Best Books of 2016

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I read so many good books this year, most of those books having been read in the last half of the year. I don’t know what it is about Summer and Fall that makes one want to read, but I went on a book binge the last half of this year.

One of my goals for 2017 is to be more organized with my reading. To create more space for reading, and to read a wide range of books. This year, I read randomly, in spurts. I devoured book after book for one month and didn’t read a new one for two months. Next year, I’d like to develop more of a rhythm. I’m currently finishing up one book for 2016 (Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller) and am working on my list for next year, but I wanted to share my most favorite reads from this year. These are in no particular order, but I will say the first one is a must-read for everyone.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This book will make you cry. There is no getting around it. It’s a story about Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with lung cancer. He gives you an inside look at cancer, along the way, providing you a look at life as a doctor and a patient. He talks about his career, his life as a neurosurgeon, a husband, and eventually a father. It’s beautiful, raw, and moving. By far, the best book I read this year.

Columbine by Dave Cullen: I wrote a whole post over this one, so I won’t go into it in detail, but this book is fantastic. Definitely hard to read, and may not be for highly-sensitive types, but good if you want an accurate account of Columbine and it’s happenings.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: So many people love Liane Moriarty, and I am still on the fence about her. Her writing is good, but it’s not super interesting to me. However, Big Little Lies was a great, quick read. Loved the pacing, and the characters. I’d love your recommendations on her best books.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist: Oh, Shauna. This was my favorite book of hers. So honest, so GOOD. This book will be CHURCH to some of you. I’ve recommended this to like everyone I know.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling: This book is hilarious, and crazy, and makes me love Mindy Kaling even more. Also, made me crave McDonald’s like hardcore. Would be a fun beach read. Didn’t love her second book as much.

11-22-63 by Stephen King: This was my fist Stephen King novel and I am so glad I read it. Stephen King is a genius storyteller. This book was my favorite fiction novel I read this year. Intriguing, suspenseful, funny, and the characters were fantastic. Highly recommend.

After You By JoJo Moyes: All I can say about this is read it. I avoided this book for so long because Me Before You wrecked me, but I am very glad I ended up reading it. If you have hesitations, read it anyway. It’s a good one.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: I almost forgot about this one. I didn’t read a ton of YA novels this year, but I LOVED this one. Rainbow Rowell somehow manages to create a story that feels so real, so encompassing and so honest, all at once. Fangirl was an absolute favorite of mine, but E&P is tied for me. The characters are very well written. I have her book Carry On on my nightstand, but I’m not super into it yet, so I may end up trying that one again, next year. If you haven’t read Rainbow Rowell yet, do it.

Books I started but quit:

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (I will give this another chance, I just forgot I had started it because I started 11-22-63 by Stephen King), 13 Hours (just watch the movie), Carry On  by Rainbow Rowell (somehow this isn’t intriguing me at all?), Brooklyn by Colm Tolbin, and Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (kind of hated this book.)

What are you reading next year, and what do you recommend from this year?

Steffanie xx

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Book Love: Columbine by Dave Cullen

 

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Hey lovelies!

I recently read Dave Cullen’s Columbine. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this book, and I am going to attempt to relay them coherently. I saw this while I was perusing the True Crime section at Half Price Books. I remembered hearing that it was one of the most accurate, haunting, accounts of what occurred at Columbine High School, and being that I had just finished Stephen King’s 11-22-63, I wanted something a bit more non-fiction. So I took it home, grabbed a Dr. Pepper, and dove in.

First things first, this book will not be for sensitive people. It goes into all the details of the Columbine crime, and when I say all, I mean all the details. It describes the scene of the murders, the families reactions, the killers motive, and the aftermath.This book is not a light read by any means, so I do want to preface that by saying, this will not be easy to read.

One of the reasons I was interested in reading this was because there is so much information on Columbine, but it’s all spread out between theories, and conspiracies, and very few accurate accounts. I was around eight years old when Columbine occurred, so I had very little working knowledge of the event. This book encompasses all the things: all the theories that were running rampant then, all the rumors, and all of the information the media portrayed as “truths.” The question of “how much can we actually trust the media” is so relevant right now, and this book proves how relevant it was during Columbine as well. Many of the facts were misconstrued simply because the media chose to release information, knowing that it was not completely true or accurate. Which led to hold-ups within the case and the aftermath.

This book also dives quite a bit into who the killers were. I, like most I think, remembered the killer’s as being “outcasts” “loners” “severely depressed.” While one of the killers was severely mentally ill, and both struggled with bouts of depression, both boys were mostly well-liked, before Columbine occurred. A little on the shy side, but both did well in school, had jobs, and had families who disciplined and loved them. Contrary to everything that was portrayed of the killers, they were not angry loners who targeted the preps and jocks. Their crime was not a target on specific groups. It was random: one boy used the crime to be remembered, to make a statement; and one used it for a reason to commit suicide. To finally be able to end his life.  As a skeptic of the media in general, I have gained a whole new level of skepticism after reading this. At several points, I found myself angry/sad/shocked by the events that took place, but also by the media’s response and the lack of sensitivity they gave.

In Columbine, the victims are described in detail. The places they were found, how they died and who they were. He discusses the families and the people who knew the victims, and how they were affected. A few of the victims were in rehab and physical therapy for their injuries, and for a few, the book shows their success in moving on. Sadly, not everyone is able to handle the aftermath of Columbine and suicide becomes an issue within the community. Along with the victims families, the families of the killers is discussed in detail. How their lives changed, how the community reacted to them, and how the media handled them.

Dave Cullen does a fantastic job of removing his voice in this book, and letting the facts tell the story. No embellishing, just what happened, and why, based on the knowledge he obtained on the killers. Highly recommend if you are looking to gain a better understanding on Columbine.

Steffanie xo

 

Book Love: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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Hello lovelies!

More book love for you today. This book is one of my all time favorites. One of the greats. If there was one book I had to choose to be stuck alone with, forever, I would choose Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion writes with the ease, honesty, and precision most writers would kill for. In my opinion, this book belongs with the greats. It should be recommended to everyone, read by everyone, discussed by everyone, devoured.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a story about the death of Joan’s husband. “A sudden sudden massive coronary eventOne minute he was there, and then he wasn’t.” This book takes you through all the details: the phone call she places to 911, the pronouncement of his death, the paperwork. She talks of the days after, the days before. She talks about the details of John’s health, the life they shared with their daughter, Quintana Roo. She talks about John, their routines, their love, their life together. It’s a beautiful story, and her writing is gorgeous.

What I love about this book is how Joan, very descriptively,  portrays what grief is like. To really get a handle on how awful it can be. It’s hard to put yourself in that place, particularly if you have not experienced grief in this way. There are other forms certainly, but to lose a husband? I cannot imagine. This book does a spot-on job of pulling you right into  her grief: right into the after, the moving on, if you could call it that, the living. Most stories only tell you of the events leading up to the event; it’s rare to find a story of what happens after the death, and I loved that about this book.

Joan was the cool customer. She the researched the grief. She turned to CS Lewis, The Merck Manual, various textbooks and journals, and poems to help her understand grief and it’s process.

“In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to literature. Information was control. Given that grief remained the most general of afflictions its literature seemed remarkably spare.” 

She gains some insight from the material she reads, but she also disputes it. Talking about a particular study done by Dr. Volkan, she argues that it’s not possible to derive an understanding of the mourner, unless you were either the mourner or the dead.

“Were you there? No. You might have been useful with the thermometer, but you were not there. I don’t need to “review the circumstances of the death. I was there.” ” 

One book, that particularly gave Joan some comfort, was Emily Post’s 1922 book on Etiquette. She recalls her mom giving her the book on one snowed in vacation in Colorado, and found herself reverting to the “matter-of-fact wisdom” on how to care for the grieving.

She talks of the moments just after the death, the ones months after. She talks about the things she could continue to do normally, but also the things she couldn’t. She couldn’t eat in the dining room anymore. She ate in the kitchen. She talks about planning her evenings, carefully. Placing her order for breakfast, plotting her trips carefully. But then there would be the one instant, when she saw a movie theater she and John visited once, or a stretch of highway, and the grief would flood in. “There were many such traps,” she says, when talking of the familiar places, the memories.

This book will change the way you look at grief and death and “moving on”. It changed it for me, and I am thankful I picked it up to read. It’s one of my all-time, top five, books. I carry it with me constantly, reading my favorite passages. It’s one of the most poignant books, and I highly, highly recommend. I’ll leave you with this:

“I realize as I write this, that I do not want to finish this account. Nor did I want to finish the year. The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.”

Steffanie xx

 

 

Book Love: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Hello lovelies!

Another bookish post coming to you today, one that was slightly surprising to me. I was very reluctant to read Rainbow Rowell’s books at first, because they were so hyped up. Everyone seemed to be talking about her books, all the time; especially Eleanor and Park. Eventually, because my curiosity out ranked my weird aversion to THE HYPE, I picked up Fangirl. I fell in love with that story. Cath is one of my favorite literary characters in that she is so, unapologetically normal, and has a huge love for fanfiction. She is so enthralled in her fan fic, and it reminded me of how I react to a good story. I obsess over it, research it, talk about it all the time, recommend it to EVERYONE. So Cath resonated with me, and I fell in love with her character.

Fangirl is super great, so I would definitely check it out if you like normal girls who love to write fan fiction. But alas, we are here to talk about Eleanor & Park.

This story is phenomenal. I don’t use that word to describe many books, but I am using it for this one. Rainbow Rowell is an absolute genius. She developed the characters of Eleanor and Park so well. Eleanor, with her slightly hostile, understandably insecure, witty self; and Park, with his equally insecure, slightly narcissistic, kind, self. They are opposites in a multitude of ways, but find common ground on their love for comic books, The Smiths, and eventually, each other.

Eleanor and Park has one main theme coursing through it: insecurities can sometimes affect the love we accept from others. Rowell very accurately depicts how hard it is to love someone else wholly, when you don’t love yourself in that way, or don’t believe you deserve that kind of love.

Eleanor resides in a very dysfunctional home, with an abusive step father, and a placating mother. In multiple chapters, we see her fighting Park’s affection, believing that she is not worthy of the way he sees her or loves her. It’s easy to understand why she loves him: he’s cool, gorgeous, and  kind, and she trlls him so. But those attributes are why she wonders why Park loves her back. Park, simultaneously, is super frustrated with Eleanor because he doesn’t understand why she pushes him away, why she reacts the way she does to his feelings for her.

I think that aspect of the book, the insecurity of self mixed with how we love,  is what I rooted for the most, because it’s so accurate and honest. We all want to be loved, but do we all feel that we deserve to be loved? As Stephen Chbosky says, “we accept the love we think we deserve” and I think that is the most frustrating, human aspect of this story, especially for Eleanor. She struggles with accepting the love Park is willing to give her.

This story is beautiful. I gobbled it up in a couple days, and thought about it for longer after. It’s fantastic. Read it, when you get the chance. I will never again underestimate Rainbow Rowell. She’s an amazing writer. Carry On is next on my list, a not-so-sequel to Fangirl.

Let me know if yoy have picked up anything by Ms. Rowell. Happy reading!

Steffanie xx

Disclaimer: Eleanor and Park is very much a young adult read. There is quite a bit of language use, and some references that are not appropriate for younger ears. Just something to be mindful of.

 

 

Stephen King & Pancakes

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Hey lovelies!

I’ve been tucked away reading a few books recently, and I thought I’d share those with you. Now, I’m the kind of person who reads about 2-3 books at one time. I typically like to pick one non-fiction, one self-help/improvement/spirituality type, and one fiction, to keep it interesting.  Currently, I am reading one writing book, and one fiction, because that fiction book is kind of a beast.

Non-Fiction: Still Writing by Dani Shapiro

I typically read this in the morning, with my coffee and my pancakes. I like to start my day with inspirational writing if I can, to get the wheels turning. This book is so practical and full of such great tips on writing, specifically how to get started. She talks about the physical side of writing: the space you write in, what you need to get started, the anxiety that inevitably will find you. I have read a couple writing books, and this has been by far my favorite because it is so practical. I’ve been highlighting the mess out of it.

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Fiction: 11-22-63 by Stephen King

I recently posted on my Instagram about starting my first Stephen King novel and so many people commented about how much they loved 11-22-63. Seriously, how have I gotten to my mid twenties without reading at least ONE Stephen King novel? Crazy. When I was researching his books, I came upon a blog post from Laura Tremaine, from hollywoodhousewife.com. She said that it was one of her very favorite books written by Mr. King, and because I basically want to be her, I started it. (Sidenote: she is a co-host on the most amazing podcast show, Sorta Awesome Podcast with Megan Tietz. They are both from OK, Laura now living in LA, and Megan in OKC. So cool!) Definitely check it out. It’s fantastic.)

Okay, back to 1963.

“Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment—a real life moment—when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history.”

I was intrigued at first by the title, because I find the Kennedy’s so intriguing. The family, the assassination, the presidency: I love them. (Another sidenote: The Kennedy’s mini series with Katie Holmes is the best!) I was super interested to see how he incorporated that huge event, into a fiction novel, and I have not been disappointed. Now, this book is long. Like 853 or more pages long, so I haven’t gotten super far into the story, only 200 or more pages in, but seriously, this book is turning me into quite the Stephen King fan. And it doesn’t just surround the Kennedy story, which I also loved because I wasn’t expecting so many layers to this book. It’s well-written, funny, and thrilling. I literally said “Oh my gosh!! Oh no!” like seven times this morning when I was reading one of the more action packed scenes. His writing pulls you into the world and keeps you there, which I love, because I like to be immersed when I read. I’ve found myself thinking about this story whenever I’m not reading it, wondering where Mr. Epping/Mr. Amberson is going next. Great choice if you’re a Stephen King newbie.

Just a sneak peek into what I am reading at the moment. Any good books you’ve read recently?

Steffanie xx

Book Love: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Listening to: You are Enough by Sleeping at Last

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Hello lovelies!

I’m back with another book review. This one is one I’ve been so excited to do, because it seems like forever since her last book released. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. Shauna is my hero. I wish I could sit down with her, perhaps over pizza or a thick club sandwich, a glass of dry champagne, and chat. She is my soul sister, someone who I feel like God created specifically for me to find because he knew how influential her voice would be to my life. I tweet her occasionally, because WE ARE CLOSE and google all the items she posts about on Instagram. I’m a fan.

I’ve loved Shauna since I read Cold Tangerines. Her voice, attention to detail, and story telling ability spoke volumes to me. Bittersweet, until Present Over Perfect, is my all time favorite of hers. The essays “On Desperation and Cold Pizza”, “Love Song for Fall,” “Ravenous” and “Steak Frites” are my favorites.

Present Over Perfect is a story about giving up the “doing” for the “being.” More love, less hustle. More time spent on back porches and reading to your kids, and less time proving, pushing, pursuing some weird unattainable standards you may have for yourself. Shauna shares personal stories of how all of the proving and pushing affected her life, her kids, her marriage. She talks about the ways she changed it, how hard it was, and how extraordinarily sweet her life has become since stepping into this present way of living.

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In one of my favorite essays, Agency, she talks about remaking your life:

We get to decide, which is both so freeing and such a beautiful responsibility. You can be a vegan. You can be a priest. You can homeschool. You can train for a triathalon. You can live in the city. You can read the classics. You can buy all of your clothes from a vintage shop. You can buy a Vespa. You can learn to speak Italian or Farsi. This life you’re building is entirely your creation, fashioned out of your dreams and fears. What do you want?”

How freeing is that? How scary is that, asking yourself, “No really, what do I want? What does my soul crave? What do I believe, at my core, will fulfill me?”

The whole book is like one super honest, super encouraging, coffee chat. Shauna speaks so honestly and freely about her journey to being present. She offers a deep breath, permission to take a break from the belief that we have to push, hustle, provide, to be worth something.

I LOVED this book, and will be buying it for everyone I know who needs permission to step back, and remake their life. This book is life-altering. It’s been the first thing I read in the morning and the last thing I read at night, soaking up her advice on everything from wearing real pajamas to bed, to taking coffee outside on the porch.

Lets be brave and be present, shall we? Let’s live in the love of which we were created. Let’s be honest, and kind, and do what we were created to do.

“He doesn’t tell the snow to thaw and become rain, or the rain to freeze itself into snow. He says, essentially: do your thing. Do the thing that you love to do, that you’ve been created to do.”  [From “On Snow”, Present Over Perfect]

Steffanie xx

 

 

 

 

Book Love: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Listening to: Cleopatra by The Lumineers

Line Love: “Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?!” Dustin, Stranger Things

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Hello lovelies!

I get lots of requests for book recommendations, from friends, family, and Facebook. Which is awesome, because I feel like a cool librarian when I get asked about my favorites, handing out book reccs like a boss. Or something like that. I love to read, and judging by the fact that my Instagram is 90% book related, I think you all have noticed. SO, my sister gave me the idea to start a book reviews on the reg. I’ll still keep doing regular bloggy posts (makeup & good tv show reccs will still make an appearance, but I’ll be doing more book talk. I’ll do a mix of my all time favorites and recent reads, along with to read lists and the like.

Let’s start with one of the best books ever written: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief was introduced to me by the brilliant Natalie Lloyd, whom I can thank for nearly every book recommendation from my late teens to now. She’s an author herself, and has the best taste in quirky, sometimes heartbreaking, beautiful novels. She introduced me to Ruben Toledo’s Illustrated Penguin Classics (in my opinion, the best versions), Shauna Niequist, and shares my love for Nickel Creek and The Goonies. She’s fantastic. She recommended The Book Thief on her blog, and this one quote was all it took:

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.” 

How beautiful is that? I positively ran yo Borders after reading that.

**Side note: who remembers Borders? It was the best bookstore and I am still gutted that it is no longer in business. STILL. And it closed like 5 years ago. Le sigh.

Liesel is my hero. My book-thieving, big-hearted, brave hero.

“I stole it on my way to Himmel Street.”

Her story is one of love, and loss, and words, which I think is my favorite subject of the book. It tugged at my reader heartstrings, reminding me how impactful words, and the ability to read those words, can be on a child. I identify with this tremendously. As a kid, I lived in various book-worlds often. To escape, perchance to dream, I visited Hogwarts, or The Baudelaire Mansion, or Claudia’s house on the regular, spending hours of my day immersed in their stories.

Liesel uses her newfound love of words to create connections with Max, a Jew who Hans and Rosa Hubermanns, her not-so-foster, foster parents, hide in their basement. Did I mention this was set in 1942, Germany? No? 🙂

One of the reasons I love this book is because I have a fascination with the people of the Holocaust. Not so much the events, terrible as they were, but the people who lived then. The woman who orayed for her husband at war. The soldiers. The Jews who hid, day after day, for years. The lives that were lost. The bravery of the Germans, who took care of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people, despite their horrible circumstances, who kept their hope.

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.”  -Max 

Liesel grows so well in this book. She learns to read, to love, and what it means to stand for another human.  She learns how to be brave. How to be brave for someone else, which is the hardest kind of bravery to learn. She learns to hope, and learns how powerful hope can be. She learns the power and the magic of her words. And she uses them well.

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” 

See you on Himmel Street. Xx