Category Archives: Books

12 Books My Book Club Loved

August 4, 2015

book club pics use this oneWhen I was newly married I started a book club. I thought it would be a great way to socialize, get book recommendations, and eat fancy desserts. Because if there’s anything I love as much as a book recommendation, it’s a fancy dessert.

At the first meeting approximately 386 people showed up. We sat on my super ugly couch in my super ugly first apartment and ate crepes that were super ugly but full of Nutella and whipped cream and were therefore deemed a success. The first book we chose was The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. It was an excellent first choice.

At the second meeting a more reasonable 279 people showed up. It was held at a much cuter (and cleaner) apartment and we ate a much cuter dessert that was also very delicious. I looked up a reader’s discussion guide online and we talked about what we’d loved about the book. (The characters! The important themes!) It was a great discussion and we made plans to meet the following month.

[Unfortunately, about 270 of our book club members formally resigned that night. They were super interested in the socializing and the fancy desserts, but it had just come to their attention that the remaining nine of us planned to actually discuss books at our book club meetings.]

That was four years ago. And book club is still one of my most favorite nights of the month. We’ve read many, many books and interestingly, I’ve found that not all good/enjoyable books make good book club books. A good book club book has to be not only good/enjoyable, it has to prompt discussion. Otherwise you’re  going to spend 5 minutes exchanging pleasantries about how lovely the book was and then spend the rest of the night gossiping about where your super hot 6th grade teacher ended up. (She really was super hot, you should have seen her do the Macarena.)

Unfortunately my memory is on par with a goldfish’s, but I’ve pulled together a year’s worth of book club books that I remember inciting interesting discussion and  general admiration:

JANUARY: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. Fascinating, and perfect for kicking off your superhero resolutions.

FEBRUARY: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. An old one, but so incredibly engaging. One of those stories that stays with you, and the story and culture made for a great discussion.

MARCH: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. We read this one then watched the movie. Loved it both ways!

APRIL: Between Friends, by Kristy Kiernan. We thought this was just going to be a light read but ended up having one of our best discussions to date.

MAY: The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine, MD. Step by step look at how our brains form then function. Very interesting and great to talk about with a a group of women.

JUNE: Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. Our club is a big fan of historical fiction–meaning books based on people and actual events but with some creative liberties. The (true) ending to this story blew our minds.

JULY: The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee. Very interesting setting.

AUGUST: Necessary Lies, by Diane Chamberlaine. Great read with tons of social issues to discuss.

SEPTEMBER: A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel. Laugh out loud memoir. A delight and fun to discuss.

OCTOBER: Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult. Something spooky for Halloween.

NOVEMBER: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. This book is an experience.

DECEMBER: Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris. This is a (hilarious) collection of essays/short stories, and we actually read it two Decembers in a row. One year we got a hold of an audio version and listened to our favorite story: “Dinah, The Christmas Whore.” If that title doesn’t make you laugh I simply can’t help you.

the 8 books I recommend most often

May 26, 2015

Book I Tell Everyone AboutIf you were to say, “Jenna, I’m going on a trip and I need something to read” or “Jenna, I can’t stand the thought of rereading Fifty Shades of Gray one more time” or “Jenna, you know how to read, right? What do you suggest?” These are the novels I would most likely tell you about. They left me with my mouth hanging open. Really. And some of them (Like Yellow Raft in Blue Water) I reread every few years so they can blow my mind all over again. So listen up, friends. I’m about to make your reading life a whole lot awesome-er. (Really-er.)

1. Everything I Never Told You: A Novel, by Celeste Ng. This is the story of a blended Chinese-American family living in a small town in the 1970s. It’s told from a bunch of different perspectives and put me into one of my I’m Never Going to Be That Good of a Writer depressive episodes. I promise you’ll love it. Also, could someone help me out with how to pronounce the author’s last name?

2. The Rosie Project: A Novel, by Graeme Simsion. Hands down the funniest narrator I have ever encountered. I was literally LOL’ing from my seat in 18B. Professor Don Tillman (brilliant, but not exactly what you’d call “street smart”) embarks on a scientific quest to find the perfect mate. Read this book then give it to your saddest friend. It will cheer them right up!

3. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. This is actually the one I recommend most often, because it’s fun and engaging and everyone I know who’s read it really loved it. Cecelia is living a happy life when she finds a letter written by her husband that is intended for her to read after his death. Except he’s alive. And her whole life is about to get thrown off course.

4. The Kitchen House: A Novel, by Kathleen Grissom. Wow. Wow. Okay, I don’t really know where to start with this one, except this was in my top 10 best reading experiences of my entire life. Set on a plantation in pre-civil war Virginia, Lavinia is a white indentured servant who is embraced as family by the plantation’s slaves. Where her life takes her and the way the story unfolds totally rocked me. Also, make sure you read at the end where she got the idea for the story–it gives me goosebumps!

5. The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel, by Diane Setterfield. A young biographer is called upon to write the story of a legendary writer, and the story that unfolds is gothic, and mysterious and so utterly engrossing I wish I could read it again and not see what was coming.

6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel, by Maria Semple. There’s a restaurant near my house that serves a gigantic slice of bliss that goes by the name of Tollhouse Pie. It’s warm and buttery with big chunks of chocolate and walnuts and every time I eat it I wonder why I ever bother eating anything else. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is Tollhouse Pie in book form. Bernadette Fox is notorious for her bad behavior, and when she goes missing her daughter starts compiling all her correspondence to piece together where she’s gone. I loved this book. Like more than a friend.

7. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water: A Novel, by Michael Dorris. This is my favorite book. (I mean that.) Of the thousands I have read and loved, this is the one. One day I’ll write a separate post on it, but for now let me just tell you it’s the story of a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter and tells the story of their life from each of their perspectives. Mysterious Ida, train-wreck Christine, and lost Rayona. I think about them all the time.

8. The Patron Saint of Liars, by Ann Patchett. I have a writer crush on Ann Patchett. Like really. All of her books are unbelievable, but this is my most loved. And it also happens to be the one that launched her career. Pregnant Rose shows up at a home for unwed mothers and then stays. And stays. Even when her past refuses to remain in the past.

I hope you absolutely love these books. And if I ever develop amnesia like Drew Barrymore on 50 First Dates, would you please instruct my husband to leave these books in a pile on my bedside? And will you please, please tell me what books you recommend? I need a new book.


8 YA Books You Should Read Immediately

May 21, 2015

YA COLLAGEPeople ask me things all the time. Things like,

  • Who told you that baby wipe baths are an acceptable alternative to the real thing?
  • Why are you feeding your two-year-old a diet that is 60% condiments?
  • Did you really wake up in the middle of the night because a clown was playing circus music over the baby monitor and drag your husband halfway to the baby’s room before realizing it was a dream?

I’m not going to answer any of those questions. They apply to parenting, and I’m obviously killing it in that department. KILLING it. But there is one question I am always happy to answer.


And seriously, don’t ask me if you don’t  want an answer. Because I will give you a recommendation. Or three. And then I’ll probably bring up books every time I see you, so then you’ll be like “Hey, I just asked you the one time so we’d have something to talk about, and now you think we’re having an impromptu book club meeting every time we see each other.”

Sorry about that.

But I’m really not sorry about this list I’m going to give you today. You will LOVE it. It’s a list of novels written for teens* and they’re smart and funny and made me turn green up to my eyeballs because I wished I’d written even just one sentence of them.

*ADULTS. Listen to me. YA novels are for you too. You are going to dive into these and love them because you were once a teenager, and regardless of how magical or horrible your teen years were, I’ll bet you anything you think about them often. And I bet you remember how much you FELT every little thing, and how up and down things were, and how bad and how GOOD it all could be. So take a minute to relive it all, okay? Because I know being an adult can feels like milk toast. Reject the milk toast. But keep saving for retirement, because really. You’re an adult now. You have to do crap like that.

1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m not even going to tell you about this one, just GO READ IT IMMEDIATELY. Fall in love. Get your heartbroken. Remember what it felt like to be a misfit.

2. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I have to admit I was totally put off by the title. It sounded kind of…cheesy? But I figured 800+ ecstatic Amazon reviews couldn’t be wrong, so I gave it a shot and suddenly I was falling headfirst into Anna’s year in Paris and falling for the divine Etienne and OMG my head exploded. And so did my little sister’s. Really, so so fun.

3. Out of Reachby Carrie Arcos. So smart, so lovely, what a whirlwind. A girl goes looking for her drug addict brother. LOVED this. As I finished the last paragraph I thought “Now THAT’s what a YA novel should be.”

4. Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley. Two stories in one–which I love–and you won’t believe how they tie together. Cullen’s cousin overdoses, his small hometown becomes obsessed with the reappearance of a rare woodpecker, and his 15-year-old brother goes missing. Get ready to stay up late reading.

5. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. Did you think I’d make this list without one John Green book? No. Heavens no. He’s like YA royalty, and if I ever get the chance to meet him I’ll probably get all sweaty and awkward and before I know it say something ridiculous that I’ll regret for absolutely the rest of my life. But this BOOK! So fun. The premise killed me. And John Greene’s writing is just so damn special. I can’t get over it.

6. Something Real, by Heather Demetrios. This is about a girl whose entire crazy life (she’s one of 13 kids) has been recorded on reality TV. For a few perfect months she gets the chance to live a normal life, but when the cameras come swooping back in she has to decide what she really wants. I’ve basically been singing from the rooftops about this one. SUCH GREAT WRITING. I was so unbelievably sucked in.

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. You know and LOVE the character in approximately six words. Gorgeous writing, important themes, BEAUTIFUL.

8. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E Smith. Hadley and Oliver meet on a flight to London. She’s flying to attend (reluctantly) her father’s second wedding. And he’s flying…why? Lots of fun.

BONUS: (SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION) Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch. Lina’s had a bad year. The worst, really. And now she’s leaving the shreds of her life to travel halfway across the world to live with a father she just found out about. Oh, and minor detail. He lives right smack dab in the middle of the cemetery. And his past with Lina’s mother? Pretty shady. Part mystery, part ice cream, part love story, I can honestly say I’ve been losing sleep over this story for a good year now. I will be adding a pre-order link the second it’s available, but for now, plan on Spring 2016. And pray I’ll survive this next round of edits!

DOUBLE BONUS: I didn’t list the Michael Vey series because you’ve already read it and are anxiously awaiting book #5, correct? If not, start with Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25. It’s fun, adventure packed, super creative, and wow. That guy really knows what he’s doing. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the over 1,000 Amazon ratings with an average of 4.5 stars.

Happy reading! What YA novels have you loved?