Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Salon: A Booksih Spring to Celebrate in Des Moines

The Sunday Salon.comI love living in Des Moines, but one of the things I miss most about Atlanta is the literary community. I absolutely adore the bookternet and the connections with readers and writers I've made through this blog, Twitter, Instagram, and Litsy, but I do miss that in-person bookish community. Authors don't come to Des Moines on book tours (some go to Iowa City, home of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, but that's two hours away.) We do have an excellent public library, and they sponsor an annual series of events called AViD: Authors Visiting in Des Moines. There's usually one or two authors I'm interested in seeing, and it's wonderful. This week, the 2019 line-up was announced, and it's a great one. It's also the first year of the DSM Book Festival, which is really exciting. Without leaving Des Moines, these are the authors I plan to see this spring (in chronological order):

Nnedi Okorafor and Susan Orlean, Saturday March 30 
I reviewed The Library Book last week, and I'm excited to see her speak having already read it. I saw Okorafor speak at a library conference a few years ago, and she's an author I've been meaning to read ever since. I plan to get to at least one of her books before March 30th.

Laurie Frankel, Thursday, April 18
I've been meaning to read This Is How It Always Is since I first heard about it. It was also picked for the Hello Sunshine book club, so it's on my definite TBR list for 2019. Now I'll make time to read it before April.

Sarah Smarsh, Thursday, May 2
I bought Heartland from Audible and already planned to listen to it because it's about Kansas and was nominated for the National Book Award. I'm a sixth-generation Kansan with complicated feelings about the state, but I'm also drawn to the exploration of poverty, even without the Kansas connection.

Madeline Miller, Thursday, May 16
I read Song of Achilles when it was nominated for the Women's Prize (which it went on to win.) I've been meaning to read her new novel, Circe, and this event will give me a great deadline to do so. I also expect to see it longlisted for the Women's Prize (the longlist will be announced March 4.)

What a wonderful bookish spring it will be in Des Moines! If you want to see more, the full AViD lineup is here, and the DSM Book Festival website is here (full line-up to come.) If you're not in Des Moines, I do plan to post about each event I make it to. If you're in Des Moines and also plan to attend any of these, please say hi!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Yesterday, I reviewed The Library Book, which is partially about the 1986 fire at Los Angeles's Central Library. I realized after I wrote my review that I wanted to see some pictures from the fire, as there wasn't a pdf of images that came with my audiobook as there sometimes is. Orlean describes them vividly, but I still wanted to see for myself. I discovered this wonderful profile of Susan Orlean and The Library Book by Carolyn Kellogg. It has some wonderful pictures, including of the fire and the suspect Harry Peak, but it also includes this great video of Susan Orlean explaining how she came to write the book and highlighting some parts of the library:

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, January 11, 2019

book thoughts: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The backstory: The Library Book is the January 2019 pick for the Hello Sunshine book club. I started listening to it December 27th, but it was nice to be well into it when Reese announced the January pick.

My thoughts: I saw Susan Orlean speak at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans last June. I had heard she had a book coming out in the fall called The Library Book, but I didn't know anything else about it. After moving to Los Angeles, her son had an assignment to interview a city employee, and he chose a librarian. While visiting Central Library in Los Angeles, a librarian mentioned to Susan that you can still smell smoke in some of the books. She was shocked to learn there had been a major fire at the library in 1986 and she didn't know about it. The Library Book is an investigation of the fire, which was intentionally set and still unsolved, but it's also an exploration of the long history of the Los Angeles Public Library and the current state of public libraries.

It was interesting to read this as a librarian. I confessed to a librarian friend who has worked in public libraries but now works in an academic library that listening to The Library Book made me want to be a public librarian. She laughed, which is fair, but it did make part of me wish I were a public librarian. Orlean doesn't shy away from the negative aspects of contemporary urban public librarianship, but she also celebrates the awesomeness of it. Particularly Central Library, which has incredibly specialized collections and librarians. (In real life, I have no plans to ever trade in my academic librarian job for a public librarian job.) I've never worked in a public library, and while I know a lot about libraries, from graduate school, attending conferences aimed at all types of librarians, and being a dedicated user of many public libraries in my lifetime, I learned a lot about libraries in this book. More than once, I asked myself, "shouldn't I have learned that in library school? Did I learn it and forget it?" Library history is fascinating, but Los Angeles library history is particularly fascinating (and the more general Los Angeles history featured in this book made me want to learn even more about the city.)

While in some ways the fire is the focus of this book, it really serves more as an entrance point. Orlean returns to the fire and investigation throughout the book, but there will be chapters focused on Los Angeles library history and the current state of public libraries between them. In that sense, it isn't as focused on the crime as I might have thought.

Audiobook thoughts: I'm glad I chose to listen to The Library Book, as Orlean narrates. While this isn't a memoir, Orlean does talk about her approach to this story, her perspective, and experience, and it was nice to listen to it all in her voice. The only part of the audiobook I didn't love were the titles, authors, years of publication and call numbers she reads at the beginning of each chapter. It's a gimmick I imagine worked well in print, but often I found myself not getting the connection, as it's hard to jump back at the end of the chapter to see how those titles fit in.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 337 pages (12 hours 9 minutes)
Publication date: October 16, 2018
Source: owned

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Library Book from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Challenges: Booked (reminds you of your happy place), Read Harder (nonviolent true crime), Hello Sunshine, Pop Sugar (recommended by a celebrity you admire--Reese Witherspoon obviously!), and Litsy A to Z.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

book thoughts: Blessed Are the Dead by Kristi Belcamino

The basics: Blessed are the Dead is the debut mystery for Kristi Belcamino. It introduces San Francisco crime reporter Gabriella Giovanni. It was nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel in 2015.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism in college, and I'm drawn to books written about journalists (despite, or perhaps because I have zero professional interest in every working as a reporter.) Still, lines like these remind me of why I pursued the field in college: "I try not to eavesdrop, but hey, it's what reporters do. We are natural observers of everyone and everything around us." I think the same is true for novelists, and Belcamino's observations were wonderful in this novel.

I also like mysteries, so a contemporary mystery with a fantastically flawed heroine who happens to be a crime reporter, and is also written by a crime reporter? It sounds perfect. I bought this book for my Kindle as soon as I saw the 2015 Anthony Award nominees. I have no idea why it took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally did, and I'm glad I had the foresight to buy the next two in the series (there are a total of six now--if you count the two half books.)

Despite my love of both books about journalists and crime novels, I am increasingly critical of amateur detectives. One of the best parts of Blessed Are the Dead is how Gabriella works with the police. As a journalist, some people are more willing to talk to her than the police, which gives her unique insights. She fights other reporters for the best quotes and details no one else has, but she also fights for justice and for the victims.

It's hard to write a great first book in a series because you're introducing characters and their backstories, but the focus is also a crime. Belcamino accomplishes this by intertwining the two: Giovanni's sisters was kidnapped and murdered when she was a child, and writing a story about a very similar case allows her to write both simultaneously and well. This novel made me fall in love with not only Gabriella, but the people around her: friends, family, co-workers, and nemeses. It's also a page-turning mystery. I was tempted to start Blessed are the Meek (the second book in the series) immediately, but I decided to wait--at least a few days.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Source: owned

Want to read for yourself? Buy Blessed Are the Dead from Amazon (the Kindle edition is only $2.99!) 

Favorite passage: "Sociopaths can be charming but are truly incapable of feelings that other people have, especially love. It is also nearly impossible for them to consistently tell the truth. The feel "entitled" to certain things, believing their self-serving behaviors are permissible in society even at the expense of others' "rights.""

Challenges: Reading Women (any book from a series), Read Harder(by a journalist or about journalism), Around the Year in 52 Books (a book that was nominated for or won an award in a genre you enjoy--Anthony Award), Pop Sugar (featuring an amateur detective), and Litsy A to Z

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Making Lists

Readers of this blog know I have a thing  for making lists. For Christmas this year, I decided to participate in a bookish Secret Santa, and my favorite gift from Booksnob's Blog was this: Listography: One List a Day, A Three-Year-Journal. Each morning when I wake up, I look at that day's prompt. Some mornings I know immediately what I want to write for one or all of the lines on my list, but other mornings, I've been stumped. Three things I want to stay away from? After reading about nitrates in bacon, that was the first things I thought of. But two more? It took me all day. So far, I'm really enjoying the time I spent writing and thinking about my little lists each day. I'm excited to have this be my new habit, as it will be even more fun next year, when I can also look back at what I wrote each day this year. But perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that it's something I would never have discovered or bought for myself, yet it's the perfect little addition to my life and my days.

I also got some yummy chocolates, which I shared with my family, kitchen towels (one can never have enough!), and Girl Waits with Gun, which is a book I've been meaning to read since before it came out because it combines so many of my favorite things: historical fiction, a mystery, and fiction based on real women. I'll get to it soon, I hope.

Want to make your own lists each day? Buy Listography: One List a Day from Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Reading Art History: The Beginning

This weekend, as I was putting away our Christmas decorations in the basement, I stumbled across a pile of books I'd forgotten about. Really, I am always stumbling upon piles of forgotten books, but this particular pile I hadn't seen since before we moved into our house five and a half years ago. On top was my college textbook for Art History 101 and 102:

I don't think I've seen this book since 2008. This beautiful, 1000+-page book was a resource throughout my art history major. It wasn't a textbook we had to read cover to cover, so when we were assigned sections, I read them. They complemented the lectures and were great to refresh my memory. I decided to bring it upstairs and started flipping through it. I wondered, how many pages would I have to read each day to read this book by January 1, 2020? 3-4. I can read three or four pages of an art history textbook each day, I thought. Then I turned to the first page and discovered it was already page 15. How fortuitous! The five days before I decided to give myself one more reading challenge were already accounted for! This week I started what I hope is a year-long journey with this book. I'm excited to learn, re-learn, and remember art history. Over the years since college, I know I've forgotten quite a bit. Plus, one of my non-reading goals this year is to experience more art. I realize I haven't been to the Des Moines Art Center since maternity leave (Hawthorne is four). It's a museum I love. It's five minutes from my house. And it's free to get in. I'm determined to visit it (at least once) this year. I used to be better at visiting art museums and galleries when I visit cities for conferences, but I've fallen out of that habit in recent years. If you have suggestions of art spaces to visit in Seattle, please let me know!

But for now, I'm off to read three more pages.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, January 7, 2019

book thoughts: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkannen

The backstory: I enjoyed the first thriller co-authored by Hendricks and Pekkanen, The Wife Between Us (my review).

The basics:  "Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding."--publisher

My thoughts: I had low expectations going into this book. While I didn't end up loving The Wife Between Us, it was really fun to read, and that's what I was hoping for with An Anonymous Girl: a fun read. And it was. As I read, I was transfixed. I found the characters of Jessica and Dr. Shields intriguing, and the games they played with each other were clever and fun. Like Jessica, as a reader, I wasn't sure if she was being paranoid or if she was right, and I had the benefit of knowing she's a character in a psychological thriller.

I quite enjoyed the time I spent with An Anonymous Girl, as it was a suspenseful read. I was expecting a twist that never really happened, but the psychological games were enough fun that it didn't necessary need a twist. Overall, I liked it more than The Wife Between Us, and if their thrillers keep improving, the next one should be even better.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 372 pages
Publication date: January 8, 2019
Source: publisher

Want to read for yourself? Buy An Anonymous Girl from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sunday Salon: Strong and Fit by 40

The Sunday Salon.comturned 38 in August. Since then I've been thinking about turning 40, a milestone I'm actually looking forward to. So far, each decade of my life has been better than the last. My 30's have been pretty transformational, and I'm excited to see what the next decade brings. Still, I'm not in a rush to leave my 30's, and I've been thinking about what I want to accomplish before 40. I know I want to get healthier. I want to be stronger. I want to be fit. I've been thinking about what makes sense for me. I'm a person who loves eating and drinking, and I don't want to lose those activities or feel guilty for indulging. I also don't want to spend a lot of money on exercise; there are lots of things I'd rather spend money on than a gym membership. I spent a few months thinking about how I could fit exercise into my routine. Really, I thought about what I could do to want to fit exercise into my routine. The last time I went to a gym was before I was pregnant with Hawthorne (he's four now.)

In December, three things happened. First, I decided the end of the semester was my window to start an exercise routine. Once classes ended, I only had to finish grading, then I had two weeks off work. If I can't work out then, when would I? I wanted to use those three weeks to make habits. Second, I read this article, whose opening sentence was the single-most transformative sentence I read in 2018: "The muscles of older men and women who have exercised for decades are indistinguishable in many ways from those of healthy 25-year-olds, according to an uplifting new study of a group of active septuagenarians." It doesn't get any more plain: start regularly exercising now, before you turn 40, and reap the benefits for the rest of your life. I was convinced. Third, I gave myself permission to not work out at the free gym at work. This sounds silly, but as I am someone who does not like to spend money on things I don't enjoy, it's foolish to turn down a free gym, right? Wrong. In seven and a half years of employment, I've never gone to the gym here. I don't want to, largely because I don't want to see or talk to colleagues when I'm at the gym. And, admittedly, I don't want to see college students, even the ones I don't know or teach, at the gym. I want anonymity at the gym. So, I gave myself permission to join Planet Fitness for $10/month.

My first workout was Dec. 11. And you know what? I actually liked it. I got on the elliptical and told myself to go as long as I wanted to because anything was the best I'd done in five years. I put on my favorite podcast, which I now only listen to at the gym. I went a mile. And it felt good. For the first time in my life, I worked out with the goal of getting strong and getting fit. My motivation isn't a number on the scale. It isn't out of guilt or low self-esteem. I want to be healthy so I can live a long life with my spouse and my kid. I want to be healthy so I can live a long life to read lots of books, to travel, and to eat delicious foods. The next time, I set a goal of two miles. I told myself I could take as long as I wanted to. Instead, when I got there, I wanted to get it over with, so I did it in 20 minutes. Then, each day, I added a quarter mile. Distance was my goal, not speed. Some days I'm faster. Some days I'm slower. My goal was 5 miles, which I hit December 28th. I decided to keep pushing myself. This week, I hit six.

I'm not sure what my daily goals are going forward. I want to work out most days. I don't know if I'll be able to fit in hour-long sessions every day once classes start, but I want to. I feel stronger already, but I also enjoy working out. Seriously. Perhaps it took having a kid to make the gym feel like bonus time by myself. I enjoy the 4-mile drive each way, which gives me more time with my audiobook.

Don't worry--this blog isn't going to turn into an exercise blog. I won't tell you about my workouts each week, but I might talk about it occasionally in my Sunday Salons. For now, I'm off to spend as much of today reading as I can.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

2019 Reading Resolutions and Goals

Coming off my worst reading year since I started keeping track (2009), I was hesitant to make many elaborate resolutions or goals. Then, I looked at last year's goals, which were good for quite a few laughs, as I accomplished none of them. But, I realize, I like making goals, even if I won't actually meet them. I'm not quite sure why that is, but perhaps it relates to my love of making lists. So, I have two sets of goals this year: the realistic (resolutions) and the less realistic (goals).

Call me cynical or call me realistic, but I will be shocked if I manage them all. And, really, isn't it more fun to have fun?

2019 Reading Resolutions:

1. Read more than in 2018.
This should be easy, right? The bar (54 books) is so low. If I'm being honest, I'm really hoping to read 104 books, which is two a week. That should be relatively easy too, as that's more in line with a typical year.

2. Write about each book I read in 2019.
Since I got into Litsy, I realize I write quick reviews there when I finish books, and I've all but abandoned this space. I want to make them work together better, so in 2019 I'm going to post reviews on Litsy once they're published here. Not each post will be a review. Some might be a sentence, some might be letters, some might be lists. I want to write whatever I feel like writing about each book. The important thing to me is writing something about each one.

I can manage these things. More importantly, I want to do these things. I've finished one book in 2019, and I've already reviewed it!

2019 Reading Goals

In 2019, I am re-embracing Reading Challenges. I think I need both goals and community support to push me to read more. I have signed up for more challenges than I can likely complete, and that's okay with me. I'm drawn to challenges that both allow me to read books I would read anyway, push me to read books I've meaning to, and challenge me to read things I otherwise wouldn't. Here are the challenges I've starting (listed in order of which I'm most committed to finishing:

1. Reading Women

I mostly read women, so this challenge is compelling. Of the 26 prompts, there isn't a single one that I'm dreading. It's a nice, diverse list. There's also a GoodReads group for participants. I'll use the hashtag #ReadingWomen2019 to track my progress.

2. Booked 2019

Booked 2019 is big on Litsy, and the prompts are mostly exciting. It's also a relatively easy challenge, as you read six books per season. For me, about one prompt a season will be a push, and that's about right. I'll use the hashtag #Booked2019 to track my progress.

3. Around the Year in 52 Books

This challenge is both the biggest (52 books), and the most restrictive: there's a prompt for each week. Some are easy. Some are really hard. I'm prioritizing it because I need that weekly push to keep myself out of slumps. And if I don't, I won't stand a chance. I'll use the hashtag #AtY2019 to track my progress.

4. Hello Sunshine

At the end of 2017, Book of the Month provided the best book recommendations for me. Early in 2018, changes in the editorial team (who are not bad, but I think they have very different taste than I do) made that a less successful source of recommendations. Instead, I found myself really enjoying Reese Witherspoon's picks. They're a nice mix of fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I've read six of the eighteen picks from 2017-2018, so I'm challenging myself to read the twelve backlist picks, as well as all 12 2019 picks. I'll use the hashtag #HelloSunshine to track my progress.

5. Pop Sugar

I debated doing the Pop Sugar challenge, as it's one of the longer ones, and some of the prompts are hard (and unappealing), but I'm going to give it a go because a lot of the prompts are fun. The GoodReads group is a nice community too. I'll use the hashtag #PopSugar2019 to track my progress.

6. Read Harder

I've always wanted to do this Book Riot challenge, but I never have. This might not be my year, as some of the categories are really hard, but a lot are really fun, and it's geared toward reading diversely, which is really important to me. Again, the GoodReads group is great too. I'll use the hashtag #ReadHarder2019 to track my progress.

7. Litsy A to Z

I jumped on this challenge as a whim because so many people I follow on Litsy do it. The premise is simple: read 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet. You can choose to use all titles (first letter of the first word, not counting articles), authors (first letter of last name), or a mix. I chose a mix because it's easier. You can also add an optional challenge category. I picked to count only books by women. This is the only challenge I haven't mapped out some or all of my picks, but I want to give it a few months and see how far I get first.

So....there's probably no way I will finish all of these, even with double (and triple and quadruple) counting books. I'm aiming to only count each book once for each challenge, but it can count for as many challenges as possible. For now, I'm having a lot of fun with the challenges. If they stop being fun, I'll probably stop doing them. I like the Litsy and GoodReads communities for each of them, and I like a sense of structure to my reading.

Now tell me: what are your reading goals and resolutions this year?

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, January 4, 2019

book thoughts: Still Lives by Maria Hummel

The basics:  "Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition, Still Lives, features portraits in which she depicts herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women. As the city's richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum's opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution's flailing finances. Except that Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala."--publisher

My thoughts: I am perhaps the perfect audience for this novel: it's a mystery, but it's also a thoughtful examination of the contemporary Los Angeles art world, the role of women in art (as artist and subject), and how we view violence against women. I would gladly read a book about any one of those things, so to have them all in one book thrilled me.

When I finished this novel, I found myself of two minds. This book is brilliant in its feminist depiction of crime and art. As a mystery, it wasn't as compelling. What started as a five-star read ended up with four-stars. It's a book I want to reread because of the passages about art and crime, but it's also one I'll recommend with a caveat. Ultimately, I think readers looking for a mystery might be disappointed and readers looking for an art novel might be happier. As I've reflected on this novel for the past few days, I find myself wishing something I rarely do: that this novel were longer. Hummel packs a lot in these 288 pages, but I think another 40 pages might have let the end come together for me more.

Despite my partial disappointment with this novel, I still love it because of the fictional Kim Lord:
"I remember something Kim Lord said about paint, her chosen medium: “The Lonely Hearts Killer, the Original Night Stalker, the Grim Sleeper—Los Angeles serial killers get these profoundly cool names. Meanwhile, their victims look like models. There’s this glamour that glosses their suffering and their humanity,” she said. “Photography is partly to blame, I think. It’s an instant medium and only captures the flash of surfaces. Which is why I wanted to paint these women.”"
For a book about such serious subjects, Hummel also made me laugh out loud more than once at her descriptions of Los Angeles (and its inhabitants):  "It’s Nelia or Sara, on Greg’s other side. I can’t tell them apart, especially in the fading light. They are both attractive red-haired life coaches, and they’ve cowritten a book that is made up entirely of bullet points."

While the ending left me a little disappointed, this book made me a fan of Maria Hummel, and I'll be first in line when her next book comes out.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: June 5, 2018
Source: library

Favorite passage:  "“I thought still lifes were grapes and dead hares and stuff,” he says. “Aren’t these portraits?” he asks. “Not according to the artist,” I say. “She says that these paintings are still lifes because the subjects are inanimate and positioned to relay a meaning.” “Kim Lord is inanimate?” “Her photos of herself are. And the victims are.” Kevin looks dubious. “Also, because still lifes were often a display of opulence or wealth,” I explain. “Some rich person showing off the luxuries they own. Well, what if the liberated woman is one of our society’s luxuries? And what if she’s something hunted and killed, too?”"

Want to read for yourself? Buy Still Lives from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Challenges: Booked (New to You author), Litsy A to Z, Pop Sugar (two books with same title), and Hello Sunshine

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

My Favorite Reads of 2018

So long, 2018! You were my worst year of reading and blogging to date. I managed to read only 54 books, and I've reviewed almost none of them, but I have the urge to start fresh in 2019, so today I'm sharing with you my favorites and clearing my LibraryThing To Be Reviewed shelf. I hope I've (finally) found my reading and blogging momentum again, but I've learned not to make promises I hope to keep. Despite my disappointment in the amount of reading and blogging I did, I read some great books, and I'm excited to share them with you.

Best Comic

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
I devoured this delightful young adult comic in a single sitting, and it was a delightful, heartwarming tale. It's the kind of book I'm so glad exists for those growing up as it addresses gender identity in great ways without it being a book that's about gender identity; it's simply part of a wonderful story, as it is in real life. Jen Wang is one to watch.

Best Essay Collection

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra
I picked up a galley of this essay collection on a whim at a library conference a few years. I picked it up on a whim last January as a good print book to bring for reading on the beach in Thailand. What a wonderful whims I had. As I sat reading, underlining and making comments like mad, I couldn't stop thinking, "why are we not all talking about how brilliant Megan Stielstra is?!' "Why have I never heard of her before? I must tell everyone!" This collection is brilliant and vulnerable and amazing. It's one I will return to again and again, and I'll keep talking about it so Stielstra becomes better known.

Runner-up: Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

Best Memoir 

Becoming by Michelle Obama
This book consistently moved me to tears: tears of joy, tears of pride, tears of wonder, and tears of gratitude. I listened to the audiobook, which the author reads, and I'm so glad I did. In a particularly lucky moment of fate, I found myself driving across Iowa while listening to the section about campaigning in Iowa. But I loved each part of this beautifully written memoir. Michelle's story is remarkable, but this book is remarkable because of her wisdom, grace, vulnerability, and writing.

Runner-up: I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson

Best Mystery (standalone)

The Wife by Alafair Burke (my review)

I'm a huge fan of Alafair Burke, and I've read all of her books (even the ones she co-writes with Mary Higgins Clark). The Wife is her best. Ever. I've recommended to pretty much everyone this year, even people who aren't looking for a mystery. It's a brilliant social commentary perfectly timed for the #metoo movement. It's a stunning thriller. It's well-written. It's characters are fully formed and beautifully flawed.

Runners-up: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn and The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (my review)

Best Mystery (part of a series)

This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong

I've loved the Rockton series since the beginning, and this third entry is the best yet. The fourth one, Watcher in the Woods, comes out next month, and there's a tv show in the works. Start reading this amazing, almost-dystopian mystery series now!

Runners-up: Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly and Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge

Biggest Surprise

Marriage Vacation by Pauline Turner Brooks

Younger is one of my favorite tv shows. It's centered around a publishing house, but that's not why I love it. In season four, a major storyline involves an autobiographical novel from the publisher's estranged wife. I wanted to read it because I love the show, but I didn't expect it to be good. If you would have told me it would make my top five fiction reads of 2018, I would have been shocked. But it's really good. I laughed. I cried. I highlighted. Is it as great if you don't watch the show and know the two characters? Maybe not. But it's certainly more than tv tie-in novel.

Best Novel with the most disappointing ending

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I really enjoyed Ng's first novel, Everything I Never Told You. Little Fires Everywhere is better. As I read, I was convinced I was reading a 5-star novel. I loved the characters, the story, and the writing. Ultimately, I was disappointed in the ending. I wanted something more or something different. (Highlight to read spoiler): for a novel that begins with the end, I wanted the ending to feel different at the end. I wanted to have new insight that made me look at that scene completely differently. That didn't happen, and I was a bit let down. Still, this novel is extraordinary, and I can't wait for the tv series.

The Runners-Up

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (my review)

I love both of these novels so much. Both authors cemented a place on my Read Every Word list.

My Favorite Read of 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

It's a special thing for me to rate a book 6 stars out of 5, so it's no surprise The Immortalists, the only book to earn that distinction this year, is still my favorite, twelve months later. I wrote Chloe Benjamin a love letter about how much I adored this book. I've consistently recommended it to pretty much everyone all year, so if you haven't read it, take the time. It's out in paperback next month.

Now tell me: what was your favorite read of 2018?

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