Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In a word: Sophisticated.

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This is a book that I just KEPT seeing everywhere. The author, Amor Towles, just released his second novel (A Gentleman in Moscow) in September (I am currently about halfway through it–so far, so good!), so his name has been floating around all of the blogs, podcasts, and Instagram accounts that I rely on to keep me relevant in the book world. Also, my friend Marci raved about Katey and Tinker and Eve. When I would hear Rules of Civility described, it was usually something along the lines of “like Gatsby, but not really.”

It is a similar world to Gatsby, but I like Rules of Civility WAY more. I loved the glamorous ‘high society’ New York characters, the elaborate parties, the witty banter, the chance encounters, the thoughtful asides. Rules is definitely more about the characters than the plot, but the characters were so interesting that anytime they DID anything, it was usually pretty fun to read about.

The thing that makes this book a stand out (in my opinion, of course) is not the setting or the characters, but the writing. It amazes me that this is Towles’s first novel. I kept a pad of sticky notes with me while I read so I could mark memorable passages, and I ended up with a very bookmarked final product! I can’t wait to finish reading his second book. I also think this is definitely one that would be worth re-reading.

Check out some of my favorite quotes below:

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“It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book.”

“If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us…then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.”

“Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane–in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath–she had probably put herself in unnecessary danger.”

September Recap

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Historical Fiction)

LOVED. The Invention of Wings was a really beautiful story that is based on the true story of the Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two sisters who were activists for Civil rights and women’s rights in the 1820s and 30s. The book also tells the fictional story of Handful, a slave girl who was given to Sarah on her 11th birthday. This story is beautiful and heartbreaking, telling the stories of two girls who have hopes and dreams of rising above the lives they are born into.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (Fiction)

I was sadly not very impressed by this one. I saw it in the library and grabbed it because I love Steve Martin (yes, the actor), but it was not my favorite. An Object of Beauty follows Lacey, a young up-and-comer in the art world in New York. There are many, many descriptions of famous paintings and artists (which I don’t have a lot of knowledge about), and also, Lacey was a terrible person. I don’t always have to love characters I’m reading about, but there was not enough in the book for me to like to get past a very unlikable main character. I read to the end of the book, but it was definitely not one I would ever pick up again.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Fiction)

This was my book club choice this month, and it was SO fun. A quirky, socially incompetent genetics professor comes up with “The Wife Project”, a survey that will find him a suitable partner. Around the same time, he meets Rosie, a wild, unpredictable girl enters his life. The both find that there are things to learn from the other and (SPOILER ALERT) find love in very unexpected ways!

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (audio-celebrity memoir)

I have always had a really warm spot in my heart for Steve Martin, but I have realized that that is actually more about George Banks and less about the actual person of Steve. I still did enjoy this audio book, but it was not quite as good as I had built it up in my mind. I do not really know much about the world of stand-up comedy, so it was interesting to hear about Steve Martin’s journey from Disney World to magic shows to stand up to acting.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (Nonfiction)

One of my friends called this “an uncomfortably great read” and I think that is the perfect description. I never would have picked up a book about cadavers, but my good friend told me that it was super interesting and worth reading. For a book about dead bodies, it is surprisingly upbeat. Mary Roach does a great job of presenting facts and stories in an accurate, but not overly gruesome way. She explores the history of cadaver use in medical study as well as other fields. It was FASCINATING. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or for the squeamish, but I learned so much! If you are into biology or science history, I think this could be a good book for you.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Classic)

I am putting this book into the unfortunate “Overrated Classics” category. I’m sorry if you love this book, but I thought it was SO BORING. I think I could have enjoyed an abridged version of this book because each chapter seemed like about 15% plot and 85% descriptions of sea creatures. I suppose that may be interesting to someone interested in ocean life, but for me it was soooo hard to get through.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (YA-dystopian fiction)

This is my favorite fun (if you can call a book about training teenagers the tactics of war “fun”) I’ve read in a while. I love a good dystopian story, and this one did not disappoint. It has a Hunger Games-y feel, but it may be a little bit darker. It has been a long time since I’ve read HG, but from what I remember, this one seems to have a lot more killing and violence. BUT. I loved. it. I will probably do a full review once I finish the last book of the trilogy. Red Rising is about a society that has a strict color caste system; each color has a specific place and role in their world, some more glamorous than others. A rebel group rises up from the lowColors and tries to infiltrate the system from the inside. It is dramatic and gripping and interesting and just so good!

August Recap

Wrapped up my “Summer Reading” with some fun August reads!

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1.The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan (Foodie Fiction)

This was a delightful little novel. I did a full review here. It was engaging, a little cheesy (in a good way), and fun. It was a great summer or weekend read–bonus points if you have a fondness for Paris or chocolate.

2.The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin (Bookish Fiction)

I really enjoyed this one! A.J. Fickry is a quirky, widower who owns a book store on an island whose life is turned upside down when a baby is left in his store with a note and an Elmo doll. Surprisingly, he decides to keep the child; unsurprisingly, he then turns into a big softy. I love books about books, so all of the conversations and recommendations that A.J. has throughout the books were very enjoyable.

3. Persuasion by Jane Austen (Classic)

Stop 3 in my tour de Jane. I was interested to see how much I enjoyed Persuasion because, unlike Pride and Prejudice and Emma, I was not familiar with the story or the characters. Verdict: Jane Austen is a genius forever and I love her. Persuasion was definitely very good, but it did not surpass my first two Austen loves. I found the characters a little bit uninteresting, and the conflict in this story was not as compelling as the others. Also, Anne’s sisters are the worst.

4. We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (Fiction)

I think I must have heard someone mention this book at some point, but I had no idea what it was when I got the notification from the library that it was ready for pick-up. I decided to just jump right in, which was a fun exercise! This book was pretty medium for me. It felt agenda-pushy and overall kind of meh. It was about as good as a movie I picked on Netflix-entertaining for the moment, but not something I’ll probably think about again.

5. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (non ficion/memoir/celebrity book)-Audio!

I actually own this book in hard copy, but when I saw it available at the library on audio, I grabbed it. I read Why Not Me? in one day when I first got it, so there were definitely some stories and quotes that I had forgotten about since then. Why Not Me? is definitely enjoyable, but I far prefer Mindy’s first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. There are definitely some great quotes and essays, though, including “I will leave you with one last piece of advice, which is: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And if you don’t got it? Flaunt it. ’Cause what are we even doing here if we’re not flaunting it?”

6. The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White (Christian Nonfiction)

The Admissions team at my school chose this as our Summer reading book, and it was very good! White explores the rise of the religiously non-affiliated in our culture, and he gives really practical tips on how Christians can best reach that ever-growing demographic.

7. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques (YA)

I was approaching the end of the month and still had not chosen my YA book yet, so I enlisted the help of a 6th grade boy who I babysit. He started with some obvious recommendations (Harry Potter, Wingfeather Saga), but when I had read most of the ones he suggested, he finally landed on this one. Jacques is best known for his Redwall series (fighting mouse, I think?), but Sage told me that this one was better. It tells the story of a young boy and his dog who escape from a cursed ship and are granted immortality and telecommunication between each other. It was enjoyable–definitely different than what I would normally pick up, but I did like it! I am not the intended audience for this book, but I think that it is perfect for young readers. It has adventure and a great story, and it does it without bad language or inappropriate content.

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris (Jenny Colgan)

In a word: Darling

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I read The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris on vacation a few weeks ago, and it was really cute. Jenny Colgan has written a lot of food themed novels, and what’s not to love about that? This one tells the story of Anna Trent, an English girl who worked in a giant chocolate factory. After a bizarre accident, she finds herself in the hospital recovering in the bed next to her kind, but very sick, high school French teacher. The two become close during their lonely days at the hospital, and after Anna’s recovery time is over, Mrs. Shawcourt connects Anna to an old friend of hers: Thierry Girard, a famous chocolatier in Paris.

Anna’s Paris adventure is rocky at first: she struggles with the language, her coworkers don’t like her, her apartment is tiny, her roommate is erratic; but as she gets into her element, she discovers the delights of the city. There are some great characters throughout the novel-Thierry, the passionate, boistrous chocolatier; his uptight, British wife; the quirky, loyal shop assistants; Thierry’s handsome, estranged son; Anna’s flamboyant roommate; and Anna, the self-conscious protagonist, trying to find her way in the world.

This book is a cute novel that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside and also craving fancy chocolate. Definitely a fun summer (or weekend!) read!

Books I Can’t Stop Recommending

Since I’ve started posting more on social media about my reading life, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for book recommendations. Although I have read a lot of books this year, I find myself recommending the same few books over and over, so I thought I would share them with you now.

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Category: Quirky/Unusual/Different from other things you’ve read

  1. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I have written briefly about WYGB before because I reread it in June (for my third or fourth time), but I wanted to give a little more details here.

Semple is a super interesting writer. She wrote for Arrested Development, which is a show well-known for witty one-liners, hilarious banter, and tons of inside jokes. WYGB delivers on all of these accounts.Bernadette herself is a quirky, misunderstood, slightly-crazy mom who goes missing, and her daughter Bee is putting together pieces to find out where she went. The style of this novel is unique: the story is told through a compilation of emails, memos, newspaper clippings, and flyers. I have heard that the style is off-putting to some readers, but I loved it. When I chose this book for my book club in July, the discussion turned into a read-aloud of all of our favorite parts of the book. It was my dream come true.

Memorable quote: “This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.”

2. The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The ridiculous title was the first thing that appealed to me. I read the author interview at the back and learned that his inspiration for this novel was a conversation with  friend where they started thinking back on all that a person would have seen if he had lived through the past 100 years. The story follows Allan, a man who climbs out of the window in his nursing home on the morning of his 100th birthday and embarks on an accidental adventure. The story switches between his current flight and his past escapades. Jonassan cleverly crafts Allan’s life story to include interactions with most major political figures and world events that show up between 1905-2005, from building the first atom bomb to engaging  in a drinking battle with Harry Truman on the night that Roosevelt was shot. The story is obviously far-fetched, but it is very clever and fun and full of dry wit. The book is translated from Swedish, but I think it keeps its humor really well.

Example quote: “Never try to out-drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.” or “Allan thought it sounded unnecessary for the people in the seventeenth century to kill each other. If they had only been a little patient they would all have died in the end anyway.”

Category: Suspense/Thriller

3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Lindsey had talked about Rebecca for years, and after I read it, I totally understood why. It is an awesome thriller that is gripping to the end, but it doesn’t have the graphic or scary details that often come with the genre. Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who marries a widower and goes back with him to the home he used to share with his late wife, Rebecca. The new wife (you never learn her name, although she is the narrator of the whole novel) tries to adjust to life in Rebecca’s shadow, but the longer she spends in the house, the more she realizes that things are not what they seem. Who exactly was Rebecca, and what happened to her all those years ago?

4. The Chief Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny (Book one is called Still Life)

I have gushed about Louise Penny before, and I’m sure this won’t be my last time. There is something about this series that I can’t get enough of! Penny has created a wonderful cast of characters who play in each of these murder mysteries. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is thoughtful, kind, perceptive, and wise, and he is very good at his job as head of homicide. His character is what makes the series so wonderful. These books are murder mysteries, but they are so much more about the characters and their lives and about human nature and relationships than they are about graphic details of murders. Some of the books have a little bit of weird mysticism thrown in, and they all have some language (one of two of the characters in particular), but overall they are really great if you enjoy a good mystery!

Category: Funny

5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I love a good celebrity memoir, and this one is my favorite. Mindy is hilarious and down to earth and surprisingly insightful. I remember thinking, “YES! Why does no one else talk about how weird/dumb/ridiculous _______ is?!” In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Mindy discusses the awkwardness of growing up, making friends, chasing dreams, and feeling left out, but she does it all in a way that shows that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Also, she gives some great behind-the-scenes details from The Office, which is always very fun to read. There is some language and adult content, but this book is way less shocking and gritty than a few other celebrity memoirs I’ve read. I liked this first book better than her second, Why Not Me?, but that one is fun if you want more Mindy. This is my go-to book when someone says they need an easy book to get back into reading. It is a quick, easy, fun read!

Example quote: “All women love Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy, Mark Darcy, George VI—at this point he could play the Craigslist Killer and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, the Craigslist Killer has the most boyish smile!”

July Recap

Summer is my favorite (and best) time for reading, and in July I had some nice time by the pool to read a couple of fun books!

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  1. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (Nonfiction)

As I’ve already said before, I LOVED this book. I still haven’t taken it out of my kitchen because I need to reference it so often. I love the concept of the book (turning normal people into confident home cooks), and I thought the writing was thoughtful and interesting.

Best application: I’m still regularly making homemade bread and impressing all of my friends.

2. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Fiction-Bookclub)

The Red Tent was my book club’s July pick, and honestly, I don’t think I would have made it to the end if I hadn’t been reading it for book club. Diamant takes the characters from the Genesis story of Dinah (daughter of Jacob, sister of Joseph and his 11 brothers) and creates a (very) fictionalized narrative of the story, focusing primarily on the roles and emotions of the women. The “Red Tent” is place for the women to *ahem* gather each month, and it also serves as the central hub of female activities and bonding. I think I could have enjoyed the book more if it wasn’t spinning off of true story from the Bible, but as it was, many of the more…intimate…details seemed way too cringe-worthy for my taste. As a book club choice, it was actually very good–there were lots of things to discuss and lots of feelings about the book all around. As a regular book choice, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one; it was definitely not a favorite.

Take away: Interesting if you’ll be discussing for a book club, not so great for regular reading.

3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Willis (Nonfiction/Memoir)

The Glass Castle is an interesting memoir about a girl who grows up very poor with very dysfunctional parents. Willis recounts her childhood of adventures and hardships in a way that is really compelling. I am always fascinated by the way people relate to and feel about parents who are (seemingly) crazy, and this was no exception. Willis’s mom and dad were both pretty bizarre and probably negligent parents, but she and her siblings grew up with complicated, but often positive, views of both of them. As she matured, Willis realized some of the damage she had to work through as a result of her childhood, but she also turned out very resilient and accomplished. The Glass Castle is definitely not a light-hearted book, but if you enjoy heart-wrenching true stories, this could be a good choice for you!

My favorite part: One of Jeanette Willis’s favorite books as a child was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which also features a crazy father-daughter relationship. I read that one in March and really liked it as well!

4. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (Fiction-Thriller)

Before the Fall was on my radar because of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading guide and also several mentions of it on her podcast, so when the kindle version went on sale, I snatched it up! This book starts with a terrible event: a private jet crashes into the ocean, and there are only two survivors: an undiscovered painter with some serious swimming skills and the 4 year old son of a very wealthy family. The book alternates between the present unfolding drama after the accident and the lives of each of the people on the plane ‘before the fall’. As you get to know different characters, it soon becomes clear that perhaps the crash was not an accident after all. I really enjoyed watching the mystery of the plane crash unfold as well as the commentary on human nature. A few of the characters are a little rougher around the edges, so several chapters have some language and rough content, but I still thought it was a good option for a novel that was gripping without being too graphic or scary.

5. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (Fiction-Classic)

This was a great summer read: it was fun and lighthearted and short enough to finish in just a few afternoons at the pool. Miss Pettigrew, a middle-aged, poor, recently-fired governess finds herself spending the day with a young, spontaneous, aspiring actress. She decides to say “yes” to all sorts of adventures, and it is so fun to read. She is adorable.

Best takeaway: some lettering inspiration!

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6. Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (Audio-Fiction)

This is another one I saw on MMD Summer Reading list, so I found it on audiobook and listened to it as I drove. It was a good summer read–nothing too heavy or crazy, just a cute story about a family who owns a vineyard. The narrator had a little bit of an annoying voice (she sounded like Tammy 2 from Parks and Rec), but I still enjoyed the story.

Thing I learned: Apparently it takes 800 grapes to make a single bottle of wine. Also, after reading this book I was inspired to drink fancy wine, but then I remembered that all wine tastes the same to me.

7. Kiki Srike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller (Fiction-Young Adult)

I got this one as a loan from my homegroup leader/YA fiction enthusiast a few months ago, and I’m glad I finally picked it up! This was a cute YA book about a group of 12 year old girls who discover and explore The Shadow City, a secret underground world below New York City. Evil princesses, stolen royal jewels, quirky characters, and innocent adventures made this a great YA read. No language or violence–just fun!

8. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Audio-Fiction)

Last time I was browsing the audiobooks at my local library I saw this Rainbow Rowell novel, so I grabbed it since I have enjoyed her other books so much. This one was fun! There was some language, which is always more noticeable in an audiobook, but overall I thought it was an interesting story. The book is half email conversation between two best friends at work and half narration by Lincoln, the IT guy who monitors the company emails. Lincoln gets borderline stalker-ish, but it turns out in a sweet way, so I guess it was a good thing. Another fun Rainbow Rowell title to add to my list!

What did YOU read in July?

Louise Penny Commonplace

I know I’ve raved about Louise Penny before, but I’m reading through A Fatal Grace (book 2 of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series), and some of these lines are just too good to keep to myself. I always like my murder mysteries with a little poetic language.

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“His body spoke of meals enjoyed and a life of long walks rather than contact sports.”

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“They’d both swelled since they’d first met. There was no way either could get into their wedding clothes. But they’d grown in other ways as well, and Gamache figured it was a good deal. If life meant growth in all directions, it was fine with him.”