My Ultimate Book Recommendation List

Once again I’m linking up with Shay and Erika for Let’s Look and today’s topic is favorite reads so I thought it was the perfect time to share my master list of book recommendations!

Top Book Recommendations

Let's Look

I frequently get asked for recommendations for books and I have been wanting to make a giant list for some time now (and even put it on my 19for19 list this year!) I do want to first to share this disclaimer though: I realize everyone’s preferences are different. These books are my personal favorites and the ones I find myself going back to again and again when others ask for recommendations. I think most are well-written, enjoyable reads. Some are on here even if they covered difficult topics that weren’t necessarily “enjoyable” but were thought-provoking or challenged my mind in some way. Some are included because they gave me a book hangover and I just could not stop thinking about what I read! I love them all for different reasons. You may not! I think what is most helpful is to read through my previous book reviews and see if you agree with my take on books that you have also read. If you find yourself nodding along to my reviews because you felt similarly when reading, we likely have similar taste. If you find yourself frequently saying “what was so great about that book? I thought it was boring” or “she’s crazy – how did she not enjoy that book? I thought it was brilliant” then maybe we just have different styles and you might not like my recommendations.

I didn’t have time to include a review of every book but did sometimes add a little note with a quick thought or two. I also tried to somewhat categorize these into basic genres just for ease of searching. I hope you find something here to enjoy! Without further ado, here are my top recommendations!

MY VERY FAVORITES

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman (easy to read yet captivating and meaningful. As my fellow book lover friend Kaitlin described – “a beach read with depth”)

-ANYTHING written by Kate Morton. The Lake House, The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton, The Secret Keeper, The Distant Hours  – she is brilliant and I LOVE her books (I still need to read her most recent one – The Clockmaker’s Daughter). They are just phenomenal historical fiction – if I had to choose one to start I’d say The Secret Keeper but you honestly can’t go wrong with any.

General Fiction

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (This one is haunting. It stayed with me a looooong time)

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (read first)

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams (read second; they aren’t technically sequels but I would still read them in that order)

Defending Jacob by William Landry

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid (very thought provoking in a what-the-heck-would-I-do-if this-happened-to-me way)

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

-My Grandmother Asked me to Tell you She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (read first)

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio (read second)

“Beach” Reads

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

If You Only Knew by Kristin Higgins

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan (the last one is my favorite!)

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (cute little fictionalized William + Kate story)

Psychological Thriller

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins (I feel like everyone has read it by now, but when it came out it blew my mind!)

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond (creepy and cult-like)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Final Girls by Riley Sager (part psychological thriller, part homage to campy-slasher movies)

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (if you’ve read Gone Girl or Girl on a Train, it’s similar and may feel overdone but it comes with a HOT DANG twist)

Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

World War Two Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (this book does get very heavy and difficult to read at times)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Young Adult

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (this is a series!)

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

-And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include that Harry Potter is among my very favorite series 😉

Nonfiction

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

-Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Educated by Tara Westover

 

And that’s my list (for now!) What are some of your go-to book recommendations?

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January 2019 Book Reviews

My first book review of 2019 is finally here!

I have been so excited for this post because this month, I picked four absolute winners. We’ve got historical fiction, some lighter, fun reads, and one captivating survival story.  I really enjoyed each book this go round and I’m so eager to share them with you, so let’s do this!january 2019 book reviews

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy following Shay’s blog Mix and Match Mama and I particularly like following her book reviews. I feel like we have pretty similar taste in what we enjoy reading so I often add a few of her suggestions to my To Be Read list. When she named this book as her very favorite book of 2018, I immediately put it on my list and it did not disappoint! It follows Ella, an American Rhodes scholar traveling to England to study literature at Oxford despite having a promising political career opportunity back home. While there, she takes missteps, develops friendships, and meets a handsome man. I don’t want to spoil to much, but this was such an enjoyable read! I loved the characters and got emotionally invested in the plot. It was the perfect blend of lighthearted fun and serious depth and made me want to ride around on a bike exploring all the charming, quaint little nooks around Oxford.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

This was also a top read of 2018 for Shay so I put it on my list as well and OH. MY. GOSH. This book amazed me. Two strangers survive a plane crash on a remote, virtually unknown island in the South Pacific and have to work together to survive. I wasn’t really sure what all to expect here, but I absolutely loved how the author wove this story together. The story mostly centered on their life on the island but there were also chapters that included what I can only call “extra” information from other time periods that helped tie everything together. I thought this story was beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting, complex, and captivating – I could not put it down and it gave me a week-long book hangover (you know, when you can’t even think about starting another book because the last one you read still weighs so heavily on your mind). I loved it!

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a book from cover to cover in one day, but I did it with this one. This book follows Rill Foss, a 12-year-old “river rat” living on a houseboat in the 1930s, and Avery Stafford, a well-connected lawyer with possible political ambitions in present day. These two women have seemingly nothing in common but as their individual stories unfold, connections are made and their stories begin to weave together in ways neither would have imagined. I had this book sitting on my couch one day when my mom was visiting and after reading the insert summary she promptly declared “I could never read this book!” While I personally loved it, it can be a very heavy read, as the fiction story is based off of a disturbing real-life scandal in Memphis from the 1920s to the 1950s (one I had previously known nothing about). There were times where it made my mama heart just break into pieces; however, despite the tragic and distressing events of the past, the author spun an emotional and moving tale of  family, identity, and belonging. I couldn’t put it down and flew through it.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

In October, I read Crazy Rich Asians and really enjoyed it, then in December I read China Rich Girlfriend and thought it was just okay. This month, I finished the trilogy with Rich People Problems and oh my gosh I LOVED it! I think it helped that there was one really big central story line and just a few side plots that tied together. In this story, Nick Young’s incredibly wealthy grandmother is dying and all his wacky relatives are gathering together in her mansion in Singapore to pay their last respects (and make sure they’re in her will). I loved the characters, I loved the downright zany situations they find themselves in, I loved the way everything from the previous two books came together in just a perfect way. I was really satisfied with how this wrapped up the trilogy and didn’t leave any loose ends. This was definitely my favorite book in the series, but you really do need to read the whole series in order because the plot lines build off one another.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

October 2018 Book Review {Part One}

A couple weeks ago, I finished up reviewing all the books I read over the summer and planned to do one monthly wrap-up from then on. However, this month I have been able to read a little more than I anticipated so rather than have one huge review, I’m breaking it up into two smaller reviews. So here goes Part One of my October reads!

October 2018 Book Reviews - Crazy Rich Asians, Surprise Me, Behind Closed Doors

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians

New Yorkers Rachel and Nick have been dating for almost two years when Nick invites her to spend the summer holiday visiting his family and home in Singapore. What Nick does not prepare Rachel for is that his family is insanely wealthy and he is considered to be one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. A lot of family meddling and mishaps ensue and it’s all pretty amusing. This book alternates perspectives from a variety of characters – from Rachel and Nick to Nick’s cousins to Rachel’s friend’s dad and lots of others in between. There are so many perspectives but I actually think that makes it a super fun read. The way these characters live is larger than life and some chapters are downright zany. I thought this was a clever, charming, very entertaining story and I’m excited to read the next book in this trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend. If you’re looking for an amusing light read, I recommend checking this book out!

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise Me

Married couple Dan and Sylvie finish each other’s sentences and know everything there is to know about each other. When they find out they might be married another 68 years, they both panic at how long that seems and decide to add some fun to that time with project Surprise Me, where the goal is to surprise one another with out-of-the-box gifts and experiences. Obviously, not all surprises go smoothly and things start to spin a little out of control. While the premise seemed interesting enough, this book was not especially fun for me to read. I did not connect with the main character, Sylvie, who seemed neurotic, desperate, and annoying. Even though the author clearly tried to build interest by dropping hints that there were things going on around Sylvie that had yet to be fully revealed, it was hard to drum up enthusiasm for how things were going to play out. There were some boring parts and some cute parts. Overall it was an okay read – I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors

Jack and Grace have a picture-perfect marriage. Jack is a successful lawyer and Grace is a charming homemaker. They throw delightful dinner parties, take exotic vacations, and live in a gorgeous mansion. They seem to have it all, but you never really know what goes on when the guests go home and the doors close. I have read a lot of psychological thrillers lately and I have to say, this was one of my favorites! The plot is intriguing, original, and hair-raising. I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare and kept trying to find a way for them to “escape” – it was gripping and terrifying and so so good! This book made me turn on the lights at night, even days (weeks?) after I had finished reading it. It is just haunting. I highly recommend if you want a good thriller!

As always, let me know if you have a great suggestion for what I should read next!

September 2018 Book Reviews

Today is the final installment of catching up on book reviews from my summer reading list. After this, I will just have one book review each month. I’m currently working through my October reading stack so that review will likely come in a couple weeks.

September 2018 Book Review

Let’s jump in to what I read in September – I’ve got an eclectic mix this time around!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

You Think It

I saw this collection on the featured shelf in the library and decided to give it a chance since I rarely read short stories. There is no doubt that this author is talented and the stories are well written; however, I just didn’t connect with or enjoy the majority of them. This is an unfortunate example of how sometimes it doesn’t pay off to start a book you know nothing about – from a manipulative one-night-stand to emotional/physical cheating to contemplation of extramarital affairs, there was subject material that was just not my cup of tea. After the first two stories fell flat for me, I considered stopping but ultimately kept plugging away since the book was short. I did like a few stories (like Bad Latch and Off the Record) but most just left me feeling sad or cynical for one reason or another. This is sadly not one I enjoyed or recommend.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls.jpg

Three women, Lisa, Sam, and Quincy, have never met but are uniquely bonded together as “final girls” – they are each the sole survivor of a horrific mass murder. We primarily follow Quincy, who has no memory of how she survived a cabin weekend where all her friends were brutally killed. After Lisa is unexpectedly found dead, Sam shows up on Quincy’s door and forces Quincy to deal with the past she has blocked out, which leads to a heart-pumping race to figure out the truth of what really happened that horrible night in the cabin. I have to start by saying the first 40% of this book went slower than I expected; I could tell it was meant to build suspense but it just wasn’t really working for me.  But then, the first major twist/revelation occurs and my interest level completely changed. The pace picked up, the story became more intricate and suspenseful, my heart started beating faster – I could not put it down! There were some shocking twists that kept me guessing until the very end. I gasped. I shuddered. I turned on ALL the lights. Even now just writing this review, I have literally looked over my shoulder no less than five times. This book is the perfect blend of psychological thriller + slasher movie (and I say this as someone who flat out refuses to watch any even remotely scary movie, let alone a horror/slasher flick). I loved the unique premise, the flashbacks to the night in the cabin, and the surprising twists throughout. So even with the disappointingly slow start, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

In 1974, a fairly unstable Vietnam War veteran tries to get a fresh start by moving to rural Alaska with his wife and teenage daughter, Leni. They are welcomed into the small, tight-knit community and things go really well at first. Leni even starts to believe that maybe life will really be different for their family in Alaska. But then, winter comes and it turns out, even Alaska isn’t far enough away for her father to escape his demons. This book was fantastic! In May, I reviewed Kristin Hannah’s book Summer Island and it just fell short of the standard I have for her books after her excellent novels The Nightingale and Winter Garden. I was hopeful that this book would redeem my high expectations for her and it did not disappoint! It is vibrant, poignant, and captivating. The descriptions of the Alaskan wild are so vivid I feel like I have actually seen it with my own eyes. I came to love (most of) the characters and became so invested in their stories. There are some pretty heavy mental health issues included that are heartbreaking to see play out but contribute to an intriguing, emotional plot. It’s not a light read by any means but gosh, I just loved it. Highly recommend!

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation

Sherry Turkle is a trained sociologist and psychologist who takes a deep dive into how the pull of technology has led us away from conversations. She examines how our departure from conversation affects relationships with our family, friends, work, and even our own self-awareness. People are losing the ability to be empathetic and connect with others beyond the surface level. While I did enjoy reading this book and feel everyone would benefit from its message, I realize not everyone wants to read a nonfiction, heavily researched book about the effects of technology and devices on our view of ourselves, our relationships, our work life, etc. This book did get a little long and dense at times which led to me skim some of the sections. In a nutshell: while it can be a great resource, there are limitations with what technology can provide. Use of a device simply cannot serve as a replacement for face-to-face conversation. Conversations bring creativity, deeper relationships, and change and it is important for us to turn outward to others rather than downward to our phones or other devices. Turkle makes some compelling arguments for conversation and overall, I was pretty fascinated and took a lot of notes. I feel like there will be a separate blog post in the future where I can expand more on what I took away from this book so stay tuned for that!

And that’s a wrap on my summer reading! Now what do I need to include on my fall reading list?

 

 

 

August 2018 Book Review

Hi friends!

It’s time for another summer reading list book review. Today I’m reviewing the books that I read in August – and without further ado, here we go!

August Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl Wash Your Face

This book has certainly been making the rounds on social media lately and while I had never heard of Rachel Hollis before, I had a ton of people tell me how much they absolutely loved this book so I was excited to read it. I went in with really high expectations and while it wasn’t OMG-earth-shattering from start to finish for me, I did enjoy it. Each chapter in this book is dedicated to a lie the author used to believe that got in the way of her happiness (i.e. “I’ll start tomorrow,” “I’m not a good mom”) and how she worked through that lie to no longer believe it to be true. There were some amazing chapters that really spoke to me and gave me a lot to think about (one section in particular felt like it was written specifically for me) and there were other chapters that didn’t resonate much with me at all. I liked the author’s conversational writing style and I appreciated her insight on things like motherhood, self-worth and self-care. I feel like there are a lot of quote-worthy nuggets in there that are good for daily inspiration or a pick-me-up. I did think it was weird that it’s marketed as a Christian book but didn’t have much reference to how the author’s faith shaped her life and instead was a “you are in charge of you” message. Just something to be aware of if you’re thinking this book will read more like a devotional (it doesn’t).  Even so, I enjoyed this book, gained some wisdom and encouragement from it, and recommend it.

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAn American Marriage

Celestial and Roy are recently married and starting their life out with big dreams for their future in Atlanta. Unfortunately, they travel to visit Roy’s family in Louisiana and while there, Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to 12 years in jail.  It is hard to put into words how I feel about this book. It is very well written; the characters are vividly described and you really feel for the them and the situation they find themselves in. It covers many thought-provoking topics: the injustice of racial profiling and prejudice in the criminal justice system, the impact of a wrongful conviction on the accused and everyone close to him, how fragile marriage can be if a couple is separated, what loyalty means and whether it’s fair to ask for (and if so, for how long). There are some really hard, heavy moments and tough choices made throughout the book that made it depressing for me to read at times. It just made me so sad and frustrated to think about how things “could have been” without this wrongful conviction. But then, isn’t that the point? The fact that I felt that way is because I was drawn deeply into the story and felt for each one of the characters and so wanted things to turn out well for them.  I do think it’s a remarkable piece of writing and worth checking out!

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

All the Beautiful Girls

Lily Decker is orphaned at eight years old and sent to live with her aunt and uncle. Life is less than ideal with them and she finds solace in dancing. When she is older, Lily leaves her tiny hometown with all the bad memories, changes her name to Ruby Wilde, and moves to Las Vegas in the 1960’s where she tries to make it as a dancer but instead becomes a showgirl. I happened to see this book on a shelf at the library and the premise sounded interesting so I checked it out. Honestly, this book wasn’t for me. Lily’s childhood circumstances are very disturbing to read about at times. I was so happy for her when she finally left her hometown and I became pretty interested in the story with Ruby’s transformation and efforts to make it in Vegas; however, as her story continues, things spiraled downhill for me again and I stopped enjoying the book once more. I really don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling something in the plot. The middle third of this book was about the only part I really enjoyed reading, so overall this is not a book I recommend.  (TRIGGER WARNING: I think it’s important to note that if you do decide to read this book, there are some pretty difficult moments with sexual abuse and assault.)

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty

Ugh. I was SO disappointed by this book! I typically love Moriarty’s work but this one was a miss for me. The title makes it seem like it will be super dramatic and gripping but in reality, I felt like it was about 200 pages too long and went along at a snail’s pace. The story alternates between the perspectives of six different adults (three couples), some of whom are longtime friends and others mere acquaintances,  who were present at a barbecue where something happened . . . but you don’t find out what exactly happened for a l-o-n-g time. The chapters jump back and forth between the day of the barbecue and the present time to show the drastic difference in relationships then vs. now and how every character wishes the barbecue hadn’t happened. I think the intent was to build suspense and make you wonder what shocking thing could have possibly happened but it just made me feel impatient and disinterested. This story is not plot-driven so it hinges on character development and the reader connecting with and caring about the characters, and its redeeming qualities and bright spots just didn’t make up for the fact that I was mostly bored and just wanted it to be over. I recommend checking out one of Moriarty’s other works, Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, instead.

It feels weird to end on such a dud of a book, but never fear, the September book review is only a week away and I have some fantastic reads to discuss! Stay tuned!

July 2018 Book Review {Part Two}

Happy Friday! It’s time for another round up of some of the books I finished this summer. Because I was able to get through so many books in July, I have broken up July’s review into two parts. If you missed Part One, be sure to check it out here.

July Book Review Pt 2

Let’s get started!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky, lonely individual. She struggles with social interactions and has mysterious things in her past that have greatly impacted her, although we don’t initially know what those things are. The book journeys with her as she navigates new friendships and tries to find love.  Here’s the thing. I started this book knowing it was on the NYT Bestseller list and in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. My expectations before reading one single word were sky high for this to be a blow-me-away amazing book and it just fell short of that category. I felt that it started off pretty slow and even boring for the first several chapters. There is a ton of detail about really mundane parts of Eleanor’s life and I started to get annoyed with it all, particularly because I wasn’t connecting with, and therefore caring about, Eleanor. For those of you who read my review on The Rosie Project, you know how much I loved the protagonist Don and, despite their similar quirks, Eleanor is not as charming or funny as he is. However, around 40% of the way through, the tides turned and Eleanor began to endear herself to me. The story really picks up and I began to root for her. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the book and was especially satisfied with how everything wrapped up. I would say that despite the slow start in warming up to Eleanor, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

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

My Grandmother Asked Me

This was my first book by this author and I love his writing style! This story follows a little girl named Elsa and is primarily centered around the apartment building where she lives. It has a fascinating way of weaving in and out of a fairy tale world created for Elsa by her wonderfully kooky grandmother. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say I found this book to be a charming little piece of literary magic and I am excited to read more by this author. I absolutely recommend it!

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars are Fire.jpg

I happened to see this novel on a shelf as I was walking to the checkout at my library and I knew it had to be added to my stack. I’ve read The Pilot’s Wife and Stella Bain by this author and both were so good! So knowing nothing but the fact that I love this author, this book came home with me. It follows a young mother, Grace, who has a fairly unhappy marriage in Maine in 1947. A devastating wildfire comes to her little town and Grace and her best friend Rosie are left to try to save themselves and their children as their husbands go off to fight the fire. In the aftermath of the fire, Grace has to rally every ounce of her inner strength to help her family survive and thrive even when some really tragic and frustrating events take place. I really liked this book! Grace is a character that you just want to cheer on as she finds strength and freedom that she never thought was possible. I recommend checking it out (as well as Shreve’s other books)!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us

I don’t know how to give any sort of synopsis to this book without spoilers, so I will just say it’s about a woman and how she’s coping (or not coping) with her ex-husband’s new love. I love a good psychological thriller but this one felt a little less than thrilling. I think the overall story line is promising and there are several twists; however, I guessed the “major” twist about 20 pages before it happened which was disappointing. It made the big moment basically just a confirmation of what I already knew. I will say that there were some other twists that I did not see coming, so it was enough to keep me pretty engaged the whole way through. Overall I thought it tried too hard to be shocking and is not my favorite psychological thriller by any means, but it’s a good option if you’re looking for one that isn’t so creepy it’ll keep you up at night with the lights on.

And that’s a wrap on my July books! Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?