, and her enemies rings so true after reading Missoula and this book moved me beyond words. If you think you want to be understand what a rape victim goes through after the event, this book will illustrate that for you, and you’ll be better for it.

So again – please read this book. It’s one of my absolute favorites and I think it’s so important. Some of my best friends and book club pals have read it and not one has disliked it, so if you don’t trust me, trust them. And here’s the AMAZON LINK. Just do it.

Other Feel Learn Wonder content on Beartown: Beartown Review, Us Against You Review, Meeting Fredrik Backman, Should You Read Beartown?

And finally I just have to point out that both of these books are written by men, so the proof is in the pudding that not all men are bad, but also.. some of them are. Read these books. Be educated. Be passionate. Fight back.

September Reading Recap

September was… busy! Although, for all the right reasons – I traveled to the East Coast for my grandmothers 99th birthday and to meet my newest (and only) nephew! Then continued on to Portugal for my very first solo international trip. It went really well, and as you can see below, I got a lot of quality time with my kindle and a glass of wine 🙂 When in Portugal, right!?

I read six books which is a ton for me considering none of them were audiobooks! Some great, some not as great, but overall a pretty good reading month — here’s what I read:

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Slow, Thoughtful, Tragic
Structure: Non-linear but with a relatively chronological timeline, before turning to a first person reaction
Read if you like: Beautiful writing, Family Sagas, Pachinko, An American Marriage

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Rating: 4/5
Genre: General Fiction
Tone: Bingeworthy, Dramatic, Youthful
Structure: Two points of view in two timelines
Read if you like: Greys Anatomy, Gossip Girl, The It Girl

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Dark, Gothic
Structure: Chronological first person from a single point of view
Read if you like: Tana French, Robert Galbraith, The Death of Mrs. Westaway

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Memoir
Tone: Quirky, Sarcastic, Long
Structure: First person chronological, although the voice changes as Piper grows up
Read if you like: Priestdaddy, Educated, Memoirs in general

Autumn by Ali Smith
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Contemplative, Hopeful, Sweet
Structure: Many stories blended together, no quotations around dialogue
Read if you like: Man Booker Prize Winners, Prose, Slow reads with a little humor

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Repetitive, Sarcastic, Quirky, Repetitive (get it?)
Structure: First person with a linear timeline during periods of being awake over the year
Read if you like: Millenials – otherwise this book is totally unique.

Thoughts on Diverse Books

I’ve learned so much about diverse books since joining #bookstagram – it’s a very hot topic in the world of people sharing book recommendations. I’m always trying to include “diverse books” in my reading, but I’ve realized that there can be many different motivations and definitions of “diverse”, so I wanted to discuss a bit of that here. I don’t normally like to talk about serious topics like this on here, since I don’t think I’m coming from a place of authority, but I have truly seen a new side of diversity recently, and wanted to share that journey with all of you.

 

Awareness

When I first joined #bookstagam, my opinion was that the purpose of diverse books simple – awareness. It’s important to read books about people from other cultures to understand what their world is life. It may be as simple as reading Ginny Moon and seeing the world from the perspective of a foster child on the autism spectrum and understanding that not everyone’s brain works the same way; or reading Left Neglected by Lisa Genova and understanding the impacts of a chronic illness on the victim and their family, both in the immediate and long term. These were great examples of “diverse” books for me, because they taught me things that I wouldn’t otherwise know and raised issues to a wider audience, so that we can know go forward with more understanding and empathy.

Since I thought I was doing the right thing, I didn’t expect to hear that I was thinking about this topic with a heavy side of white privilege. Which takes me to point two.

Representation

I believe it was during Black History Month that I started to see a lot of comments around #bookstagram, about how messed up it is that white people think “diverse reads” are about awareness when it’s clearly about representation, and giving the reader of the minority the opportunity to see herself in popular culture and feel represented and included.

My initial thought was, admittedly, “back off – I’m doing the best I can”, but recently with the production of Crazy Rich Asians among others, I’ve started to see how much it matters to the groups of people who feel under represented. I want to share that I think Elissa and Simone and Her Books, do amazing jobs covering how books featuring an Asian or Asian American protagonist make them feel. I really enjoy reading their reviews about books featuring an Asian character as the main character instead of the “token Asian friend”, and I feel like I’m finally starting to understand why this is such an important topic in literature today.

And now on to my third category –

Own Voices

This one is very new to me, but I think it’s both a combination of the two and an  important subcategory of both. Own voices means books about African Americans written by African Americans, and books about Asians written by Asians, etc. This is truly the best way to achieve diversity because it portrays the truth based on an internal understanding as well as supports minority authors of a minority. Kate Olsen (of @kate.olsen.reads) has been promoting this topic a lot recently, and it has been amazing to me to see the responses of her readers, and how much this topic means to them. I think that’s really cool!

Recommendations

And of course, I want to suggest a few of my favorite diverse reads to you to get you started!

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Stay With Me Ayobami Adabayo

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Let me know what you think of this and if you have any books I should add to my list? Have your opinions on diverse books changed at all recently?