I have worked hard to bring you my latest book reviews, and Ellie is the reason why. Late last spring, I made the mistake of telling her that I had challenged myself to read through my growing pile of unread books over the summer. She immediately turned it into a competition. She dared me to finish every single book – some of which were 500 pages long – before school started back up. If I won, I would receive a homemade banner. It was nuts, and I totally went for it.
Although I didn’t read all 24 books, I came very close, finishing all but one. (The Kite Runner, I know. It’s supposed to be amazing. I just need to get it started.) I received a homemade banner a few months later, though it was smaller than if I had completed the entire challenge.
As a result of all that reading, I have a lot to catch you up on. This list of 26 book reviews should cover what I read from the early spring through late fall (I think. I didn’t keep the best records, because I wasn’t blogging at the time.)
Things Worth Noting About This List
First and foremost, some of the books included here were not a part of the challenge. I read them before May, and there were some good ones in that stack. Secondly, many of these books are “old,” so there’s a chance you’ve read them already. But, there are some real gems in this very long list. So, if you haven’t cracked them open before, don’t be discouraged by the book’s age like I had been.
The Best Books from This Very Long List
I imagine quite a few of you don’t want to sift through the whole list to find your next book, so here are my favorites in no particular order:
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides
- American Dirt by Sandra Cisneros
- When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
- The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
- A Secret History by Donna Tartt
- Swamplandia by Karen Russell
- One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
All 27 Book Reviews
- The Marriage Plot, Jeffery Eugenides: The Marriage Plot was released in 2012, which means I had been sitting on this book for most of Ellie’s life. I finally cracked it open as part of the book challenge, and it blew me away. This was one of my favorites in the list. Set in the ’80’s, it follows three college students as they navigate the transition from university to adulthood – a truly spectacular read.
- Shipped, Angie Hockman: Shipped is about two co-workers who are competing for a promotion. It was alright, but not as a good as The Hating Game. Read it instead.
- The Last Story of Mina Lee, Nancy Jooyoun Kim: The Last Story of Mina Lee follows Margot Lee as she navigates the days following her mother’s death. It explores the complicated relationship she had with her mother and offers insight into Mina’s life. I enjoyed this book very much.
- The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune: I believe this one is categorized as YA. In it, the protagonist Linus Baker is sent to evaluate an orphanage filled with children who have dangerous magical powers. Through this fantastical setting, TJ Klune explores prejudice in a thorough and inventive way. I ended up liking this one too.
- Finding Dorothy, Elizabeth Letts: A piece of historical fiction, this well-researched novel shares the story of Maude Baum, the wife of Frank L. Baum. It weaves together her childhood and years with Frank with the making of the Wizard of Oz movie. I found myself constantly Googling to see which bits were really true. If you grew up loving the yellow brick road, I think you would enjoy this book.
- His One and Only Wife, Peace Adzo Medie: In this story, the main character marries a man who is in love with another woman of whom his family disapproves. I was really looking forward to reading this book, but it was just okay for me.
- Pretty Things, Janelle Brown: I loved this one! In Pretty Things, the main character is attempting to con a rich woman. Fast-paced, I couldn’t read it quickly enough.
- Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain: A memoir sharing restaurants’ best kept secrets, Kitchen Confidential was an enlightening read. That being said, I found it to be a bit slow in parts. This is not a book you’ll race through, but one you will enjoy nonetheless.
- The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern: I had been dying to read this book, because I was a huge fan of The Night Circus. However, I am sad to report that I did not like this book at all. It was convoluted and slow. There was also so much repeated imagery and descriptions that it felt repetitive to read.
- American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins: This book was incredible. I feel in love with the characters and was cheering them to safety as they tried to cross the U.S. and Mexico border. I can not recommend this book enough.
- When No One is Watching, Alyssa Cole: Alyssa Cole manages to make gentrification thrilling in When No One is Watching. I think you will love this action packed novel and will manage to learn something while reading it.
- The Wedding Party, Jasmine Guillory: I am a big Jasmine Guillory fan, and The Wedding Party did not disappoint. It follows two characters from The Wedding Date, Maddie and Theo, so you may want to start there first, though you don’t have to.
- Becoming, Michelle Obama: It’s possible I was one of the last people to read Michelle Obama’s biography. I liked the behind the scenes look she gave of campaigning and the way she shared her very relatable struggles as a working mother and wife. To keep up with my book challenge, I listened to this on audio book, which added to the experience.
- The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow: In a reimagining of the late 1800’s, three sisters who are separated reunite and discover they can perform magic. Alix expertly mixes the suffragist movement with fantasy in this original novel.
- The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré: It took me awhile to get into this book, which shares the story of a young African girl who dreams of getting an education. The novel follows her as she navigates nearly insurmountable obstacles. I would still recommend this story, because it is thought-provoking and hopeful.
- Delancey, Molly Wizenberg: I have been a Molly Wizenberg fan for a very long-time. I used to love pulling up her blog Orangette and reading her beautiful stories about food. This book shares her experience opening the restaurant with her ex-husband, Brandon. It was good, but I preferred her other memoir, A Homemade Life.
- Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed: A collection of letters from Cheryl Strayed’s turn as advice columnist “Sugar,” this book slayed me. Meant to be read in quiet moments, slowly, I got this from my sister-in-law, Jamie. It was the perfect gift.
- One Plus One, Jojo Moyes: Confession. This is the first Jojo Moyes book I’ve ever read all the way through. I tried to read Me Before You and just couldn’t. So, I was reluctant to try this one, and I’m sorry I waited so long. It was heartwarming and touching. I think you should pick it up if you haven’t already.
- My Life in France, Julia Child: My Life in France shares Julia Child’s journey towards becoming a chef and later a celebrity. While I found some aspects of this book completely charming and entertaining, I found other spots dull….maybe I’m just not a memoir person??
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt: I have never read The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s more recent buzzy book. But, I had it on good authority that this was even better. While I can’t speak to that, I can tell you this was an incredible novel. It follows a group of eccentric misfits who are attending an elite New England college. Together, they kill someone, and the book details the fall out of that. Read this one stat.
- The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake follows an Indian couple who move to the United States. It shares the story of their son and details how he navigates both parts of his cultural identity. You will love this book.
- Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll: A thriller, Jessica Knoll reveals aspects of this mystery page by page. I enjoyed this one, finding it to be a nice break between some of the longer (or slower) books on this list.
- Julie and Julia, Julie Powell: Full disclosure, I love this movie, and I think it impacted how I felt about the book. At the peak of the book challenge, I was utilizing every spare minute I had to get through the long list, so I decided to listen to this one on audio. I’m not sure that was the right choice. In the process, I discovered that I didn’t like the author as much as I did Amy Adams’s characterizaiton of her. I pushed through, but found a lot of this book to be very grating.
- Swamplandia, Karen Russell: I have never read a book quite like this before. I’m not sure how to describe it, but I’ll do my best. The story centers around the Bigtree family who own Swamplandia, a tourist attraction that features gator wrestling. After the death of their mother, the family falls apart, as does their livelihood. Karen Russell expertly draws each character, as they encounter obstacles on and off the swamp. Please check out this 2011 stunner immediately.
- Dark Places, Gillian Flynn: After reading Gone Girl, I went on a Gillian Flynn bender. Somehow Dark Places was started and never finished, until this summer. While I did like this story about a girl who survives the mass murder of her family, I preferred Sharp Objects and Gone Girl to this.
- The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros: Considered a classic, I would recommend The House on Mango Street for the introductory story alone. I very much enjoyed this collection of short stories. However, there are a number of characters throughout the book, and I got confused a bit, because I was reading this book along with a few others. It is worthy of your entire focus, and I would recommend reading it that way.
- Last Tang Standing, Lauren Ho: I really wanted to like this book. It started out very funny, but then, fell off for me. I found the main character to be very frustrating, which in turn, made me feel old.