- The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close. The Hopefuls tells the story of a young couple living in D.C. during Obama’s administration. Beth, the protagonist, follows her husband to our nation’s capital to pursue his political dreams and slowly (and somewhat painfully) learns to navigate the world of fierce competition, gossip, and shameless self-promotion. The novel doesn’t have much of a plot, but I couldn’t put it down. More than anything, it offers a honest portrayal of the day-to-day pitfalls and triumphs of a marriage. Really good.
- Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I was excited to read this book because of how much I LOVED Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite live up to it. Sample’s writing is funny and at times a little wacky, but I just couldn’t find anyone or anything to connect with in this novel. It felt like it lacked direction and purpose. I still really enjoy Semple’s style, but I wasn’t in love with this story.
- Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel. After getting dumped by her French boyfriend, Kate attempts to get her life back together by accepting a job in admissions at a prestigious private school in NYC. The novel explores the crazy competitive world of private school admissions for the wealthy elite, as well as the many complicated relationships in Kate’s personal life. There’s nothing exceptional about this book, but it’s an entertaining read with some quirky characters and seriously funny moments. I enjoyed it.
- The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. The Sun Is Also a Star follows the lives of two teenagers who meet by chance (or fate) and fall in love…over the course of one day. The catch? The protagonist is the daughter of illegal immigrants, and her family is being deported back to Jamaica that night. The book is charming and a little melodramatic—which I guess is appropriate considering that it’s written for teenagers. It also has a super sweet ending. If you’re into young adult novels, I would give this one a shot.
- Eligible by Curtin Sittenfield. Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which isn’t necessarily it’s crowning achievement. While it doesn’t compliment the original really at all, I thought the novel was cute and charming. It was a perfect beach read that I enjoyed while laying by the pool in Hawaii. But then again…how could anything be bad there? 🙂
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I’m still feeling a tad bewildered by this novel. First, I typically love any sort of novel or memoir about food, restaurants, and cooking. I just find them fascinating. Sweetbitter is a novel about a naive twenty-something named Tess who leaves her life behind to start over in NYC and gets a job at one of the best restaurants in the city. The parts about food I loved. The rest was just bizarre. There didn’t seem to be any real narrative or direction. The main character (and most of the characters in the novel for that matter) is a mess and spends most of the novel in a drunken, drug induced haze. I just couldn’t get into it. But I have another food memoir on my nightstand that I’m pretty excited about…
- Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. I just need to say something…I adore Glennon. She writes with a kind of honesty and vulnerability that I’ve never encountered in anything else I’ve read. She describes herself as a truth teller, and she really is…in the best possible way. Love Warrior is a memoir about marriage and infidelity and addiction and loss. It’s about finding God and yourself and learning to love another person without walls and stipulations. It is beautiful and painful and not for the faint of heart. I loved it!
- The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. To be honest, I’ve been putting off reading this play. I LOVE Harry Potter, and I was afraid not loving this would somehow lessen the experience in mind. I was so, so wrong. This play is amazing! The story, set in the wizarding world of Harry Potter nineteen years after the last book ended, revolves around Harry Potter’s son, Albus, and his adventures with his best friend Scorpius. The plot was not what I expected at all—it was so much better! I don’t want to give anything away here, but if you love Harry Potter then you will love this, too. You even forget you’re reading a play after a few pages and just get absorbed in the story. Just magical. And it makes me want to plan a trip to London to see it live!
- Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. Ugh. I was SO disappointed by this book. I love Moriarty’s fiction, and her character development is usually fantastic. But this book fell way short for me. Truly Madly Guilty follows the lives of three couples who share a traumatic experience that connects them forever. The book was slow and anticlimactic, and the characters were painfully dull. I have loved every other Moriarty book I’ve read, but this one was truly unsatisfying.
- Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. It’s no secret that Shauna is my all-time favorite author, so I was really looking forward to this book (I preordered it months in advance). In Present Over Perfect, Shauna talks about letting go of hurry and busyness and giving up the quest for perfection in return for a simpler, more connected way of living. Her writing is beautiful, and her message is something we all need to heard. But I honestly just didn’t love this book….and it kills me to say that. It felt like less intimate, personal stories and more like self-help than her other books, and I just didn’t connect with it in the same way. I read it in small pieces—more like a devotional—instead of devouring it in one sitting like I have all her other books. Still a lovely, heartfelt book, but it just didn’t compare to Cold Tangerines or Bread and Wine for me….which you should go buy IMMEDIATELY if you haven’t read yet!
- The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger. I have a HUGE stack of new novels on my nightstand right now, so I have been flying through books. The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger was an easy read, but it wasn’t my favorite book that she’s written. It follows the life of a professional tennis star as she comes back from an injury with a new coach and a new boyfriend. It was interesting, but I was never blown away by it. The worst part for me was the ending. It was one of those where you’re not supposed to care about the outcome of the final match because she found herself, happiness, love, blah, blah, blah. I just want to know who wins!
- The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Obviously, this book has been huge for months now, so I was really excited to read it. The Nest follows the lives of four highly dysfunctional siblings living in NYC and the tension that surrounds them concerning the existence of (or lack thereof) the “nest” (i.e. their inheritance). At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. None of the siblings are particularly likable, but I found myself addicted to their dysfunction. I cared about what happened to them and their relationships with one another. Sweeney is also just an excellent writer. By the last third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. And I loved the ending of this one!
- The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews. This was your typical beach read—drama, humor, gossip, and just a little murder…all set on the coast! The Weekenders turned out to be pretty much what I expected…a fairly predictable storyline and average writing, but entertaining and fun for a casual day relaxing by the water.
- Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. This book showed up on almost every single summer reading list I came across the past few months, so I was really anxious to see it. The novel follows the lives of six main characters, two adult couples and their teenage children. Their lives are woven together in a variety of ways, dating all the way back to their time playing together in a band during college. For me this book was just okay—not terrible, but not great either. I didn’t find any of the characters incredibly relatable or believable, and the story fell short for me, too. Overall, I was pretty disappointed, but there are still a lot of books left on my summer reading list!
- Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle. I loved Melanie Shankle’s memoir about marriage, The Antelope in the Living Room, and her newest book on friendship did not disappoint either! Melanie writes like she’s sitting across the table from her best friend with a glass of wine, which I love. Her writing is honest, brave, and downright hilarious. Nobody’s Cuter than You is about what it means to be a friend—what it means to show up, to walk through the good and ugly parts of life with the people you love. Just lovely.
- The After Party by Anton DiSclafani. I saw this book on summer reading lists over and over again, so I was excited to pick it up. For me, it started out slow—really, really slow. The novel is set in 1950s Houston and follows the lives and friendship of two wealthy socialites. One is beautiful and mysterious, with a world of secrets, and the other is her devoted (almost to the point of obsession) and loyal friend. It took me forever to get into this book. The first 200 pages dragged on with not much happening, and then I sped through the last 20 pages when everything finally came together. Well-written and interesting, but not one of my favorites.
One thing I know for sure is that words have an inexplicable power. They can transport us to different places and times, break our hearts, and mend our souls. The other day I started thinking the about the books that have changed my life. Here are five I came up with:
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. This is the book (and the author) that made me want to be a writer. Shauna’s writing is beautiful and graceful, and her words make me feel and think deeply about what I’m doing with this incredibly gift of life I’ve been given. Most specifically, Cold Tangerines changed the way I think about friendship—about the circle of people who I invest in and care about the most. This is hands down my favorite book of all time.
“Because we were made for motion, for arching up toward God with all the energy and passion of a thunderstorm, lightning slices through a sleepy world to remind us that we serve a fast-dancing God, a God who set this world whirling and crashing through space so that we could live from our toes and drum out the pulse of a billion veins carrying lifeblood to a billion hearts, temples to a God that got his hands dirty making us from dust. Let’s get dirty, in his name. Let’s sizzle and pop in his name. Let’s dance and shimmer and scrawl out our stories across the sky, like he taught us to. Let’s echo his words, and let our lives speak those words: It is good.”
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read this book—it’s one that I go back to over and over again, and it teaches me something new each time. This book, maybe more than any other I’ve read, changed the way I view God. I read this book for the first time during a difficult season of my life, and it helped me recognize God as truly PRESENT—in a real, tangible, life-changing way. God is not only big and mighty and omnipotent, but he is also gentle, patient, loving, and with us right where we are.
“Love the Lord your God, and love one another. Love one another as he loves. Love with strength and purpose and passion and no matter what comes against you. Don’t weaken. Stand against the darkness and love. That’s the way back to Eden. That’s the way back to life.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. This book is one of the books that made me LOVE to read. I read Harry Potter for the first time in seventh grade. I was already a reader before then, of course, but this book changed everything. It introduced me to a new world that has remained an important part of my life for over 15 years (and counting). I love books that just make you ravenous for more of the story—stay up late, under the cover with a flashlight, because you just can’t stop reading books. This is one.
“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect anything astonishing to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken up in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley…He couldn’t know at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter—the boy who lived.'”
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Like most people, I read Harper Lee’s famous novel for the first time in high school, but I have ready many times since then. Harper Lee writes with such gentleness and candor about humanity, justice, love, and respect for other people. When I think about what I want to teach the kids I work with (and my own children one day), those are the things that come to mind. They are also the things our world so desperately needs—people who see each other as worthy, valuable, and deserving of love. We belong to each other. Lee’s novel helped give me words for that.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite writers, and this book has changed the way I think about calling, ministry, and my own relationship with God. Church can be a hard place to be, and I have found that to be true over and over again. I have also found church to be one of the most affirming and life-giving communities I have ever been a part of in my life. Leaving Church is about finding God in all of that—in the brokenness and at the table.
“At least one of the purposes of church is to remind us that God has other children, equally as precious as we.”
- After You by Jojo Moyes. After You is the much-anticipated sequel to Me Before You, which I just absolutely LOVED. In After You, the main character attempts to navigate life after losing the man she loves. It’s a really beautiful story about relationships, healing and learning to stand on your own two feet, but it just didn’t give me the feels like Me Before You. It’s a great book, but it just doesn’t compare to the original for me.
- I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum. I had seen this novel recommended over and over again, but really didn’t think it was going to be my kind of book. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is a novel about an artist who attempts to win back the love and affection of his wife following an affair. I found the storyline to be a little depressing (obviously), and the characters weren’t all that likable (especially the protagonist—he was pretty repulsive, actually). Still, something about this book kept me reading. The writing was smart, and she had me engaged until the very end. I can’t say I loved this book, but it was definitely interesting.
- The Divorce Party by Laura Dave. I read this book while I was in Jamaica, and it’s the perfect easy read for a day at the beach. The novel follows two love stories, one ending and one just beginning, and all the emotions, secrets, and trials they encounter along the way. It’s definitely chick lit—easy, enjoyable, and not too complicated. Just what you want for a day on the beach!