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?

The Art of Essay

Frank and I were sipping rosé with a friend this weekend and talking about genres of writing and reading. I was saying how much I love reading essays and that a goal of mine is to get better at writing longer essays. I think there’s something powerful in saying something in limited space but that is more formal than a simple blog post.

Frank’s favorite collection of essays is Down the River by Edward Abbey. (Most likely because he has gone down that same river quite a number of times, always relishing in the quiet adventure.) I thought this was interesting, as another friend just last week recommended Abbey’s collection, Beyond the Wall.

I started thinking about collections of essays that I love and thought I’d share just five of my favorites. There is a trend to compile a collection of essays, but often these feel like a series of blog posts (and sometimes, these books are literally taken from the author’s personal blog and compiled.) What I love about the following collections is that they feel intentional to the book. Which makes sense, because for three of these authors, the world of blogging played no role in their writing lives.

71nhadCDSTLEverbloom edited by Shayne Moore
I received an advanced copy of this collection by the talented women of the Redbud Writers Guild. It releases today and I’m excited to share the news of this book. I knew these women were incredible writers, but the stories of rootedness and faith, of solidarity and doubt have made me read these essays slowly. I want to savor the words and I think anyone who is looking for a powerful series on faith will enjoy this collection. Bonus? Each essay ends with a reflective question, which as allowed me to continue the conversation, in a way.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I am a fan of Gay’s writing style and this collection of witty, honest commentaries on culture had me nodding and laughing. I appreciate her point of view and journey that she brings to these essays. However, I recommended this to a friend who did not connect at all. I suppose, as with any of these authors, time and place and voice all play into our experience. But this is a collection I find myself recommending to all sorts of people.

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
My college years were spent trying to emulate Annie Dillard and this is my favorite of her collections. These essays captured my imagination and Dillard’s descriptive language is unparalleled. I find myself drawn to authors who connect our humanity to nature and this series makes me want to rediscover myself on a trail.

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
I read this collection while pregnant with Elle (and thus, her namesake) and I connected with Roosevelt’s observations on life, mothering, and being a thoughtful human. Some of her lessons sound a bit dated to modern thought but the underlying themes are timeless and solid.

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I first read this collection before I even thought to claim creativity as my own. L’Engle talks about the blurred area between being an artist who is Christian and a Christian-artist. Like so much of life and faith, L’Engle argues that one need not Write About God to write about God. Really, I could pick any of L’Engle’s collections but this one in particular has stood out as a pivotal read on my journey.

I was reviewing Book Riot’s 100 Must-Read Essay Collections and realized how few I’ve actually read. (And, upon reflection, how few men I’ve read…) So, my new reading goal is to always have a collection of essays on my nightstand. Whether by all the same author or a collection of voices, the essay format remains a powerful form of expression.

Do you enjoy essays? What are some of your favorite collections? What are your thoughts on blogs-turned-books?

Five Great B&Bs

I’ll never forget my first Bed & Breakfast experience. We went up to Estes Park for a weekend and the place we chose was everything stereotypical about a B&B – themed rooms, socially awkward hosts, squeaky beds, and a communal breakfast table.

At breakfast, we met the rest of the guests over stuffed French toast and fruit. At one point during the small talk conversation, a husband on his honeymoon made a random and slightly inappropriate joke about his new wife. The man sitting across from me was so shocked, coffee spewed from his nose and mouth. I remember questioning whether the charm of a B&B was worth the awkwardness of meeting strangers.

Since, then we’ve stayed at some lovely places, so I thought I’d share them.

Ewich House, Crainlarich, Scotland
We stayed at this beautiful converted farmhouse while hiking the West Highland Way. The host was a retired firefighter and loved running a small farm and B&B. The rooms were simply decorated and they had a comfy living room to watch movies. We ordered dinner, which was one of the best meals we had on the hike – all locally grown and raised foods. The breakfast was incredible, as well and the set up included small, private tables rather than one large communal one.

Ewich House
Ewich House

Castle Marne, Denver, Colorado
This rambling castle-like house is one of the oldest in Denver. Each room is unique but not  gaudy. The neighborhood is very walkable, so finding restaurants is easy. There is a communal breakfast table, but the host and hostess are very gracious and had a way of drawing everyone into conversation without making it awkward.

Romantic River Song Inn, Estes Park, Colorado
We stayed here for one of our tax season getaways and loved it. There are rooms at the main inn, but we stayed in one of the cabins surrounding the house. They had a comfortable common room, delicious afternoon cheese and crackers, and the option of private or communal tables for breakfast. We loved that it is adjacent to the national forest, so there was easy access to hiking trails. (And is dog friendly!)

Capitol Hill Mansion, Denver, Colorado
This was another tax season getaway, but right in town. It’s across the street from one of my first apartments in Denver, so the neighborhood has some nostalgia for me. We ordered dinner in our room, which was delicious and the breakfast was tasty, as well. Our room had a bathtub in the turret, which seemed cool at first, until it was actually time to bathe in the morning… We loved the ease of staying just 20 minutes away from our house but feeling like we were taking a vacation.

China Clipper Inn, Ouray, Colorado
We stayed here for our 5-year anniversary last summer. It was the perfect home base for hikes and exploration around the town of Ouray. (One of the most beautiful places I’ve been!) The hosts are a young and energetic couple, who have great recommendations for activities in the area. The inn is only a couple blocks from the main street, which made walkability easy. The breakfasts were hearty – perfect for a day of hiking – and there was a choice of communal table or private tables in the sunroom.

Even though the bed and breakfast experience can be a little too much interaction for a vacation, I love the variety of people you meet and quirky experiences that come from them.

What about you? Are you a hotel type of person or a B&B type? Where’s your favorite B&B?