Favorite Fiction for Fall

My goal this year was to read more fiction. (I feel like this is a perpetual goal…) I love reading good fiction because it expands my worldview, makes me think about people and places I don’t normally interact with, and can dig into topics and issues in creative ways that is often difficult for an essay or nonfiction format.

FavoriteI just scrolled through my Goodreads shelf and tallied up 17 fiction books so far! I’m impressed with myself and would say I’m doing pretty well with this goal. With the school year underway and autumn just around the corner, I thought I’d share some fiction reads that will get you thinking about deep topics but with a compelling narrative.

(These are just five of my favorites. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Goodreads shelves or let’s connect on Instagram, where I often share my current reads.)

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward is a masterful storyteller. I read both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing this year and they both count as favorite reads. Salvage the Bones is the story of a family in the days before Hurricane Katrina. This intense novel tackles family, poverty, and the systemic structures that impact families who are more at risk when natural disasters strike. I was drawn into Esch’s story and felt that Ward handled teen pregnancy and all its complexities well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I found this novel to be an excellent follow-up to discussions around America’s industrial prison complex. Books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson have brought a lot of the injustices around incarceration to light and Jones is able to take the reality of those injustices and dive into them through this novel. The story follows Celestial and Roy, newlyweds who are separated within the early years of their marriage by a false conviction. The book dives into the reality of being separated, of how prison changes a person, and the pervasive injustice people of color experience in the court system.

Untitled designEtta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
I read this book after a string of intense reads (see the novels above!) This magical story of three childhood friends in Saskatchewan was exactly what I needed. The plot toggles between present-day and World War II. I don’t want to give too much away, but keep in mind this genre is magical realism. Hooper uses magical twists in the plot that enrich the entire story but if you’re looking for historical fiction, this will be confusing.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This book received a lot of buzz last year, and for good reason. Ng weaves a deep story of suburban life, image and identity, foster care and rights, and our own prejudices when viewed through the lens of “doing good.” I think what makes this novel worth reading is that you will find yourself or your views portrayed somehow. Each character is developed in a way that brings to light many common ideas and ideologies of success and the American Dream. The themes in Little Fires Everywhere will make you examine your own good intentions and their roots.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I had this book on my shelf for a while and Frank devoured it earlier in the summer. I knew I had to pick it up and I’m so glad I did. Saunders weaves seeds of historical truth with a swirling world of the afterlife. His political commentary is powerful because of the setting and use of character. This is a novel that takes a little getting used to, as the style is written theatrically rather than narratively. If this has been on your to-read list for a while, I’d recommend moving it up. I’m glad I did!

What genre do you have to be intentional about reading? Any other fiction recommendations?

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What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?

Novels That Make You Think

I’ve always been a bigger fan of nonfiction than fiction. Especially after becoming a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I needed to keep my brain active; to learn more. But, reading fiction is just as important. As studies show, reading fiction creates empathy, allows us to think about big things in new perspectives, and introduces us to worlds and people we may not gravitate to in real life.

I’m always on the lookout for good fiction – stories that draw me in with characters I can relate with but also with plots in which I learn something new. Gone are the days when I really enjoyed fluff beach reads – I have precious minutes each day to read and I want to use them wisely.

While I still lean heavily toward nonfiction, I wanted to share a few fiction books I’ve read recently that I wanted to pass along:

bdec924dd0f4f7621241fd6bcc68a941Just Life by Neil Abramson 
This story of animals, community, politics, and a potential super-virus is woven in such a way that I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen next. Topics of politics and panic, ethical science, human vs. animal life, and the unconditional faithfulness of pet ownership made this a fascinating read. It made me think about our responses to certain viruses now that we don’t know much about. It made me think about our response to saving humans at the cost of animals – regardless of threat. And it made me reflect on how much we can learn when we stop and listen. It’s a fast-paced read with a bit of the supernatural thrown in to keep you on your toes. I’d definitely recommend this one to dog lovers.
Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Published in 2010, this has been on my to-read list for ages and I’m sad I waited so long to read it. It’s a long story but one I was sad to see end. Allende creates a world of slaves and owners and promises of freedom that keep you anxious and waiting. It’s a realistic look at the Caribbean slave trade and its effects on America’s own view of slavery. Allende’s writing is powerful and her ability to connect the reader to her characters is inspiring.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Another oldie that is incredibly powerful, given today’s climate of immigration reform and views of why people leave their homes. This YA novel is one I have seen in school libraries for years but just never picked up. I’m so glad I did. This novel most embodies the idea that reading fiction teaches empathy for real-world issues.

Clearly I’m behind in reading up-to-date novels. Any suggestions? What are you reading these days? And, are you more of a fiction reader or a nonfiction fan?

One-Handed Reading

A friend, who is due at the same time as us, and I were talking the other day about good breastfeeding books. Not how-to books, but books that can be held with one hand, that can be picked up and put down easily, that can hold our attention in the middle of the night without needing to reread the next morning.

She asked for some suggestions and I’ll admit, I’m a bit stumped. Partly, because I’m more of a nonfiction reader and partly because, with Bea I could read heavier books. (Admittedly, I’m planning on starting War and Peace once this baby is born. Perhaps not the best idea…) This time around, I’ll have divided attention, and I’m thinking I’ll need some light, quick reads.

When I say “light, quick reads,” I don’t want mind-numbing or too fluffy. Then, I’d rather read a magazine. Trying to remember what I read after Bea was born, I went back to my Goodreads archives:

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
I started this after our due date had passed, and it was the perfect light, weird, funny book I needed to help pass the time until Bea decided to show up.

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
I only read a few parenting books and this was one of my favorites. I loved that it’s ultimately a memoir, but in those early days of new motherhood I could also relate with a lot of her questions.

Mr g: A Novel About the Creation by Alan Lightman
Another quirky but funny book, this is about God creating the universe with the help of (or inspite of) his very opinionated aunt and uncle.

I listed those books to give an idea of what kinds of post-baby books I was into. So, I need suggestions: What fun, quirky, light-but-not-fluffy fiction have you been reading lately?