As I read my way through each year, whether through a stack of unread books in my old room in my mother’s house one summer or elsewhere, I’ll post here about the books I’ve finished and what I thought of them. Looking for a book to read? Check here!
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I actually started this book some time in 2012 (November, maybe?), but couldn’t get into it. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t connect with Hazel, the main character, or Augustus. Then, on the 2nd day of the year, I was on YouTube and stumbled upon videos of John Green reading the first two chapters of the book aloud on the channel he shares with his brother, Hank. Each video was over 20 minutes long, but I’m gloriously glad I watched them. There was something about hearing the author read the book aloud that connected me to it, and I continued reading the book after the videos were over. I’m so glad I did. Green tells a story about love, grief, life, and growth that will resonate with just about anyone. I wish I could know more about what happens to Hazel after the end of the book, but am also satisfied with the growth she goes through. I almost can’t explain, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I just want you to read the book and love it as much as I did.
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
The Night Bookmobile is a graphic novel that I found while shuffling through my favorite bookstore, Powell’s. I really like Audrey Niffenegger, so I was looking forward to a graphic novel from her. The Night Bookmobile is the story of a young woman who discovers a bookmobile filled only with the things she has read. I wasn’t overly excited about the end, but loved the story in general. It’s a quick read, so if you see it at your local bookstore or library, check it out!
Paper Towns by John Green
As soon as I watched John Green’s Ted Presentation “The Paper Town Academy,” I knew I wanted to read this book. My attachment was instant, and I fell in love with Q and his desperate love for Margo. When Margo disappears, I am on the search with him, hoping and praying that he will find her; cursing when he doesn’t, and silently mouthing “she’s not dead, she’s not dead, she’s not dead,” as Q searches. Green’s writing style in Paper Towns is similar to The Fault in Our Stars only in that it assures you that the same person wrote each of these books. I have questions about the end, but was generally pleased with the way this story is told and the way that both Q’s perspective and Margo’s resonated with me. I’m going to go ahead and highly recommend this one. I think you’ll really enjoy it. (Side note: though I just linked to it above, don’t watch the Ted Talk until after you’ve read it unless you want to be yelling at Q to stop searching THERE and start searching HERE throughout the entire book. It doesn’t spoil the book, but it gives you information Q doesn’t have.)
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (trigger warning: self-harm)
This was probably the most surprising book I’ve read in a while. I picked it up because Gillian Flynn is extremely talented, and I loved Gone Girl, but also because of the summary on the back. “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille Preaker’s first assignment at her second-rate daily paper takes her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. As she works to uncover the truth, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.” Based on the cover art, I assumed I was reading a story about two young girls who were cutting like Camille had. The quote from Stephen King should have clued me in that this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Sharp Objects has more than a handful of twists and turns, and, as Stephen King says, “I found myself dreading the lat thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave.” The book is tough; it settles in your stomach in a knot, but it is so worth it.
Tiny Beautiful Things: advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I don’t even know how to talk about this book. It spoke to every part of me; reached into the deep crevices of my soul and stuck to the bones there. I can’t relate to many of the stories people told when they were asking Sugar for advice, but that didn’t matter. Everything Sugar said seemed to apply anyway. This could be considered a self-help book, but it doesn’t read that way. It’s almost as if you and Sugar are having coffee and she’s telling you all of the things you need to hear. It’s a must read.
Identity and Leadership: Informing Our Lives, Informing Our Practice Edited by Alicia Fedelina Chavez & Ronni Sanlo
I received this book due to my membership in NASPA, a national Student Affairs organization. The book is a series of essays on identity and leadership, and is a fascinating read. Each essay is written by someone different and focuses on a different aspect of their identity and how it relates to their leadership position. I felt like I was constantly highlighting, underlining, and folding over corners to mark pages or chapters I liked. At the end of the book there is an outline for writing your own identity and leadership essay, something I’m hoping to conquer when I have a little more time. I found the different essays really interesting, and I think it’s a great read for anyone working with students who are currently discovering their identity. It’s a great read!
Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
This is probably the best book I’ve read on struggling with an eating disorder and your identity. De Rossi does an excellent job of telling her story in a way that has so much challenge and so much light at the same time. I read this book in under 48 hours, and the whole time I wanted to crawl through the book and hug Portia. She went through so much, but talks about it so openly, and even if you’ve never struggled with anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorder, it’s a book you should read. Even if you’ve never struggled with your identity, or your sexuality, you should read it. It’s the most open narrative of what a woman in her twenties deals with that I’ve ever read.
Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
Lent to me by a friend after I watched After Lately and Chelsea Lately for the first time, this book is ridiculously funny and an absolute must-read. Handler is honest, hilarious, and shows her love for her family and friends in the strangest and most endearing ways. The situations Handler finds herself in are outrageous and entertaining, and the book made me fall in love with Handler even more. If you’re looking for a good laugh, pick this up.
Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea’s Family, Friends, and Other Victims
This book was lent to me at the same time as Are You There, Vodka?, and is just as amusing, if not more so. Written by several members of Handler’s family, as well as her coworkers and friends, each chapter shares how Handler has lied, manipulated, and loved them. Each story is humorous, and I just kept wanting to read more and more about these people’s ridiculous lives. I read the book in a day, and laughed all the way through it.
A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
I originally picked up A Working Theory of Love because Hannah Brencher posted a picture of it on Instagram. “This is why I don’t buy books,” she said. “They get read in one day. But solid story. I recommend.” Every time I passed it after that,, I would pick it up, turn it over, read the book flap, and put it back. Finally, I just bought it.
I’m so glad I did. A Working Theory of Love is about a man in San Francisco who is struggling to understand how to love. Recently divorced and working on a computer project based on his deceased father’s journals, Neill finds love in the strangest of places. I finished this book feeling overwhelmed with love – it’s a must read, I must say.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green’s penchant for teenage love stories comes to life all over again with this story. Miles “Pudge,” new to the boarding school scene, falls in love with Alaska Young almost immediately, despite hr moody attitude, her chaotic personality, and her boyfriend. On a search for the Great Perhaps, Pudge finds it with Alaska and their rag-tag group of friends, and he also finds love, strength, heartbreak, and grief. Looking for Alaska isn’t just about teenage love, it’s about real love, growth, and challenge. It’s a wonderful book – John Green shows us that world series kind of love all over again.
“Thomas Edison’s last words were: “It’s very beautiful over there.” I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska
The Cove by Ron Rash
Ron Rash (who I get to take a course with next term) has said that all of his stories begin with a vivid image. For The Cove, that image was “a young woman pulling back some rhododendron leaves and seeing a bedraggled young man playing a beautiful silver flute.” It’s an image I’ll never get out of my head. Laurel Shelton grew up in the cove, and is just like every other woman in the Mars Hill area, except for the birthmark on her body – and the fact that everyone in town thinks she’s a witch. Laurel lives with her brother Hank, wounded from the war, and one day stumbles upon Walter, a mute musician who comes to stay with the Sheltons for a few days before heading to New York to return to his music. What follows is a story of dangerous love that is as beautiful as it is gut-wrenching. I’d read it all over again.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road is the story of Sal Paradise, a twenty-something in the 1940s who spends a large portion of his time traveling from New York to Denver to San Francisco and back again. The book is based on Kerouac’s own travelling adventures, and jazz, poetry, and drug use are heavy players in the plot. Though some of the stories were interesting, I found myself having to push through the book in order to get to the end. There were times when I even found myself bored. I’m fairly certain that this isn’t a very popular opinion of On the Road, but it just wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. I’m glad that I read it, because it gave me a glimpse at the Beat Generation, but I don’t know that I’d ever read it again.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I received this book as a gift from my mother for my birthday, and ended up reading it in just a couple of days. The story of Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick Carraway is beautifully written, and something I fell in love with right away. It was impossible to put down. If you’ve never ready The Great Gatsby, I suggest you pick up a copy immediately and get down to reading it - before you see the recently released film. Not that I don’t love Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio, but I’m interested to see if they do the book justice. There are a lot of things in the book that I’m not sure will translate property on film, but we’ll see. In any case, The Great Gatsby is an excellent read, and a beautifully devastating story. Pick it up ASAP.
Serena by Ron Rash
Another Ron Rash book that is an excellent read. Serena is about George and Serena Pemberton; newlyweds who are returning to George’s lumber camp in western North Carolina. Serena is a novelty to the men at the camp; she is strong, insists on working alongside them – oh, and she has a tendency to murder anyone who gets in the way of her and George’s plans for the future. When Serena discovers she cannot bear children, she goes after the young women who bore George’s son out of wedlock, and the Pemberton’s marriage begins to unravel. I loved this book from the very beginning, and would highly recommend it as a summer read.
An Anthology of Madness by Max Dubinsky
This is one of the best books that I have read this year. Max allowed me to be one of the people that read it before the paperback was published, so I’m going to include his summary of the book and my review below. Suffice it to say: read. this. book.
Max’s Summary: These selected poems, essays, and journals are the raw and unedited works of author Max Andrew Dubinsky, documenting his addiction, his homelessness, his loss of faith, his search for God, and his abandonment of the church and religion as he wandered the streets of America. Featuring brand new stories and some old favorites, many of these tell-all, gritty tales were originally published on the blog Make It MAD between 2010 and 2012, and have been rereleased in their originality for this special print and digital anthology.
My review: An Anthology of Madness is a beautiful piece of work. Dubinsky is honest and sincere, and manages to show people how to be like Jesus just by telling us his story. An Anthology of Madness is a book this world really needs. – Melissa Boles, blogger & storyteller
Inferno by Dan Brown
As a longtime lover of Dan Brown’s books involving Robert Langdon, I snagged a copy of this as soon as I saw it on the bookshelf. While the path of the plot and the character arcs are similar to other Dan Brown novels, I enjoyed it as a casual read and was surprised by a bit of a twist in the plot. While The Lost Symbol is still my favorite Robert Langdon book of Brown’s, I’m glad I picked up Inferno. It’s an easy read that, if you enjoyed Brown’s other books featuring Langdon, you’ll enjoy.
Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin R. Meyers
I picked this book up at a local bookstore, in the midst of a spiritual crisis (wait, aren’t I always in a spiritual crisis?). I’ve struggled with the idea of Jesus as divine, and the Bible as a book with rules to abide by, and this book really helped me to learn more about following Jesus and understanding better who he is. Robin Meyers is a pastor of a United Church of Christ church in Oklahoma, and the book is a wonderful read and brings a different perspective to the idea of Jesus and the church. Meyers tries to bring us back to the old way of following Jesus’ teachings today, and it’s a book I’m glad I read.
A Million Miles in A Thousand Years by Donald Miller
Donald Miller wrote this book about the opportunity he had to edit his life into a great story; something he realized he needed to do as he and two screenwriters turned his book Blue Like Jazz into a film. Miller turned his life around, and took chances to make his life story better, and shows his readers that they have every opportunity to write their own life story. I absolutely loved this book, and think anyone in their twenties (or going through life changes) should read it.
101 Secrets For Your Twenties by Paul Angone
I absolutely loved this book. Angone is an extremely talented writer; he’s funny, and frank, and he makes you think. 101 Secrets reminds you that you’re not alone, and shows you how amazing it can be to be in your twenties. I am so glad that Paul published this book; it has changed my life. Read my blog post about 101 Secrets HERE.
We Are Not Hoodlums by Cory Copeland
This devotional was one that I picked up at the recommendation of Hannah Brencher, and while I’m not big on devotionals, this is one that I think everyone should read. The thing about We Are Not Hoodlums is that it seems more real than other devotionals; more true to life. Cory shares bits and pieces of his own story, and reading it always seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear. Make sure you snag a copy; it is so worth it.
The Leapyear Project by Victor Saad
I read this book on a whim, and finished it in one sitting. Victor Saad spent a year designing his own graduate program; he leapt from the safety of a university and spent 12 months learning from different people and different jobs and travelling all over to challenge himself. Saad’s book is inspiring, and I would recommend everyone read this if they’re struggling with what comes next.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This was one of my favorite books as a kid, so when I found a copy in Moscow, ID this summer, I snagged it. I read the book in just a couple of hours, and it was a reminder of why I loved it. It’s such a beautiful story about family and friendship. As a story about the Holocaust, it’s naturally tough to read, but it’s written so well that you almost forget that it’s about this terrible time in our history.
The Pact by Jodi Picoult
This book was…well, it’s a Picoult. It was written well, but the storyline (about a young couple who make a pact to end their lives) is rough. Its an easy read, and if you like Picoult I would recommend it. It wasn’t my favorite of hers, but it’s a relatively good read.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
This was a recommendation from fellow blogger + reader Heather Burris, and I’m so, so glad I picked it up. It’s an easy read, and considered a young adult novel, but it’s so wonderful, I would recommend it to anyone who loves books. You’ll immediately fall in love with the four Penderwick sisters, and find just as much mystery, intrigue, and magic in their unexpected summer adventure as they do. I’m considering snagging the other books in the series, and I’m sure they’ll be just as wonderful!
The Percy Jackson + the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan
I began this series at the end of Spring Semester, and totally fell in love with it. I started reading it because I wanted to see the new movie coming out (with Nathan Fillion as Hermes) and have a thing about reading the book before I see the movie, but I ended up wanting to know everything about Percy Jackson, his friends, and the Olympians. The series consists of five books: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian, and they’re all great.
Is This Tomorrow by Carolina Leavitt
Oh, this book, y’all. It’s an amazing story about a mother and son who are living on their own in the fifties, and have to deal with boyfriends, terrible jobs, and the disappearance of the son’s best friend, which rocks their whole lives. It’s extremely well written, and I’m so glad I picked it up.
Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
Both this book and Is This Tomorrow were books that I read with Close Reads Cafe, and with Call Me Zelda I was lucky enough to be the winner of a paperback copy. Robuck does an amazing job telling the story of Zelda Fitzgerald through the eyes of her (fictional) nurse Anna, and you’ll totally fall in love with both Zelda and Anna. The book made me want to know everything about Zelda Fitzgerald, so look for me to be reading more books about/by her in the future.
Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anna Lamott
This is another book (like Tiny Beautiful Things) that I picked up, put down, picked up, flipped through, and finally purchased. I’m glad I finally brought it home; Lamott does a wonderful job of covering prayer, life, love, and grace without making you feel like you have to be of a certain religion to be prayerful. The book reminded me how amazing it is to believe, even if your belief is as simple as “Help. Thanks. Wow.”.
Pep Talks, Warnings, & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers by George Singleton
Though this was a book I was required to read for a course I’m taking, I ended up really enjoying it. Singleton is funny and honest, and he gives great advice. He talks about things you should do, things you shouldn’t do, and the things you should keep on your desk to remind you of writing. And in person? He’s just as hilarious as on paper.
Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel
This is a short story collection, published in 1985, that I read for my fiction writing class. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s Hempel’s first collection, and focuses on grief. She writes about the loss of family, of friends, of pets, and it’s beautiful. She’s also funny, which makes the collection even better. She has several other collections out, and I’m hoping to locate a copy of her novella, Tumble Home, next. If you’re looking for a new short story writer, Hempel is a great one.
Burning Bright by Ron Rash
Rash, who I’ve spoken of before, is just as amazing a short story writer as he is a novelist. I think the thing I love most about him, besides that I get to take a class with him this semester, is that he writes so well about the area I’m currently living in. We’re in Appalachia, but we’re also in the south, so it’s an interesting mix of people and atmosphere, and he writes it oh so well. His short stories, as well as his novels, span from the Civil War to the present day, and no matter what he’s writing you can see the space they’re in and feel like you’re there with them.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
I was sure I was going to hate this book. Every time someone used to bring up zombies I would roll my eyes and ignore them, because I felt like it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. The only zombie anything I’d ever seen was Zombieland, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t read anything because I was certain it would be terrible. Then, on a late night run to the local Wal-Mart [one day I will live in a town with a Target again], I was in desperate search of a new book to read. World War Z was on sale, so I picked up the book, read the first page…bought it and never looked back. Sure, zombies are gross. But Brooks does such an amazing job of writing this book from different perspectives, in so many different voices, that I began to overlook the “dumb” idea of zombies and really got into what was happening. And then I bought the audiobook and started watching The Walking Dead and now here we are. Even if you’re sure zombies are dumb, read this book. It’s so, so good. I promise.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
This is another short story collection of Rash’s, and it’s even better than the previous one. The theme of this collection is “violence and tenderness, hope and fear,” and each story is well done. It doesn’t matter if you move from the Civil War to present day, you get wrapped up in the stories and feel as though you’re experiencing life right next to the characters. Rash’s novels and short stories are most often, if not always, set in Appalachia, and you’ll be part of everything from dealing with being a secessionist in a town that is part of the union, to being a drug addict searching for money anywhere you can find it. I loved all of the short stories in this collection, and highly recommend you read it!
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I picked this up ages ago and just got around to reading it, but I’m glad I finally did. Riggs does an impeccable job of telling the story from the perspective of a teenage boy, and I really fell in love with Jacob and the search he was on. Though the story took a twist I wasn’t expecting, and ended up making me terrified to have an open window when it was still dark, I really fell in love with the story. I still feel deep within it, which I feel is always the mark of a good story. This one is a must read, but if you’re easily scared, keep the lights on.
Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Oh. My. Gosh., you guys. These books. I was up until nearly 3:00AM finishing the first book, and immediately got the second and third book. The story of Tris and her experience in a Dystopian society is so well written that you get deep within it as soon as you start reading it. I haven’t been able to devour a book like I did this one in a very long time, which is something I used to do constantly. These will wreck you, but I promise you – they are worth the read.
Books read in 2013: 42/52