Book Review: You, Me, Everything

My summer reading list this year has included some seriously hard hitting books. I wanted to lighten things up, so this week I’m bringing you three great beach reads! So pack your bags with these three books, and get ready to be drawn in to the drama!


Author: Catherine Isaac
Published: May 1, 2018
Genre: General Fiction
FLW Rating: 3.5/5

Tell me this: what sounds more like a vacation read than reading about a mother and son on vacation in the French countryside? Not much, right? Trust me, this story has a lot more depth than the beautiful cover would lead you to believe, but the airy setting definitely adds to the atmosphere and keeps the plot light and beachy!

You Me Everything tells the story of Jess and her son, William’s, vacation in France at a resort owned by Alex –  Jess’s ex-boyfriend and William’s dad. The book opens on the night of Williams birth, when Alex is mysteriously missing, and then skips ahead 10 years to a time when Jess is trying to reunify the father and son for all of their best interests. This story has components of love, friendship, and family and makes for a good quick read that will give you a sense of the importance of those relationships in your life.

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What gave this book some depth was the condition of Jess’s mom. Jess’s mom has a rare disease called Huntington’s Disease which is kind of like ALS, but actually a whole lot worse. Between Jess coping with seeing her mom in that condition, to wondering about the genetic effects on her life, a lot of the focus of the book was spent on discussing life with a chronic illness.

I truly enjoyed reading this story and thought the plot had just enough twists to keep it interesting, without putting my emotions through the wringer. The best word to describe the plot is comfortable, which is great for a beach read. To me, the best part of this book was watching the relationships unfold – I loved watching Jess and Adam reconnect, and also seeing Adam build his relationship with William.

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My ideal summer afternoon – a good book, some BBQ chips, and a beer from my favorite brewery!

Overall, this book was exactly what I needed it to be – a quick and relatively light book with love, romance, friendship, and family. While the writing was nothing to write home about, I don’t have any real criticisms about it. As I was reading it, someone messaged me on bookstagram and said that this book was “fine but not memorable”, and a few weeks later I would say that sounds about right!

Have you read it? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: The Favorite Sister

My summer reading list this year has included some seriously hard hitting books. I wanted to lighten things up, so this week I’m bringing you three great beach reads. So pack your bags with these selections, and get ready to be drawn in to the drama!


Author: Jessica Knoll
Published: May 15, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 4/5

Confession: I love the Bachelor franchise, including the spin-off show Unreal. So when my book club was deciding on a fun summer read and I heard the description for this one, I was ready to say yes – except for one thing: the opinions I’d seen on bookstagram for this book were atrocious. I’d like to set the record straight and use this as an example that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (but always believe my posts 😉 ). I totally understand why people didn’t like it in the beginning (we’ll get to that), but this book was so worth sticking it out and actually made for a great read and a great book club discussion!

The Favorite Sister is about a group of women who make up the cast of a TV show called Goaldiggers (get it, they go after goals as strong independent women who don’t need men in their lives). The book opens at present day where you find out that one of the women from the cast has died – and there is a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death. The book then jumps back a few seasons and tells the story from the perspective of three of the women, who explain events in their perspective and slowly reveal the whole truth. This book is full of drama, twists, turns, and surprises — which makes is fun to read and fun to discuss!

I just want to say out of the gates that I understand why people didn’t like it. Most of the negative reviews I read stated that they strongly disliked it early on, and decided to stop reading it. I hear you, I’m definitely a proponent putting down a book if you’re not enjoying it, but in this case I would encourage you to continue. The drama at the outset of the book is stupid. It feels below the reader – like something you just don’t need in your life and a weird premise for a book. The women are treating each other poorly and overall the vibe just isn’t great. But YOU GUYS, this is all setting you up for the first twist. I think it’s risky for an author to start a book like this – putting the worst part first in such a long book can clearly rub people the wrong way.

From that point on, I truly enjoyed this book. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed the narration from each of the different perspectives. There were some great twists and turns and the plot kept me engaged until the very last second!

The rocky start makes it a 4/5 for me, but I definitely want to encourage you to read this book! And BONUS it’s been picked up for a TV series. No word yet on when or where but the producer of Wild and Big Little Lies has purchased the rights!

Mid Year Favorites: Published in 2018

It has been such a great reading year for me! So far (well by the end of June) I’ve read 30 books! That was my entire Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year because I wanted to let myself read any book I wanted, regardless of how long it would take me to get through, without worrying about a reading goal! Well, I have been reading books of all lengths and still flying through them! I thought I’d give you a recap of some of my favorites from this year. Yesterday I shared three favorites that were published in 2017 and today I’m sharing my three favorites of 2018 (so far)!


Published in 2018

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An American Marriage – An American Marriage blew me away. I hadn’t read a book more heartbreaking since All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, which is still one of my favorites to this day. I absolutely loved it through its unique structure and my conflicted heart. (Pub Date: February 2018)

Goodreads Summary: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

 

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The Great Alone – This book was unbelieveably good – the characters were so well developed and the pace moved. I read all 400+ pages of his novel over the course of one weekend and considered it a weekend well spent! (Pub Date: February 2018)

Goodreads Summary: Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

 

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Us Against You – Another absolute winner from Fredrik Backman. This was the perfect sequel to Beartown and overall a great book. It had tremendous characters and amazing heart and totally punched me in the gut while leaving me with a sense of hope. (Pub Date: June 2018)

Goodreads Summary: After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.

I’m looking forward to the rest of 2018! My reading will have to take a backseat for the next few months while I study for my engineering licensing exam, but I have so many highly anticipated titles that I know I’ll still get to enjoy!

 

Let me know your favorite book of 2018 (so far!) in the comments below!

Mid Year Favorites: Backlist

It has been such a great reading year for me! So far (well by the end of June) I’ve read 30 books! That was my entire Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year because I wanted to let myself read any book I wanted, regardless of how long it would take me to get through, without worrying about a reading goal! Well, I have been reading books of all lengths and still flying through them! I thought I’d give you a recap of some of my favorites from this year. Today I’m sharing three that were published in 2017 and tomorrow I’ll share my three favorites of 2018!

Back List

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Pachinko – Pachinko was my first dip in to the world of Asian literary fiction. I’m embarassed to say this, but I really hadn’t read many books set in Asia before this year and this started me down a rabbit hole to say the least! I learned so much through this beautifully written book and would recommend it to literally anyone. (Pub date: Feb 2017)

Summary from Goodreads: Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

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Beartown – I’m so ashamed of how long it took me to pick up Beartown. After A Man Called Ove, I’ve been claiming Fredrik Backman as a favorite author without picking up any of this other books. I’m so glad I picked this up because it is beautifully written and incredibly moving. An absolute must read! (Pub Date: April 2017)

Goodreads Summary: People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

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The Leavers – As I wrote in my Instagram post (linked here), I was legitimately sad to return this book to the library. It took me a long time to read because I found it to be pretty heavy (and also I lost it in my suitcase for a couple weeks.), but ultimately I felt such a bond with it before I returned it to the library. I ended up buying a copy of this book because I just need it in my life. Also note: this was part of my Asian literary fiction rabbit hole. (Pub Date: May 2017)

Goodreads Summary: One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

 

Part 2 – Books Published in 2018 will be posted here TOMORROW

Meeting Fredrik Backman

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


I attended my very first author event last weekend (I’ll admit that I have seen David Sedaris live in the past, but I consider that to be more of a show than an author event.) Meeting Backman was an absolute joy. I loved the way he spoke and how authentically himself he was – it lets you know that the amazing voice that you hear in his books is him. Nothing about him was “put on” and although I know speaking in front of large groups of people is his absolute worst nightmare, I am beyond thankful that he does it for us – his readers. Hearing him speak for an hour was incredible and I wanted to highlight some of his thoughts for you.

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Where does he start a book?

The common places, of course, are the story or the characters. Backman’s answer to this was, both but really “the feeling he wants you to leave with as you’re closing the book”. For Beartown and Us Against You the feelings were: Punched in the gut, sad, scared, but also full of hope. He also said he wants you to close the book and think to yourself “I need to talk to someone about this.” I cannot express how strongly I felt each of those emotions. His writing is good.

How does he feel about sports?

This may come as a surprise to some, as it did to me, but Backman actually loves sports. Growing up he played “everything. Except hockey.” What he wanted to do in the Beartown trilogy was many-fold but I want to highlight two in particular.

1 – He wanted to write a book to highlight how important sports are. His wife and his father, he mentioned in particular, don’t enjoy sports and he wanted to write a book to show his wife how important sports are.

2 – He wanted to tackle the issue of damaging sports culture. The way he talked about it was so incredible. He started to describe how the ideal hockey player is tough, and violent, and wins, and doesn’t take no for an answer, and goes out there to fight every day, etc etc. And then he slowly transitioned to “what happens when a girl says no to him? Did we ever have a conversation with him about that? At 17 years old.” The way he ended with “at 17 year old” gave me chills the way his most powerful passages in the book did. It was at that moment that I realized edited or not, this man is the real deal. It also let me know that he doesn’t hate Kevin (from Beartown). It gave me the impression that instead of viewing Kevin as inherently evil, he genuinely felt that sports’ culture had failed him. “Had we ever had a conversation with him about that?” Wow.

Humor

As we all know and love about Backman’s books, particularly the early ones, he uses humor to offset sadness. I particularly loved this in his first book, A Man Called Ove, where every sad moment was brought back to being humorous relatively quickly. While I didn’t notice it as much in Beartown or Us Against You, this was the opening topic of the discussion last weekend. Backman said that as an awkward kid, humor was a way in. “You like people who make you laugh. That’s just normal social behavior.”

But Backman pointed out that it can also be a weapon, and that joking in the locker room as middle school boys and making homophobic jokes is “just a joke” to the people making them, but is destroying the person who’s affected by it.

Also on the topic of humor – Ove is apparently the most common middle aged man’s name in Sweden. It would be like calling the book “A Man Called Mike” in America. Apparently Backman thought it was a funny joke that didn’t translate in to any other language.

Self Doubt

This was a total curveball in the conversation – it was the final question of the night and a woman from the back row asked how he’s overcome any issues with self doubt. I naiively thought that it was a silly question, but then was humbled by Backman’s honestly.

At first he said “I haven’t” and the audience laughed.

Then Backman said he struggles with serious anxiety, and there’s nothing funny about not overcoming self doubt. After events like we had today – which were full of respect and openness – he feels the way he does the morning after a party when he drank too much. “Why did I say that? Did I have to …? I wish I hadn’t… .”

He shared that on his last book tour he called his wife crying in the middle of the night (Swedish time) because he had so much anxiety that he has panic attacks – so this time his wife is traveling with him.

One thing that I found truly remarkable and I have so much respect for him sharing is that he’s in therapy because he doesn’t know how to deal with success. His exact words were “I’m in therapy for not being a failure.” It was amazing to hear someone open up about the topic of mental health and answer the question with so much honesty.

 

There is so much more of this conversation I would LOVE to share with you, but neither you, nor I, have the time to share it all here! I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more from Backman – I know I sure did!

Book Review: Us Against You

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: June 5, 2018
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

Sequels are hard – I imagine hard to write, sometimes hard to read, and honestly, as I sit here writing this, hard to judge. Us Against You is a phenomenal sequel and overall a phenomenal book – although, YES you do need to read Beartown first.

Going in to it, I wondered how the story would be set up – would it have the same pattern of an arch as Beartown? What will be the drama this time? I think the answer to that comes from the fact that while Beartown was a great standalone novel, it never should have been a standalone novel because the consequences of what happened in that book need to be allowed to play out in the public eye– so that we can see, hear, feel, experience, understand, and learn from what happened. Us Against You didn’t need its own drama or its own arch because the drama of Beartown wasn’t over. And for continuing that so strongly, Us Against You in a perfect sequel.

WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ BEARTOWN THE FOLLOWING MAY BE A SPOILER! NOT 100% BUT SOME. READ THIS FIRST

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Us Against You is, as I mentioned, the sequel to Beartown – a book about a hockeytown in Sweden, in which the only thing going for it is its hockey team. Through that mentality, a group of hockey players is elevated above the rest of society, which creates unhealthy dynamics for young men – most about seventeen years old. When this unhealthy sports culture creates a conflict in the town, each member of the community is left to deal with how we got here and where we go. Some will leave town, some will hate those who leave town, and other will find comfort in new places. Backman writes with so much feeling and creates not only an extraordinary book, but an extraordinary sequel.

While reading this book, I was admittedly less enrapt by the plot than I was when I was reading Beartown itself, but I  think that’s because a) the shock had worn off and b) because it was hard to read about the characters I had grown to love go though such hardship.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book, was that Kevin, one of the negative characters from Beartown, wasn’t a focus in this part of the story. After what he did in the last book, he wasn’t a character I wanted to see again. I loved the focus on Benji – who kind of became the star of this show, and Vidar.

In general, what I love about Backman and his writing is that where there are glimpses of sadness, there are glimpses of hope too. He balances tragedy with humor, and gut wrenching pain with optimism, and I think that is why he can teach you such a lesson while also leaving you wanting more at the end of the day.

I highly recommend this book, because I highly highly recommend Beartown and Beartown would not be complete without this sequel. You may have heard that Beartown will be a trilogy – but for now it’s just two books. I have heard from friends who have met him in person in other cities (he didn’t talk about this when I met him in San Diego), that he’s not ready to start on the third book quite yet because these two took a lot out of him. UNDERSTANDABLE! I just read ’em and I have the most serious book hangover of the year. So, enjoy these two as we all wait patiently and full of hope for the third book in the trilogy!


I hope you’ll stick around this week for my other posts – I have so much I want to share with you from this experience!

July: What I’m Reading

In June I read SEVEN books! Horray! In order of ranking (reviews linked where available!)

Looking in to July, I have a basic TBR but still a little scattered. (I also just found out I have to study for an engineering licensing test this month so, if I read 3 books I’ll be happy!)

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New Heartbreaking Literary Fiction

If you’re new around here: heartbreaking literary fiction is my jam. I’m not totally sure why I do this to myself but I love a good book that gives me all the feels.

Top Priority: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. Sarah from Viking Books kindly sent me a copy of The Great Believers so I’m excited to read and review this book. It came highly recommended by Liberty Hardy of Book Riot who said readers of The Hearts Invisble Furies would love it. (Me!) The plot also includes the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and a cult, so ….  sign me up!

On My Radar: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This book has been all over the place recently with many of my favorite bloggers claiming it as their favorite of 2018 so far! I’m dying to read it but hesitating to pick it up until the exact right time!

Books from Favorite Authors

I’m trying to read more books by favorite authors! It’s a great way to explore older titles that I missed in earlier years.

Top Priority: The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.loved The Great Alone so much that I knew I had to add this to my TBR. My neighbor lent it to me recently and nothing bumps a book to the top of my TBR than having it lent to me by a friend!

On My Radar: Calypso by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is definitely a favorite author of mine. I recently sung his praise on my post about my Top 4 Favorite Authors, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say that expectations are high for this collection!

ARC’s!

I’m so grateful to the publishers who sent me ARCs and I’m trying to get through each of them by their pub date. I currently have three that come out August 21st, so luckily I have some time!

Top Priority: Boomtown by Sam Anderson. This book sounds downright fantastic — who’s ever heard of a nonfiction about the history of a midwestern city being described as “a fantastical saga”. I cannot wait to learn more! Bonus points: This was listed as a top Galley for August in the NetGalley newsletter and the neighbor mentioned above is from OKC, so I can’t wait to discuss with them!

On My Radar: The Distance Home by Paula Saunders. Since moving out west last year, I’ve been trying to read more books set in the American West — and not just LA or San Francisco. This novel sounded amazing by description, and since recieving it from Random House, it’s been nominated for the Center for Fiction First Novel Award. I’m excited to read this one!

A Book from my Unread Shelf!

I’m waiting for Whitney to announce the challenge for July, but top contenders are Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price, and What Happened by Hillary Clinton! If you want more on the Unread Shelf Challenge, check out my page for that here.

Book of the Month

I skipped this month! None of the choices stuck out to me except for Ghosted which I had already read! You can read my review here if you’re interested 🙂

Let me know what you’re excited to read next month!

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson
Published: 1997
Genre: Travel Memoir
FLW Rating: 3/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the June Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here


The June Challenge for the Unread Shelf Project was to read a book about TRAVEL. I’m not usually a travel memoir person, but I do want to stick with this challenge and I did have one travel-y book on my unread shelf, so I  decided to read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

A Walk in the Woods is about Bryson’s experience on the Appalatian Trail. He sets off without much knowledge of the trail or of backpacking, but decides to give it a go. What follows is the comical story of his mishaps and misadventures, but also a well written history of the trail. Like his other books, this book is packed with classic Bryson wit and humor which makes for an entertaining journey!

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Two things went wrong for me in this book (both of which are unrelated to the book)…  The first is that the day I started listening to it (I used my Scribd app for this), I met someone who had hiked the trail. I told him I was listening to the book and he spoiled two major components for me. I didn’t think a book like this could be spoiled, but trust me it can.

The second is that it was deleted from the Scribd app while I was listening to it. No bueno. You may be thinking, “but this is the unread shelf project, so you own the book – no big deal!” But I ended up not finishing this book because of it. I just never felt like sitting down to finish it because switching mediums felt discouraing to me.

REVIEW TIME:

My favorite part about this book were the historical components. I noticed particularly during this book that any passage that was strictly factual, I LOVED. Bryson has an amazing way of telling a story, or creating a story out of facts. That section about the National Forest Service – amazing! Hearing about the town in Pennsylvania that’s had a fire burning under it for several decades now – fascinating! But hearing about the daily life of him walking on the Trail and finding food to eat – not for me. It just lacked originality or excitement, particularly compared to the more historical/political/scientific parts.

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Just a photo of my boyfriend enjoying the outdoors – taken by me, also enjoying the outdoors

Despite these laments, I have loved some Bryson books in the past, so I wanted to share those here. My absolute favorite is At Home – he tells the history of each room in the house dating back from when most people lived in single room halls. Even the development of a hallway was monumental! And book people will enjoy that there’s a chapter on libraries and he tells the story of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. So good!

Others I’ve enjoyed are In a Sunburned Country, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and my boyfriend’s favorite (which I have not read) One Summer: America 1927.

Have you read this — or anything else by Bill Bryson? Let me know what you thought!

 

Road Trip Across America with These Great Books

Last summer my boyfriend and I road tripped across the US as we moved ourselves and our stuff from New York City to San Diego. Going in to the trip, I wanted to read books about places we were traveling to, but, unfortunately, life got in the way. Over the past year I’ve discovered several books about places we traveled through and I wanted to share them! Since the 4th of July is all about Sea to Shining Sea (and is shockingly coming up next week), I thought now would be a great time to share this list with you.

Road Trip

New York City

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

As someone who lived in New York in their early twenties, I absolutely loved this book! When people ask me if they should read it, my response is always “Do you love New York?” because if you don’t this book is not right for you. Sweetbitter is very New York-y but also a great coming of age novel full of amazing passages. I read this one on my kindle and highlighted so many paragraphs full of beautiful prose. This is the only fiction on this list – I thought it would be best to start with something light!

Synopsis from Goodreads: Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.

Pittsburgh, PA

Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

If there’s one thing I want you to know about Pittsburgh, as a native Pittsburgher, it’s how much we love our football team. While the Steelers are the life of the city, our football culture actually starts much younger — particularly in the neighborhood of Aliquippa. Playing Through the Whistle is a book about that team and sheds light on a lot of Pittsburgh history!

Synopsis from Goodreads: In the early twentieth century, down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company built one of the largest mills in the world and a town to go with it. Aliquippa was a beacon and a melting pot, pulling in thousands of families from Europe and the Jim Crow south. The J&L mill, though dirty and dangerous, offered a chance at a better life. It produced the steel that built American cities and won World War II and even became something of a workers’ paradise. But then, in the 1980’s, the steel industry cratered. The mill closed. Crime rose and crack hit big.

But another industry grew in Aliquippa. The town didn’t just make steel; it made elite football players, from Mike Ditka to Ty Law to Darrelle Revis. Pro football was born in Western Pennsylvania, and few places churned out talent like Aliquippa. Despite its troubles—maybe even because of them—Aliquippa became legendary for producing football greatness. A masterpiece of narrative journalism, Playing Through the Whistletells the remarkable story of Aliquippa and through it, the larger history of American industry, sports, and life. Like football, it will make you marvel, wince, cry, and cheer.

Oklahoma City

Boomtown by Sam Anderson

OK, I admit it, Oklahoma City is not directly on the route. When we drove this route, we cut through Kansas City, but I don’t have any books on Kansas City, so I’m going to ask you to take a slight detour on this trip!

Boomtown is the FANTASTICAL SAGA of Oklahoma City. The subtitle highlights “its chaotic founding, its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis. What more do you need? (This one is out 8/21 from Crown Publishing)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Anderson reports on the amazing revitalization that has occurred over the course of the last 20 years, starting with Oklahoma City’s adoption of the MAPS program; he’ll show how the city’s colorful leaders–its mayor, police chief, and  a few local celebrities–have built up an unassuming city into a thriving urban center, full of artists, musicians, and, of course, sports fans. Anderson will track the dramatic story of how a consortium of business leaders purchased the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, brought it to Oklahoma City, and renamed the team the Thunder. Sam Presti, the charismatic young GM of the Thunder, has turned the team–which includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook–from scrappy underdogs to elite champions in less than five years.

Boulder, Colorado

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

Little known (or maybe this is just me) fact: The Colorado River starts in Boulder, CO. On our trip we spent a day in Boulder, a couple days in Denver, and then continued through western Colorado where the I-70 took us across the Colorado river multiple times.

Where the Water Goes was hands down one of my favorite books of 2017 and a book I reference frequently in daily life in Southern California. There is so much to learn about the way the Colorado River’s water is utilized and how it affects so many facets of society. Owen does a great job highlighting the politics – between the farmers and the city dwellers, between Arizona and California, and between the US and Canada – and also the natural side of taming the waters. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and have such a better understanding of the environment from Colorado to California!

Synopsis from Goodreads: The Colorado River is a crucial resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.–Mexico border where the river runs dry. 

Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill all the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.

The Hoover Dam

The Profiteers by Sally Denton

While we’re on the topic of the Colorado River, why not make a stop at the Hoover Dam? The Hoover Dam is still one of the largest infrastructure projects in US History and while I may have picked this book up for the engineering aspect, I ended up learning so much about international relations. In my humble opinion, this book is a must read for all Americans.

Synopsis from Goodreads: The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. “Dad” Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to “build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe.

Today Bechtel is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world, enriched and empowered by a long history of government contracts and the privatization of public works, made possible by an unprecedented revolving door between its San Francisco headquarters and Washington. Bechtel executives John McCone, Caspar Weinberger, and George P. Shultz segued from leadership at the company to positions as Director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, respectively.

 Los Angeles

The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

YOU MADE IT! The Pacific Ocean! Your sentiment is not unlike that of the early pioneers reaching Los Angeles for the first time 🙂 … which leads us to our last book, The Mirage Factory. This book tells the history of LA, predominantly from 1900 – 1920, by following the three pioneers who shaped LA in to what is today. Mulholland brought water to LA through a series of viaducts, Griffith brought the movie industry, and Aimee Semple McPherson brought the missionaries and created the identity of LA as a “spiritual” city. There is so much to learn here and amazing that it all happened in the same few decades! This book is a must if you’ve ever spent some time in LA — or even just dreamed of it!

Synopsis from Goodreads: Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California was sleepy desert farmland. Then from it, nearly overnight, emerged one of the world’s largest and most iconic cities. The birth and evolution of Los Angeles–its seemingly impossible, meteoric rise–can be attributed largely to three ingenious but deeply flawed people. D.W. Griffith, the early film pioneer who first conceived of feature-length movies, gave Hollywood its industry. Aimee Semple McPherson, a young evangelist and radio preacher, infused the city with its spiritual identity as a hub for reinvention. And William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant turned ditch-digger turned autodidactic engineer, would design the massive aqueduct that made survival in the harsh climate feasible.

But while Mulholland, Griffith, and Semple McPherson were all masters of their craft, each would self-destruct in spectacular fashion. D.W. Griffith, led by his ballooning ego, would go on to produce a string of commercial failures; Semple McPherson would be crucified in the tabloids for fabricating an account of her own kidnapping; and a dam designed by Mulholland would fail just hours after he gave it a safety inspection.

Spanning from 1904 to 1930, The Mirage Factory is the enthralling tale of an improbable city and the people who willed it into existence by pushing the limits of human engineering and peddling fantasies.

 I hope you liked this trip across the US! And for my US readers, enjoy the holiday next week!

My Top 4 Favorite Authors

This past week I was in a conversation with my boyfriend and Tana French came up. To emphasize my love for her books, I made the claim that she was in my top 5 favorite authors — and then felt the need to justify that with a formal list. By the time I was done listing favorite authors I only had 4!

Here’s the criteria: I must have read more than one book by the author, and must have recommended them to everyone I know. I have a ton of favorite authors of whom I’ve only read one book, but that didn’t seem fair.

 

Tana French

Of course this list had to start with Tana French. Tana French is my true favorite author — she’s the author who got me back in to reading after my high school and college slump, probably, honestly, the only author I read during college! A few years ago when that “send one book, recieve thirty-six” book chain was going around, In The Woods was the book I chose to send to my recipient — it’s just that good that I had to share!

Tana French is the author of the Dublin Murder Series. What I love so much about her books is how she focuses so much of the plot on the character development of both those involved in the crime and also the detectives. They are truly engrossing mysteries!

Start with: In the Woods

David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a true comic. His books crack me up without fail. Besides that he’s a reliably funny voice when he’s on the podcast, This American Life, and his shows make for a great night out — or even weekend away. David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors, one of the first things my boyfriend and I ever bonded over, and the inspiration for one of our best weekends away – we went to Poughkeepsie to see his show! I recently purchased his latest book, Calypso, and I can’t wait to read it!

Start with: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls or Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day (there’s no order!)

Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is another author who has come in to my life in many forms. I first was introduced to him through a random Goodreads recommendation — I cannot tell you how strange that is for me. But it worked!

At any rate, I told my boyfriend about it and when I got home from work that day, a copy of it was on my bed! I LOVED it so much and it became my favorite book. A few months later, we spent a date night at a boutique theatre in New York City watching the Swedish version of the movie based on the book.

I thought I couldn’t love the book or the author any more, but then I bought his short story The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and lovingly cried through the whole thing. Recently, I made my way through Beartown and it’s sequel, Us Against You, and attended the book tour when Backman visited San Diego yesterday. To say I’m a fan is an understatement!

Start with: Beartown

Erik Larson

Rounding out the book genres, my absolute favorite nonfiction author is Erik Larson. My favorite book of his is Dead Wake, which came out back in 2015. 2015 was really the first year I got back in to reading, so diving in to this book was such a treat. I couldn’t believe how readable and detailed it was for a nonfiction of events occurring 100 years ago. I discovered Erik Larson back in highschool when his Devil in a White City and have been singing his praises since. While I didn’t enjoy In the Garden of Beasts quite as much as the other two, I’m looking forward to reading more of his books in the future!

Start with: Dead Wake

Do you have any favorite authors you’d recommend? Let me know!