Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Summer Reading List

I have been reading a ton this summer and loving every minute of it. I’ve been really fortunate to discover some wonderful books and new-to-me authors that embody everything I love about reading. And, after taking a little hiatus, I’ve resumed reading non-fiction in the morning, saving fiction for before bed or after work, out on the porch.

The following are some of my favorites from the last few months…

Mudbound by Hillary Jordon

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I decided to pick up Mudbound mostly because of its construct – multiple narrators sharing their perspective on the same series of events – because it’s one I tend to enjoy. Set in the Jim Crow South after WWII, this was not a happy book, and it describes a difficult and disturbing time. I was uncomfortable with reading it at times due to both the overt and subtle racism that are the undercurrent of the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’ve recommended it, but I would avoid it if you prefer to keep your summer reading light and casual.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I’ve been resisting this book since it first came out but finally decided to give it a try. Another historical fiction novel, surprise surprise, The Light Between Oceans is set on the Western Coast of Australia following World War I. Two main characters make a choice that has ripple effects for years to come and subsequent choices which still further impact both themselves and others. Part of the enjoyment of this novel comes from wondering if you would have made the same choices given the situation. If you like your books wrapped up with a neat and tidy bow at the end, this one delivers.

Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher

Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher

Coming Home was my first Rosamund Pilcher novel, probably an Amazon recommendation. I hesitated a little at the length – over 900 pages – but I had just finished some quick and easy reads and was looking for a project. I’m so glad I took the plunge because I enjoyed every word of this book from beginning to end. I’m sure many people would find it slow and tedious, but I was mesmerized by Pilcher’s use of language and her descriptions of place and fashion and people. I loved how she took the time to provide background and context for each of the main characters. She brought the people, the time and the place fully to life for me. I usually skim between the dialogue but I found myself stopping and rereading any time I caught myself doing it during this book because I really didn’t want to miss a word.

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

The sequel to the much loved The Kitchen House did not disappoint. In fact, I think I liked it better. I admit that I was a little reluctant to read it at all because I didn’t recall liking the main character of Glory much, and I confirmed that opinion when I reread The Kitchen House before starting Glory. But, Jamie was much improved in character and fortune by the start of the sequel, and I definitely found myself rooting for him throughout the story. If you liked The Kitchen House, you should definitely read this one.

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

The Promise is a short book, and the plot centers on Galveston in the early 1900s in the days leading up to and after the historic hurricane that wiped out the city and killed thousands of people. I read this very quickly…in a day or two. While the author did a wonderful job at portraying Galveston and the social constructs of that particular time, it was a little too short for me to become emotionally invested in the characters.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Another story that centers on a fateful decision. This is also a book about redemption and seizing life. More than one of the main characters are less than sympathetic, at least to start, but as the book progresses and I got to know them better, I found myself hoping they would all eventually find peace and happiness.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I chose Better than Before as my first non-fiction foray in quite a while because I was curious about Gretchen’s take on habits, having listened to her discuss them frequently on the podcast that she shares with her sister. I knew that she categorized people into one of four types, as far as habits go, and I was curious which one I was. I suspect I might be an Upholder. As my husband and others can attest, I am definitely a rule follower (jaywalking is against the law, people!), and I’ve been fairly good at starting habits and sticking to them for no other reason than that I told myself I would. My husband thought I might be a Questioner, and I thought he was definitely a Rebel. I also liked how she broke down other personal characteristics that added nuance to the four types.

Some of the negative reviews complained that this book was too anecdotal, but that’s how I prefer my non-fiction, so I thought it was a worthwhile read. And, I think it may help with forming some new habits like working out regularly.

The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

The Lost Solider by Diney Costeloe

I actually read the follow-up to the Lost Soldier as well, which is titled The Sisters of Saint Croix, immediately, so it was like reading one long novel instead of two. The first book is set during the Great War, while the second book picks up just before World War II. I found Costeloe’s writing easy to read and on the lighter side of historical fiction. If this sounds like your genre then you would probably enjoy both of these books.

What have you been reading this summer and where do you find your book recommendations? I usually enjoy Modern Mrs. Darcy’s picks, but Amazon hasn’t been as great for me lately.

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Summer Reading List

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Six Historical Fiction Audiobooks I’ve Listened to and Loved

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Lately, I’ve been using audiobooks as a way to motivate myself to take long walks after work. Listening to a good book while walking on the bike trails in our neighborhood makes an hour go by in what seems like a few minutes. It’s a wonderful way to escape and unwind after long days of meetings, preparing proposals, and designing spaces for our clients. I especially love historical fiction, so I thought I would round up some of my all time favorite audiobooks in this popular genre.

Pick #1 – Lavender Girls

I recently finished Lavender Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. It was a longer book, clocking in at 17 hours and 30 minutes. The book begins in 1939, on the verge of World War II, and follows the stories of three women over the next twenty years. The chapters alternate among each of the three main characters – an American society lady, a Polish teenager involved in the underground, and a German doctor. For much of the novel, the stories progress almost independently, but Kelly intertwines all three in the last chapters, bringing each story to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is inspired by true events, and two of three main characters were actual women whom the author heavily researched. The audiobook concludes with a message from the author in which she discusses how she was inspired to write this story and her process for researching it.

Pick #2 – All Things New

All Things New by Lynn Austin was another more recent choice that I thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t think it was as complex or nuanced as some of my other choices here, but the story was entertaining and engrossing.

Austin set the novel at the end of the Civil War, opening in Richmond and eventually following the main characters to their plantation home in rural Virginia. The primary character is twenty-two-year-old Josephine Weatherly, practically a spinster in the 1860s South. Her father and oldest brother were both casualties of the war, leaving Josephine alone with her mother and sister. Eventually her other brother returns, but he suffers from the psychological effects of battle and is in no condition to restore their floundering plantation.

The book is also told from the perspective of one of the Weatherly’s former slaves Lizzie, who remains with her husband and children to continue working for the Weatherly family when all of the others have chosen to leave. Lizzie offers additional context to the story and eventually reveals secrets which affect both her own family as well as the Weatherlys.

Throughout the story, Josephine struggles with her relationship with God as well as with her overbearing mother and angry revengeful brother. She forms a clandestine friendship with a carpetbagger Yankee, who helps her to regain her footing and her faith after the long years of suffering and privation. In the end, he saves her and her family in more ways than one, helping to heal the wounds of war.

Pick #3 – The Seamstress

I loved The Seamstress by Sarah Tuvel Bernstein because it was so different from any other Holocaust novel I’ve ever read. First, the author’s straightforward narrative of her experiences resonated in a deeply personal way. Second, the author was Romanian, and much of the early story is set in her rural Romanian hometown and in Bucharest. I had never read a World War II novel set in Romania and the descriptions of the countryside, towns and city were mesmerizing.

Sarah is incredibly smart and wins a scholarship to attend school in Bucharest, but she is eventually expelled. Needing to support herself and unwilling to return home, she finds work in a dressmaker’s shop and eventually becomes an accomplished seamstress. She manages to escape the Nazis for some time due to her to her blond hair and blue eyes.

Eventually, she and her sisters are conscripted into forced labor. Later, they are deported to Ravensbruck, the infamous women’s concentration camp. Sarah was determined that both she and her sister would survive the war. She recounts her story matter-of-factly and without bitterness. I was struck by the poignancy of this true story, and it remained with me long after I’d finished reading it.

Pick #4 – The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Susan Monk Kidd is a pre-war Southern novel that chronicles the story of a house slave Handful Grimke and her mistress Sarah. Sarah and her younger sister Angelina were renowned abolitionists who fled their native Charleston, South Carolina, where they were threatened due to their advocacy for not only African-American liberty but also equality.

Sarah instinctively feels, even as a young child, that owning another person is wrong. She rebels early on by teaching her personal slave Handful to read. As she matures, she maintains outward propriety by engaging in required womanly pursuits, but inwardly, she cannot reconcile herself to the societal norms of her time.

The novel alternates between Handful’s perspective and Sarah’s, which makes the story even more compelling in audio format. Kidd does an excellent job at bringing the Grimkes to life and recreating 1800s Charleston and later Quaker life in the North.

Pick #5 – The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult is one of those novels that completely sucks you in. I found myself sneaking minutes to listen to it whenever I could because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

This book also features multiple narrators – Sage Singer, a twenty-something baker, living in New England, and her Jewish grandmother Minka, who survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. The novel alternates between Sage’s voice in present day and Minka’s during the war. Also, Minka is a budding author when she is imprisoned by the Nazis, and excerpts of her writing feature prominently as standalone chapters, which provide a dark and sinister undertone to the entire book.

Sage, who was traumatized by a car accident that killed her mother, befriends an elderly German man whom she meets in her grief support group. Eventually, she comes to suspect that Josef is a Nazi war criminal, living a normal life, undetected for decades. She sets out to prove that Josef’s life is a lie, taking her on an emotional and harrowing journey into the past.

If you love World War II fiction, multiple narrators, and alternating time periods, as much as I do, this book is a must-read or listen.

Pick #6 – The Chaperone

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is also based on a true story. It chronicles the life of Louise Brooks, a 1920s silent film star, told from the point of view of her chaperone on her first trip to New York City. Cora Carlisle was an orphan, born in New York, who eventually was adopted by a Kansas couple. She lost her adoptive parents in her teens and was shunned by their older biological children. She quickly marries their young attorney and begins a seemingly traditional life as a housewife.

At thirty-six, disappointed in marriage and craving answers about her origins, she volunteers to chaperone spoiled young Louise Brooks as she travels to New York to study at the Denishawn School of Dancing. Their terse relationship is not improved by the close quarters conditions in their tiny apartment. While Louise dances during the day, Cora embarks on a quest to discover the truth about her parents. Along the way, she forms a friendship that sets her free and allows her to return to Kansas to pursue a more fulfilling, if unconventional, existence.

I know some people who loved this book and others who hated it. Personally, I was enthralled with Cora’s story as well as her bravery and perseverance to build a life that was truly her own.

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Historical Fiction Audiobooks

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately and My 2016 Reading Goals

2016 Reading Goals

Last year, I had a pretty ambitious goal to read 100 books. Around halfway through the year, I realized that this goal was somewhat silly because I was reading more for quantity than for comprehension. I was also avoiding re-reading books because I had arbitrarily decided that they “didn’t count” towards the goal. And, eventually this didn’t feel right, so I scrapped the 100 book goal and focused more on reading a little bit every day.

I posted about what I was reading with some regularity until the end of the year when I abandoned it entirely. I haven’t gone back to writing about what I’m reading because it felt like a daunting task. I finally decided that I could talk about reading and reading goals without summarizing every single book I read. This has been a good reminder that sometimes our obstacles are purely in our heads. My 2016 goals are less about numbers and more about being intentional with my reading.

Goal #1 – Read better quality books.

For most of 2015, I paid for a Kindle Unlimited membership. If you haven’t heard of it before, you subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited library for $10.00 per month for which you receive unlimited downloads. If the book has a corresponding audio book, you gain access to it as well. I was able to read several books very quickly by alternating between the e-book and the audio book, which I liked. But…after a while, I felt like I was limiting my book choices to the books in the Unlimited library, and frankly, a lot of those books were pretty mediocre. After finishing each book, I felt vaguely discontent, like I could have been spending my time in better ways. I finally cancelled my Kindle Unlimited account and decided to focus on reading better quality books. However, I don’t want to spend $100 per month on books which led me to goal #2.

Goal #2 – Get a library card…

And figure out how to hook my Kindle to the local library’s e-book collection. I’ve known this was possible for years and have never pursued it out of pure laziness. When I was a kid, I spent hours and hours at our local library. It was like a second home to me, especially during the summer months. Since moving away, I’ve never visited any library (except the one in Central Phoenix because it was incredible) with any regularity.

I think I’ve avoided the library because I love reading on my Kindle so much and also because I want instant gratification. I’m starting to realize that instant gratification is an addiction. Have you ever felt slightly itchy because you really want your Amazon Prime order to show up tomorrow instead of two days from now? Yeah, me too. So, I think using the library will be a good way to break out of that cycle while saving some money.

Goal #3 – Listen to one audio book per month.

I can only think of one audio book that I really hated, and it shall remain nameless. Mostly I become incredibly involved and addicted to the audio books I read. I’m ok with this kind of addiction because it’s not hurting anyone and it feels so good. I listened to All the Light We Cannot See while driving to and from school and actually sat and listened to the last hour while sitting on the sofa one afternoon because I could not wait until Monday to find out how it ended. I spent an entire Spring semester listening to The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, which were around 40 hours each. I felt bereft when they were over.I really love the experience of listening to a good book, and I don’t know why I’ve denied myself that pleasure recently.

I really love the experience of listening to a good book, and I don’t know why I’ve denied myself that pleasure recently. I am going to subscribe again to Audible and listen to one book per month. I won’t have my long commute once the semester ends, so I plan to use the audio books to motivate me to take long daily walks.

Goal #4 – Read both non-fiction and fiction every day.

I’ve been doing this for a while and lately tracking it in my bullet journal. I read non-fiction in the morning, either as part of my morning practice, or while eating my breakfast. I like to read fiction in the evening before bed. I’ve been pretty consistent with the non-fiction, but I tend to binge read fiction and then take long breaks in between. I’m trying to avoid this bad habit in favor of consistency by reading a little every single day. I’m not saying I’ll never binge read another book, but I’m going to try savoring my books instead of devouring them.

So what have I been reading lately?

I’ve been taking my cues from the What Should I Read Next Podcast and finally read the first novel in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series Still Life. I fully expected to either hate it or not really care about it because I don’t tend to enjoy detective novels. They always seem a little flat to me, the characters underdeveloped and the descriptions lacking. I gave Still Life a chance because Anne described Louise Penny as having an innate sense of human nature and her characters as complex. She wasn’t wrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the plot and the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop over the course of the series.

This next one is a little woo-woo, but it kept popping up in podcasts and blogs and random places, so I decided to give it a shot. Ask and It Is Given is a book about the Law of Attraction by Esther and Jerry Hicks. The woo-woo part comes in as Esther describes the vibrations of the universe – the Source – as communicating through her. She refers to them as Abraham, and the book is written from their point of view. I fully expected to hate this book and think it was utter rubbish, but I have been utterly fascinated by it instead.

In my go-to genre of historical fiction, I recently read The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which I enjoyed but didn’t particularly love, and Our Own Country by Jody Daynard, the sequel to The Midwife’s Revolt, which I read last year. I recommend both The Midwife’s Revolt and Our Own Country, read in that order (both currently on Kindle Unlimited) , if you enjoy historical fiction, strong female characters, and experiencing one story from multiple view points.

Do you have any reading goals for this year? What good books have you been reading lately? And how do you decide what you should read next?

Styled by Emily Henderson Book Review

Book Review: Styled by Emily Henderson

My interior design mentors have all espoused the necessity of building a strong design library, and over the past few years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to invest in growing my personal design library with books by my favorite designers. I especially love when I can support a designer, like Emily Henderson who contributes so much free content that is consistently inspiring and educational. So, I did not hesitate to pre-order her very first book Styled by Emily Henderson.

Styled by Emily Henderson Book Review

When it comes to interior design, I think that styling is my weak spot. I find it overwhelming. In my own, house, I feel like I have a lot of stuff that I’ve held onto over the years and none of it looks particularly great, and I don’t tend to spend money on the decorative objects that can really pull a space together. My only real collection is a growing number of vintage ceramic planters in various shades of green, yellow and white.

Obviously, I need help in this area, and I eagerly anticipated this book as a sort of guide or text that I could reference.

Styled by Emily Henderson Book Review

After the introduction, the book starts with a style quiz. I got an 82 on the second half of the 20 questions, which put me at bohemian. I do like bohemian style, but I also enjoy Scandinavian interiors. Emily accounts for this with her Style Wheel, which is designed to help you mix and match styles, much like she used to do on her show Secrets of a Stylist.

The following chapters explain some of the basics of styling before laying out ten easy steps for styling your space. I found this section to be incredibly helpful and very actionable.

The second half of the book walks through room by room with tons of gorgeous photography of both entire rooms and detailed vignettes. Many of the photos are accompanied by helpful tips and explanations.

Styled by Emily Henderson Book Review

In summary, Styled is way more than your typical coffee table book. It’s exactly what I was looking for as a go-to source for helping me learn how to style both my own home and my clients. I keep it on the end table by my spot in the living room and frequently pick it up to read through the texts and study the photos.

Since I received the book last month, I’ve already been inspired to work with what I have and I’ve experimented with my bookcases and other little vignettes in my home.

If you’re interested in how you can better arrange your collections and stuff so that your home looks more polished and interesting, rather than cluttered and messy, this is definitely the book to buy.

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Books I’ve Read in 2015 – Fall Update

Fall-2015-Book-Update

It’s been quite a while since I posted about what I’ve been reading this year. Truthfully, the amount I’ve been reading slowed quite a bit over the summer, and I haven’t been reading quite as much as I had been before. I spent most of July re-reading the Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes, which I was enjoying until I got to book six. For the first five books, Amazon had made the audio version available for free with Whispersync (the books were all on Kindle Unlimited), and I had been alternately listening in the car and on walks and then reading at night. The sixth book didn’t have an audio version, I didn’t much like the characters, and generally thought it was boring, so I abandoned the rest of the series. It was kind of disappointing to realize the books weren’t quite as great as I once thought they were.

On the plus side, I did read quite a few good books in August and over the past two months.

The Lake House: A Novel by Kate Morton

The only thing I dislike about Kate Morton is that she doesn’t publish oftener.  I had been eagerly awaiting Kate Morton’s newest novel since devouring The Secret Keeper a few years ago and snatched it up as soon as it was released in October.  The Lake House follows a similar formula to historical fiction by Morton, Suzanna Kearsley and others in that it involves parallel story lines – one in the present day (or  close to it) and one in the past. In this plot, Morton further complicated matters by time traveling to multiple points in the past and revealing the plot line from multiple character view points.

The story is told from the point of view of present day heroine Sadie Sparrow as well as Eleanor Edevane and her daughter Alice Edevane at various points in the first half the 20th century. The bulk of the novel revolves around the tragic disappearance of Theodore Edevane, Eleanor’s son and Alice’s young brother, on the night of an annual summer party at the family’s residence in Cornwall. Sadie Sparrow, a London detective, discovers the home, locked and abandoned, on a visit to Cornwall and becomes obsessed with unraveling its mysteries.

I found The Lake House to be an entertaining and captivating read, as are all of Morton’s novels. However, unlike the Secret Keeper whose ending was a total surprise, I suspected the eventual outcome almost from the very beginning. The fun was in discovering how all of the details unfolded. The Secret Keeper was definitely a tough act to follow, but the Lake House doesn’t disappoint.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I downloaded this first time novel by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan after hearing their interview on The Lively Show podcast. I normally stay away from fluffy, contemporary romance novels and I don’t particularly care for plots revolving around fictional royalty, but the interview with the authors was so interesting that I had to give it a shot.

The story is a fictionalized account of the courtship and engagement of Prince William and Princess Kate, except in this version, Kate is actually an American exchange student Bex Porter, with a twin sister, who happens to end up living on Prince William’s, I mean Nick’s, hall at Cambridge. I expected to think this book was silly and boring, but I ended up staying up late several nights in a row (it’s long!) to finish it. Anyone who follows the royals will recognize some key events from William and Kate’s relationship, including their breakup, but the characters come into their own, including Freddie, who is as charming and dashing as his real life counterpart Prince Harry appears to be in real life.

I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

Me Before You: A Novel by JoJo Moyes

I resisted reading Me Before You for ages but eventually decided I needed to start reading JoJo Moyes novels, mostly because of the fantastic font on her book covers. I was incredibly skeptical of the plot – caregiver Lousia Clark falls for her paralyzed patient Will, who is handsome yet incorrigible  – but I found myself engrossed in the will he or won’t he question that haunts both the plot and Louisa. I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand.

The sequel After You is now available but receiving less positive reviews than the original. I liked Lousia’s character and wouldn’t mind finding out what happens to her, but I’ll probably wait for this one to go on sale.

The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Plum Tree was a Kindle Unlimited read. I had been unofficially trying to avoid WWII novels after All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale partly because the subject can get depressing and partly because those books were just so good that I couldn’t bear to read anything less successful. The Plum Tree followed some of the key themes from other Holocaust and WWII centered plots, but it had its own twists on them. The ending, thankfully, is happy.

The Milliner’s Secret by Natalie Meg Evans

Since I broke my WWII genre resolution, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to read one more. The Milliner’s Secret follows a young English woman who moves to Paris with her German officer lover prior to the start of the war. She works as a milliner and eventually opens her own hat shop. Like The Nightingale, the story eventually involves the Resistance.

I found important aspects of the book a little difficult to believe. For instance, the main character learns French and develops a French accent so perfect that everyone believes she was born in France. And, she manages to do so incredibly quickly.

Still, I generally enjoyed the book and would recommend it as a quick and easy read.

A Wilder Rose: A Novel by Susan Wittig Albert

Like many little girls, I was obsessed with the Little House books when I was younger. I read all of them including the lesser known followup books On the Way Home and West from Home. I always knew Rose existed, and I knew she was also a writer and helped with the Little House books. I didn’t know just how involved she was with the writing of the series and what a successful writer she herself was, as well as a passionate Libertarian. A Wilder Rose is told from Rose’s point of view as, later in life, she narrates the story of how the Little House books came to be to a friend. The book is a fictionalized account but reads more like a memoir. It was dry at times, but the insight into Laura Ingalls Wilder was fascinating as well as a little disconcerting.

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall by Winston Graham, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga)

I picked up the first Poldark novel after watching the first season of the television series on PBS. The book is richer in detail but the storyline is very similar to the show. I think I would have found it difficult to follow if I hadn’t seen the series, making it one of the few times I’ve been grateful to see the TV/movie version before reading the book.

I have quite a few books queued up in my Kindle as well as several non-fiction books that I’ve started and haven’t finished. Now that it’s getting dark earlier and cold, I feel like it’s a great time to hibernate and hole up in front of the fire with a sleeping dog, cup of tea, and a great book.

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?

Links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, I may earn a very tiny bit of money.