Ideas for the Professional Book Nerds Reading Challenge! Book Recommendations | Books to add to your read list | What should I readRead More
If there is one thing I learned from massively failing my 2018 reading challenges, it’s that if I don’t pick out specific books to fill criteria for the categories, I won’t meet them. My whole point in participating in these challenges is to read outside my comfort zone, and if I don’t have a plan, I’ll keep reading what I gravitate toward (thrillers, contemporary fiction).
Happily, I’m doing pretty well on this year’s Modern Mrs Darcy challenge. I’ve already completed a book I’ve been meaning to read (Columbine), a book about a topic that fascinates you (The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding), a book recommended by someone with great taste (Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk), a book you chose for the cover (Looker), a book by an author who is new to you (The Dreamers), and a book in translation (An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good).
Anne did a great job making these categories accessible. I love the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, but those are…well… HARD. (I’ll be sharing ideas for their categories too- I have some good books earmarked and I’m excited to see how far I’ll get when I’ve got the picks mapped out).
In this post, I’m going to skip sharing recs for A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read, A Book Published Before You Were Born, and Three Books by the Same Author since those are so personal, but I did want to share ideas for everything else.
A Book About a Topic that Fascinates You
The White House: White Houses (fiction about Eleanor Roosevelt and her alleged lover Lorena Hickok), The Residence (behind the scenes in The White House), From the Corner of the Oval (memoir- a young woman gets a job as a stenographer in the White House)
Music: 27: A History of the 27 Club (non fiction about all of the musicians, i.e. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse… who all died at age 27), Mercury and Me (biography by Freddie Mercury’s lover, Jim Hutton), Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond (a biography from Led Zeppelin’s manager)
Serial Killers: Death in the Air (a serial killer terrorizes London amidst an environmental disaster), The Good Nurse (a nurse murders his patients for years), Whoever Fights Monsters (non fiction about of the FBI profiler who coined the term Serial Killers)
The Royal Wedding: The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding (fiction about the embroiders who worked on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress), The Royal We (fiction about an American who falls in love with a price)
A Book in the Backlist of a Favorite Author
Lisa Jewell- The Girls in the Garden, The House We Grew Up In, The Third Wife
Tayari Jones- Silver Sparrow, Leaving Atlanta
Jesmyn Ward- Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped
John Green- Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines
Jodi Picoult- Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper, Leaving Time
A Book Recommended by Someone With Great Taste
Favorites lists from some of my top recommendation sources! (And my own- TBR Etc’s Best Books of 2018).
Sarah’s Book Shelves Best Books of 2018
Johann’s top 10 Horror Books of 2018
Larry H (my favorite recommendation source from Goodreads)
Crime By the Book’s Best Psychological Thrillers of 2018
Book Bejeweled and her Twister Hall of Fame
A Book You Chose for the Cover
You probably don’t need my help for this one, but here are some books that I’m pretty sure initially caught my attention because of their cover.
Queenie, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, Looker, We Cast a Shadow, My Sister, the Serial Killer, If You Leave Me, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, The Mothers, Home Fire, Ginger Bread, American Housewife, #fasionvictim
A Book By an Author that is New to You
Some of my favorite books written by authors you may not have read yet: Michael Robotham (Thriller-The Secrets She Keeps), Katherine Center (Contemporary Fiction-How to Walk Away), Natasha Mostert (Supernatural-Season of the Witch), Kekla Magoon (YA- How it Went Down)
A Book in Translation
A Book Outside Your (Genre) Comfort Zone
Here are some picks that I really enjoyed that were outside my genre comfort zone.
Please feel free to share your suggestions in the comments! I think half of the reason I love these challenges is because I like finding books to fit the categories… hmm.
Find me here-
Publication Date: November 15th, 2016
Page Count: 304
First Sentence: "The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other."
Book Description: Trevor Noah's path from South Africa to host of The Daily Show begins with a crime- his birth. He was born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father, a union that was considered illegal. His mother goes to great lengths to keep him hidden from the authorities, because he could easily be taken away from her because his skin is lighter than hers. Post-apartheid, Noah begins to explore a liberated life and grows into the man that his mother took such great pains to raise.
My thoughts: I recently finished Born a Crime, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. First- I listened to this on Audible and he narrated it himself. I love when a memoir that is narrated by the author. Noah is telling his own story, so no one could have told it in a more authentic way than him. It doesn't hurt that he's a gifted speaker. He speaks several languages and hearing him pronounce the names and cities added a lot to the story for me. He's also really good at using different voices for the characters in his life (I can still hear his mother yelling "Trevor!")
Speaking of his mother... what an amazing lady. You can tell they have an incredible relationship. He and his mom went through a TON (...the ending will blow you away.) There are stories of domestic violence, racism, crime, and poverty. The book is called Born a Crime because he was, quite literally, born a crime. His mother is Black and his father is White, and he was born during apartheid, where it was illegal to have sex with a person from outside of your race. He's Colored- a term that exists is South Africa to describe someone who is half black and half white. Through his vivid stories, the reader learns a lot about politics and what it was like for him to have to come into his own and grow up in his era.
I have to be honest- I didn't know a ton about Trevor Noah going into this book. I was really captivated by the title: Born a Crime. Trevor is my age- 33 and often I found that I had to remind myself that this book was written in modern day. This book could have been quite heavy. And it is, in a way. That said, there are still a ton of moments of comedy in his story. One of the funniest things I've ever read in my entire life happens in this novel- the chapter where he was describing his having to use the bathroom in front of his blind grandma. Seriously. I was laughing like a maniac in my car by myself when I heard that.
Overall, this was one of best memoirs I've ever read. This wasn't about his rise to fame. In fact, he talks very little about that. It was much more about the politics of South Africa and the disparity that still exists post apartheid. Noah has such a vivid memory- I'm incredibly impressed at the level of detail he was able to recall. He's a fantastic story teller. This book is a balance of truth, seriousness, and light and I really enjoyed it.
Favorite Quote: "In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don't see the person it affects. We don't see their face. We don't see them as people. Which, was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place. To keep the victims of apartheid out of sight, and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don't see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don't live with them."
Rating: All the stars! 5/5
Siracusa | Delia Ephron
The book I chose for the MMD Reading Challenge category of a Book Set Somewhere You've Never Been but Would Like to Visit is Siracusa, by Delia Ephron. It's set in various cities in Italy, but as one of the narrator's point out, the city of Siracusa is where everything officially unravels.
I love the style in which this story is told- Rashomon Syle, where the same story is told from the viewpoint of several characters. In this case, the story is told by Lizzie, Michael, Finn, and Taylor. Lizzie and Finn dated when they were young. They run into each other several years later, are married to other people, but somehow decide it's a good idea for them and their spouses to become travel companions. Lizzie is a free spirit and decides on Siracusa as their travel destination because it's off the beaten path and likely to annoy Finn's spoiled wife, Taylor. What Lizzie doesn't know is that her husband, Michael, has a mistress and said mistress is going to find her way to Italy as well.
I'll admit- not a one of these characters was very likable. Lizzie is a journalist who lives in the shadow of her one hit wonder writer husband. She thinks she's happy, but is essentially existing and allowing herself to believe that everything is great in her marriage. Finn is a restaurant owner who drinks too much and spends too much time at work to get away from his [weird] wife, Taylor, and their [weirder] daughter, Snow. The relationship between Taylor and Snow is codependent and unhealthy, but we find out that Snow might not be as naive and fragile as she seems. Taylor was comically delusional and I kept waiting for Snow to snap. All of the characters are amazing at lying to themselves, and it was strangely entertaining to watch things unravel.
Three pages in, you already feel like you know so much. I love how the narrators talk straight to the reader and allude to the impending doom right away. It made for a quick and compelling read. This book reminded me of The Nest in a lot of ways, so if you liked that book you would probably like this one. At just over 300 pages, it was a quick read. It's not a story that I'm likely to come back to, but I did enjoy the trip while I was there.
In 2017, I've really committed myself to reading more books with substance. I LOVE a breezy memoir or page turning thriller, but I find that I am able to devour these guilt free if I also find ways to work substantive novels into the mix. I thought a good way to do this was to try and complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy "Reading for Growth" list.
The book I chose to complete the "Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner" category was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. (It's also the group pick for the Goodreads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge Group for February). Now, I KNOW you all don't need me to review this book, because it was everywhere in 2016. It was a #1 NY Times Bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Ms. Winfrey herself selected it as a book for her book club. At any rate, I did still want to share my reactions.
I am absolutely a fan of this book, and I feel the praise was well deserved. I recommend that you not read the synopsis. (Actually, that's the way that I prefer to go into most novels- knowing that there are elements I'll like about it and not knowing much else). I read the synopsis on Amazon after I finished the book and was surprised at how much of the plot was given away. The basics: this book a fictional account of a slave named Cora and her attempt to escape from a plantation using the underground railroad. The twist is that this underground railroad is literally a railroad that, with the help of allies, transports anyone that is able to find the secret entrances to the next stop on the line. A fellow slave, Caesar, recruits Cora to escape with him because her mother had escaped years before and he believes her to be good luck. The story unfolds and we follow the two throughout their journey to South Carolina and beyond.
I wouldn't call this a thriller, but I couldn't put it down. I thought this one would be one of those books that was important to read but very tough to get through, but I was so wrong. This book is fiction first, then history. Because of this, it's accessible to all readers. I loved that Colson Whitehead told this story with respect and in a way that doesn't let us forget the horrors that occurred in the segregated South. Whitehead infuses Cora into the worst of situations, all of which are a take on true events (think the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The story was almost Forrest Gump like in this way. Cora is a very well fleshed out character who, despite experiencing horrors that not many of us could imagine, retains a sense of humor and hope. She has become one of my favorite characters and her story will stick with me. The writing is subtle and I will come back to this and read it again. I would have liked to more know about some of the secondary characters. This book reminded me about things that were somehow glossed over in my U.S. History education, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong writing, and/or memorable female protagonists.
There were so many powerful sentences in this book, but a couple stood out to me.
Plantation justice was mean and constant, but the world was indiscriminate.
Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.
Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.