As any voracious reader will probably tell you, one of the BEST ways to find your next favorite book is to find someone with good taste (or at least, a similar reading taste to yours) and read whatever it is that they’re recommending. Indeed, I just realized that the last nine reads of mine (plus the books I’m currently reading!) were ALL books I’ve found through recommendations–many through the podcast What Should I Read Next?, some through blogs or bloggers I follow on Goodreads (Suzanne, Mel), and one through an author recommendation (Shauna Niequist) found in one of her books (I don’t remember which, unfortunately).
Although the podcast tends to be the most hit-and-miss for me (which makes sense, considering that Anne Bogel, the woman who runs it, recommends books based on the reader’s tastes and therefore recommends a HUGE variety of books to her listeners), overall, I feel like my reads lately have been quite satisfying.
***Note: You’ll notice there are some affiliate links in this post. That means if you end up purchasing the book through the link I provided, I get a small percentage of the sale (at no extra cost to you). However, as always, my feelings on these books below are my honest opinion, regardless of where they’re purchased!
Title: 84 Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
My Rating: 4 Stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.19)
Surprisingly, this nonfiction book only very recently came onto my reader, though it’s been around since 1970. This slim volume is easily read in one sitting and is a compilation of letters between an American book lover and a bookstore in London. Although the bond between Hanff and her counterparts in London starts with books, it develops into an overseas friendship as Hanff generously sends food gifts during the most heavily-rationed parts of the war and inquires after the well-being of all of the members of her bookshop family. In a world where letters are quickly becoming a thing of the past, this true story was a delightful reminder of the power of written correspondence, and of how friends can be found in the most unexpected of ways. I would think most bibliophiles would love this one.
Title: The Almost Sisters
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
My Rating: 4 Stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.09)
I’d never read anything by Jackson before picking this one up (after seeing it on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide), but loving her combination of sharp (and often very funny) wit and searing truths, I think I’ll have to seek out more books by her. This story about a girl who becomes pregnant with a biracial baby from a one-night stand at Comic Con was full of a lot of heart and a lot of surprises, and I thought it ended just as it needed to end. The only reason I didn’t give this 5 stars is because I reserve that rating for books I would definitely want to own and re-read, and this book had a little too much adult content for me to feel completely comfortable owning it. A great read though, and I thought the characters were dazzling in how well they were fleshed out–real and likeable, vulnerable and strong. Very well done, indeed.
Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
My Rating: 4 Stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.07)
I’m beginning to suspect that Tartt’s work might be distinctly polarizing–while I don’t think many would argue that her writing is brilliant, she often comes up with characters that are distinctly unlikeable, even disturbing (which is especially so in this case), which many readers can’t get past. Ever since I’d read (and been blown away by) her Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch, I’d been meaning to give her other stuff a try, and when I started hearing this one talked about quite a bit on the WSIRN podcast, I decided it was definitely time. If you need likeable characters with some definite redemption at the end for past misdeeds, you should take a hard pass on this one. But if you love stories set in moody towns and delicious writing and totally flawed–but fascinating–characters, try this one out! It’s a story about a group of friends who are part of an elite group of students studying Greek history and mythology at a quiet New England college who end up killing one of their own (which is revealed in the first few pages—NOT a spoiler!). The book explores the question as to WHY.
Title: New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City
Author: William Powers
My Rating: 2 stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 3.42)
This is one I also found through the podcast, but of all the books on this list, this one was a definite miss for me. While I’ve been fascinated by the “minimalist” and “slow living” movement for quite a long time, this book only served as a reminder of the direction the movement has seemed to take lately, which I don’t like at all. Basically, this book is one man’s real-life experiment of trying to “live slow” (aka, more mindfully and less materialistically) in one of the world’s fastest cities (New York). Promising concept, but I found so little to like about this book that I’m sorry I purchased it. All in all, he seemed much more concerned about working the fewest amount of hours in a week possible so that he could have the maximum amount of leisure time. I’m all for taking time to slow down and relax, but reading about how he spends hours and hours every week basically sitting around doing a whole lot of “not much”? Not exactly inspiring. For me, slow living has to be about the balance between intentional work AND intentional leisure, and this one just seemed to discount the importance of working hard and working towards a purpose, period. I definitely do not recommend this.
Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown
My Rating: 4 Stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.33)
Admittedly, this was not the first time I’d tried picking this nonfiction title up—I’d tried once before but got so bogged down by the details in the first couple chapters that I just let this one sit around until it was due back at the library, leaving it unfinished. However, the book club I recently joined chose this for the September pick and I’d heard sooo many amazing things about this from pretty much everyone that I decided I really needed to give it more of a chance. And I’m so glad I did! While I still DO think the unabridged version suffers from too much detail, which slows parts of it down greatly, the story itself is completely inspiring. The book largely follows the story of one of the men on the Olympic team and follows him from a childhood of poverty and abandonment to winning the gold at the Olympics. There were so many times in this that I leaned over to my husband while reading and said, “Hey! You’ve got to hear this!”, and it was SUCH a fun book to discuss with my book club. (Note: I was the only member of my book club to read the unabridged version–everyone else chose to read the abridged “Young Reader” edition, which sounds like it kept all the best parts of the story and did away with many of the unnecessary details.)
Title: At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises
Author: Jerusalem Jackson Greer
My Rating: 4 stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.26)
Since I’ve rather enjoyed the works of Shauna Niequist that I’ve read so far, I thought that her recommendation of this new book was as good a reason as any to pick this title up, and I wasn’t sorry! Greer is a Christian blogger who had a dream of moving with her family out to the country, and when her husband has the same impression to uproot themselves out of the city and home where they’re currently located, she thinks it must be destined to be—until they’re unable to sell their house. In this account, Greer takes us through the emotional process she had to go through when she realized that her dream might not come to be reality, and she shares the stories from the Bible and the spiritual impressions she had during this time that helped her through her disappointment. Though I didn’t agree with all the conclusions she came to, I loved the new ways she helped open my eyes to all the spiritual growth that can actually come from staying put, especially when you don’t necessarily want to.
Title: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Author: Angela Duckworth
My Rating: 4.5 stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.08)
Although it took me a loooong time to get through this book, I thought it was well-worth the effort: this nonfiction read was so packed full of insights into the power of sheer grit and determination in the face of adversity and obstacles that it left me feeling empowered almost every single time I picked it up. Duckworth’s research shows that success correlates more strongly with grit–the willingness to push through no matter what–rather than talent, and I highlighted so many sections of this book that will help me as a parent, as a teacher, and as an individual that I couldn’t possibly count them all. The only reason this didn’t get the full 5 stars? There were a few sections that dragged a bit with repetitive/unnecessary details, so it took me a lot longer to read this one than I typically like.
Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: JoJo Moyes
My Rating: 3.5 stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 3.95)
Though I didn’t find this one *quite* as compelling or readable as Me Before You, Moyes still crafted an enjoyable novel that toggled between a small town in German-occupied France during WWI and modern day, where a young widow is seeking to not let her entire life crumble around her. I won’t say too much about the plot, but basically the two storylines are intertwined around a painting called The Girl You Left Behind, which plays a crucial role in both time periods. This book surprised me in a lot of ways (not least because I thought it was going to be a straight-up historical fiction that was highly reminiscent of The Nightingale), but the ending did tie up a little *too* neatly at the end for my taste, and it took me awhile to really get drawn into the story, mostly because some of the characters fell a bit flat for me.
Title: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
Author: Cary Elwes
My Rating: 4 stars (Avg. Rating on Goodreads: 4.09)
This has definitely been one of my more surprising reads this year, largely because I never in a million years thought I’d be picking up a “behind-the-scenes” kind of book about a movie (since that part of the film industry has just never held my interest). But when reviews kept coming through on my Goodreads account of my fellow readers who seemed to positively gush about this book, I decided to give it a try (especially because I, like many people my age, positively ADORE the movie The Princess Bride, as well as the book). While it took me a little while to work my way into this one, there were several moments where I was literally holding my sides with laughter, and the book immediately made me want to go and watch the movie (for the hundredth time), just so I could go and see all the little quirks and details that Elwes unveils in the book. Even if you’re not a fan of film-making, if you’re a Princess Bride fan, you’ll probably really like this!
- Covenant Motherhood by Stephanie Dibb Sorenson
- How to Blog For Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup
- Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki
- Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (our book club pick for October AND a pick from my Assigned Reading List for this school year!)
Since I obviously love getting recommendations, did any of these titles make you think of one that
YOU’D liked and read recently that you’d care to recommend? Let’s talk books!