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Words I Just Finished Reading

The Kitchen House
The Atomic Weight of Love
We're All Damaged
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Wishful Drinking
News of the World
The Forgotten Garden
Out of My Mind
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
My Not So Perfect Life
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Anna and the French Kiss
Little Bee

Julie's favorite books »


A Year of Books: 2018

Here’s the worst part of being a librarian: I don’t particularly enjoy sharing books.

I feel a sense of ownership about the books.  “These are my books, friends.  I know I say these books belong to all of us here at school, but I don’t mean it.  They’re MINE.  I am sharing them with you as a favor.”  I don’t say that, but I do say things like “library books don’t like to take a bath” and “keep your books at home” and “your book doesn’t like it when you bend it the wrong way and use it as a tent over your head.” 

Watching all this crazy behavior is bad for my digestion.  My only consolation is that, for a few, they will take the right book.  And perhaps, if they are lucky and I’m lucky, they’ll love the story.  For a good story envelops the reader; it’s a cocoon of words.  The best stories will leave us changed. 

I lend you the book but the story is what I want you to keep.

Which is why this may be my favorite post of the year.  This year has been an exercise in remembering what brings me joy.  Top on the list is sharing stories.  They may be mine or they may belong to others, but my greatest wish is that you’ll keep the ones you love.

So here’s my 2018 recap: I read 58 books this year.  They’re listed chronologically with a short review of each; I’ve included some favorite lines from a few.  Additionally, there’s a quick list at the bottom of the post for reference should you choose to take my reading advice. 

Happy New Year, friends.  And thank you for reading my words: it’s pure joy.


Small Great Things: Jodi Picoult

Most of her books are sort of depressing, but I quite enjoyed this one.  Lots of painfully honest moments. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: J.K. Rowling

I stole this idea from my friend Kristin and started reading this series out loud to the boys.  Harry Potter is one of my favorite stories of all time and sharing it with the boys has been a gift; we read each book and then watch the movie.  The books are so rich and interwoven and have elements of truth that bring me to tears.  This new tradition has moments that are as idyllic as you’d believe and moments that are just an annoying slog.  You know, like being a parent. 

Wishtree: Katherine Applegate

She’s the author of The One and Only Ivan (a favorite) and this new one is a great piece of fiction with plenty of deeper themes.  Three teachers at school are reading it to their classes and I’ll see if I can bully some more.

Turtles All The Way Down: John Green

All I remember is the main character struggles with OCD and that John Green wrote from experience.  His quote in the acknowledgements: “It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable.  There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

A favorite line: “You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why. 

The Hate U Give: Angie Thomas

Intense, moving, thought-provoking, a reminder of the many valid sides to an experience.  Definitely a YA take on this experience, but I am glad I read it. 

Little Fires Everywhere: Celeste Ng

I liked it. 

Tell Me More: Kelly Corrigan

I love Kelly Corrigan.  Her writing is honest and beautiful and often perfect.  A few of the lines from this book will never leave me.  Read it in public if you don’t mind strangers seeing you Ugly Cry.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: Jonathan Auxier

Middle grade fiction that just has a great story.  I read this with my 5th grade book club and it was a universal thumbs-up. 

A Gentleman in Moscow: Amor Towles

This is a beautifully written book; it’s a quiet book.  There are no huge plot turns, but rather a portrait of an interesting life.  I loved it, but you have to take some time to adapt to the pace. 

Surprise Me: Sophie Kinsella

It was fine.  Read it on the beach. 

We Were the Lucky Ones: Georgia Hunter

WWII.  That’s all I’ve got.  I really should write down some thoughts as I read these through the year.

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

I read this prior to our trip to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.  It was interesting to read as an adult as opposed to a naïve high schooler. 

Still Me: Jojo Moyes

A solid third book with the character from Me Before You.  I’m confident that Jojo and I could be friends so I will read everything she writes.

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place: Alan Bradley

I love Flavia de Luce.  She is a girl chemist who occasionally tries to poison her sisters when they’re particularly horrid to her.  It’s clever and fun and I love the whole series.  Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  The books can be slow but sharp, best read in larger chunks. 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City: Matthew Desmond

Poverty is a business: there’s always someone making a profit off someone else’s misfortune.  This was sobering, to be sure.  A little dry at times. 

Bridge to Terabithia: Katherine Paterson

You read it in 5th grade.  Read it again.  She wrote an essay about fiction in her later years and made a distinction between real stories and true stories.  This is a true story.

Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved: Kate Bowler

The author’s experience after a grim diagnosis: the book isn’t the tidiest but had beauty and pain in equal measure.  My favorite line: “Plans are made.  Plans come apart.  New delights or tragedies pop up in their place.  And nothing human or divine will map out this life, this life that has been more painful than I could have imagined.  More beautiful than I could have imagined.”

Restart: Gordon Korman

Great middle-grade fiction about bullies and second chances.  This was another fifth grade book club choice: not particularly deep but the themes are timeless. 

The Light of Paris: Eleanor Brown

There are certain characters for whom I have little patience.  The heroine in this one was one of those but thankfully she got it together in the end tra la la.  But there’s virtually nothing about Paris. 

The Nest: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Forgettable, because I have zero memory of reading this book.  I’m sure it was fine because I don’t remember hating it. 

What to Say Next: Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things: Julie Buxbaum

Read these two a few months apart but they both bring about the same feelings.  Ah, young love.  I love a good YA romance (Eleanor and Park being my eternal first choice) and these two were a delight. 

The Women in the Castle: Jessica Shattuck

More WWII.  This one had some particularly sad story lines. 

The Wedding Date: Jasmine Guillory

Nope.  Some books annoy me, and this was one of them.  Okay, we get it.  They had sex ALL weekend and then again the next weekend and again the next weekend.

The Great Alone: Kristin Hannah

I loved this one.  Kristin Hannah’s books are sometimes formulaic but I found this one to be compelling.  Also a reminder that I don’t think I’m meant to live in Alaska, and that I would’ve died early on in an Oregon Trail trip.  Dysentery, most likely. 

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky: Marisa de Los Santos

She has a Ph.D. in poetry and her writing is some of my very favorite.  I loved this book.  One of my favorite lines: “…it was what Joseph had missed most during the war, all the small, scattered pieces of the precious and luminous ordinary, evidence that life consists on continuing.”  Perfection.   

All We Ever Wanted: Emily Giffin

Emily and I have a complicated relationship, because she wrote Something Borrowed and Something Blue, which remain two of my favorite chick lit reads of all time.  But she also wrote The One and Only which goes on my list of Books that Annoy Me.  She was a lawyer and her writing never fails to be tight and well-paced: I tear through her books.  This one was heavier subject matter but I liked it overall. 

The Girls from Ames: Jeffrey Zaslow

This one followed the friendships of eleven girls from Ames, Iowa.  Took me a while but I love to consider the cascading multitude of stories that inhabit even the “average” life. 

The Keeper of Lost Things: Ruth Hogan

One of my very favorites of 2018.  Warm fuzzy feelings for my cold black heart.

The Rumor: Elin Hilderbrand

The Matchmaker: Elin Hilderbrand

Quality beach reading.  Or escape-your-children reading.

The Dollhouse: Fiona Davis

The Address: Fiona Davis

Both solid reads, but I’m wondering if the author had a Single White Female in her past, because some of these characters are straight wackos. 

Summer Wives: Beatriz Williams

Beatriz is another “I loved some of her past books and therefore I will keep reading them even though there was that one with time travel and it was annoying.”  This one was good: no time travel.  The Secret Life of Violet Grant is my favorite Beatriz if you’ve never read any of hers.

When Life Gives You Lululemons: Lauren Weisberger

Mindless fun.

The Queen of Hearts: Kimmery Martin

This one was good, then it got weird.

Fish in a Tree: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Sweet story about a girl with dyslexia, perfect for upper elementary. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing: Jesmyn Ward

Brutal reality: addiction, racial tensions, grief.  It has some beautiful writing but this isn’t one I’d revisit.

Radio Girls: Sarah Jane Stratford

Solid, but not particularly memorable. 

The Thing About Jellyfish: Ali Benjamin

Some of my favorite books right now lie somewhere between middle-grade and young adult fiction.  Because they’re shorter, they’re distilled: simple language for deep truth.  I loved this book and cried at the end.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: Jonathan Auxier

This is the most recent book by the author of Peter Nimble.  I loved this one, too.  Redemption, care, love, and hope in a very different, imaginative story: there’s a lot to like here.

The Assistants: Camille Perri

Who knew I’d be rooting for the Millennials?

Spoonbenders: Daryl Gregory

Mom’s a psychic, Dad’s a con man: this book about a family was weird and cool and different and I really enjoyed listening to it.  First chapter is a little weird but press on if you’re interested. 

Out of my Mind: Shannon M. Draper

The main character in this book has a photographic memory and cerebral palsy.  This book is honest and uplifting.  I read this with my fifth grade book club and it was fascinating to hear their take on a few of the events in the book.  Read the book and then we can discuss because I can’t bear to give spoilers. 

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers: Maxwell King

I love Mister Rogers, and I loved reading this book.  I dog-eared about thirty pages but here’s just one quote of Fred’s I loved: “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices.  And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”  Amen. 

The Clockmaker’s Daughter: Kate Morton

I love Kate Morton’s books.  They are rich and interwoven and lovely and I was so happy she had a new one. 

Educated: A Memoir: Tara Westover

Did you grow up in a survivalist family with your dad who was probably bipolar and did your parents keep you out of formal schooling but you went on to end up with degrees from Harvard and Cambridge?  She did.

Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty

Great writing with just enough weirdness to keep you hooked.  

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: Stephen King

My favorite nonfiction of 2018.  I want you to read it even if you don’t read Stephen King and you don’t write and you don’t think you’re interested in this book.  He’s brilliant and this book is inspiring in unexpected ways.  He narrates the audiobook and it’s a treat. 

Mando is reading 11/22/63 and has covered 406 pages in the last two weeks.  If that’s not proof that Stephen King is a great writer, then I know zero things in this life.    

George: Alex Gino

This is the story of a girl that the world identifies as a boy: sweet and often piercing.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things: Lenore Look

I love Alvin.  He doesn’t speak at school and goes to a therapist.  “A therapist is a very smart person who wears glasses and can help you with your problems by asking a lot of questions instead of giving you shots, which is really amazing. But a psycho, as everyone knows, is a crazy person in the movies that you never want to run into in real life. So a psychotherapist is a very smart crazy person that you should stay away from for your own good.”  This book makes me laugh out loud (it’s a series). 

The Shoemaker’s Wife: Adriana Trigiani

I really wanted to love this one, but it turned out it was just a crush.  But I have a lot of friends who loved it.  Maybe I’m just high maintenance. 

Come as You Are: Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

Book about women’s sexuality, but what really shines are the sharp, deep insights on emotion and mindfulness.  This was a fascinating read. 

Maybe in Another Life: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Raise your hand if you wanted Gwyneth’s cute short haircut in Sliding Doors!  (But if your name is Julie, be forewarned that short hair is not your friend.)  This book is based on a similar idea: it’s cute and quick.  

The Alice Network: Kate Quinn

I got to finish with a favorite this year: I loved this story.  I listened to it and it was expertly narrated.  I was smiling through the entire epilogue.  

Happy reading, friends.