#AMonthofFaves: The Top Ten Books That Blew My Mind This Year

I'll be hopping in and out of #AMonthofFaves this month with some book-related and not-so-book-related content. Today's prompt: The Top Ten Books That Blew Your Mind This Year.


I've already written about my favorite non-fiction and fiction picks, but using some different criteria, here are the ten books that truly blew my mind this year (and the reasons they did so). Note: These are books read in 2015, not necessarily books published in 2015.

I Got You This Very Special Christmas Present

I got you this very special video for Christmas this year, and I promise it's worth 5 minutes of your time.

May all your Christmases be, um, slightly less stressful than this one.

(And yes, that's my sister. Isn't she great?)

On Christmas Eve, We Feast on Seven Fishes

It's Christmas Eve, which means you can bet your bottom dollar this post is pre-scheduled and is going live while I am elbow-deep in pounds of crab meat, salted cod, smoked salmon, octopus stew, and fish, fish, fish. It's the Feast of Seven Fishes for this Italian Family, and we'll be celebrating in style--with fish and with wine and with the company of good friends.

Bon Appetit, in writing about "How to Celebrate the Feast of Seven Fishes," acknowledges that there is no hard and fast way to go about this particularly Italian/Italian-American tradition:
What fish should be included and how they should be prepared can vary. Some people cook seven courses; some choose to make 12 (in deference to the 12 apostles). Some just put a bunch of seafood in a stew and call it good. Many families keep their own traditions, but everyone who celebrates can agree: Seafood should be prepared and consumed on Christmas Eve. Preferably with wine.
We adhere to a full seven(plus)-course meal (my father, and his mother, and probably her parents before that insist that one stew with seven fishes is cheating) in our family, and this year's menu promises not to disappoint:

#AMonthofFaves: Year-End Updates on Reading Challenges, Resolutions, and Goals

I've been hopping in and out of #AMonthofFaves this month with some book-related and not-so-book-related content. Today's prompt: Year-End Updates on Reading Challenges, Resolutions and Goals.


This was both a wonderful year and a terrible year for reading challenges for me. In a landmark move, I fully completed my first ever reading challenge that requires a set number of books (Book Riot's 2015 Read Harder Challenge). In every other challenge, I failed miserably:

  • Clean Your Reader (hosted by myself, even!): I read a mere 3 e-books over the course of a month.*
  • 2015 TBR Challenge: Miserable fail. Though I read plenty of books that technically were on my TBR pile before 2015, only of them were on my official TBR challenge list.
  • Classics Club: I read only two classics this year (and DNF-ed 2 more)

Picking the Best of the Best: Awesome 2015 Non-Fiction Books

Of the 137 books I picked up this year (inclusive of DNFs), 36 were non-fiction--not actually as many as I would have expected, given how many of those slim pickings were truly stand-outs. Perhaps I've just gotten better at picking what non-fiction will work for me? Regardless, here were a few of my favorites:

Week in Reading: December 21

IT'S CHRISTMAS WEEK, YA'LL. I'm counting down the days until I get to feast on seven fishes. It's a pretty quiet week at work (what with half of the people I communicate with regularly being out of the office all week), so I'm catching up on some work-related reading during the days and powering through January and February--yes, February!--releases at night.

For work, I've been slowly getting into Switch for a while now (it's the theme for an upcoming non-profit training day I'm helping with, so I want to get it read). I've also just picked up No Such Thing as a Free Gift, which promises to be interesting, and I'm hoping to get to Project Fatherhood this week or next (before it's due back to the library).

For review deadlines, I'm enjoying The Illegal so far--though it's set in a fictional country, it's got some striking parallels to the reality of the immigration debates across the world today. Timely and well-written: these are a few of my favorite things. On the February stack, I'm eying Young Blood, a novel of the Iraq War, and The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. So, yeah, some really light reading there.

On my headphones, I've got the tail end of Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (it's good, ya'll, go listen to it), and Rules of Civility, a re-read of a book I remember loving but otherwise recall very little of.

And somewhere in there, I've still got to go see Star Wars.


Psst... it's still not too late to join in on the 2016 Clean Your Reader Challenge! Starting in January, read the e-books you own but always forget to read. Easy peasy. Sign up here!

Reflecting on 2015: A Year of Too Much Yes

I opted out of New Years Resolutions last year in favor of focusing on One Little Word. The focus of my year was light, and I'd say I was moderately successful in reminding myself to be light, find light, embrace light throughout the year.

I unloaded a lot of physical stuff when we moved in January, and focused on not acquiring new things we don't need (or have a place for). I've placed my workspace in a spot with natural light--and I've made a valiant effort to get out into the sunlight on days when I am down, or when the hours of daylight are limited, or when I just need a break from the computer screen.

But in the world of personal and professional responsibilities, I have not been light. I have been heavy: heavy with to-do lists, heavy with competing deadlines, heavy with a lack of prioritization that leaves me anxious and sleepless and unable to efficiently handle my daily workload.

The 2016 #ReadHarder Book Challenge

The ever-brilliant Rachel is back on Book Riot again this year with another round of the Read Harder challenge... and I'm in!

The 2015 Read Harder Challenge was one of the first challenges I've ever actually completed in my entire time as a book blogger (ok, well, I technically haven't finished yet, but I'm 1.5 books away with 2 weeks to go and I WILL DO THIS THING), and I loved the diversity of the tasks. This year's list is, of course, no disappointment.

I'll be keeping track of my progress here throughout the year, with updates for each category as listed below. And because I'm also participating in Andi's #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks movement, and of course my own #CleanYourReader reading challenge, I'll be aiming to read as many of these as possible from my existing collection. Which, at first glance, actually should not be that hard.

1. Read a horror book 
2. Read a nonfiction book about science 
3. Read a collection of essays
4. Read a book out loud to someone else
5. Read a middle grade novel
6. Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
7. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel 
8. Read a book originally published in the decade you were born 
9. Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award 
10. Read a book over 500 pages long 
11. Read a book under 100 pages 
12. Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender 
13. Read a book that is set in the Middle East 
14. Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia 
15. Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900 
16. Read the first book in a series by a person of color 
17. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years 
18. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better.
19. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes 
20. Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction) 
21. Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
22. Read a food memoir 
23. Read a play 
24. Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness


Who else is in??

#AMonthofFaves | A Few of My Favorite (Christmas Tree) Things

I'll be hopping in and out of #AMonthofFaves this month with some book-related and not-so-book-related content. Today's prompt: Favorite Holiday Festivities -- or, in my case, favorite Christmas Tree decorations.


I know many think that Christmas trees--particularly real, needle-dropping, sap-sticky trees--are a pain to put up (and break down) each year, but honestly, it's one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. Here are just a few of my most favorite ornaments, hanging besides more Patriots candy canes than I care to admit:

#WeekendReading: Picking Favorites from This Week's #AMonthofFaves

I'll be hopping in and out of #AMonthofFaves this month with some book-related and not-so-book-related content. Today's prompt: Weekend Reading -- Picking Favorites Shared through A Month of Favorites this week.


I didn't participate in the "This is How I Blog" prompt this week, but I learned about a ton of new blogging resources from others' posts. In particular:

Andi also has me even more excited than I already was about the forthcoming The Lifechanging Magic of Not Giving a F**k, which is out from Little, Brown in December. Cannot. Wait.


reading challenge, e-book challenge, ebook challenge, ereader challenge, tbr challenge

In non-Month of Faves news, it's not too late to sign up for the Clean Your Reader challenge this January-March. The premise is simple: focus on reading all those unread e-books lurking on your e-reader accounts somewhere. I hope you'll join us!

Linked Short Stories

This post originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

There's something about linked short stories--not quite a novel, but not a traditional collection--that speaks to me. Perhaps it's because the form allows authors (and therefore a reader) to explore two kinds of writing at one time; perhaps it is because I view life and stories as a series of snapshots, so the approach resonates with my way of thinking about the world.

Review & Giveaway: The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone.

This is Ebenezer Scrooge's solemn promise to the Spirits at the end of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol--a promise that Charlie Lovett has set out to explore in more depth in his follow-up to the classic holiday tale, The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge.

#AMonthofFaves: Five for Winter Survival

I'll be hopping in and out of #AMonthofFaves this month with some book-related and not-so-book-related content. Today's prompt: 5 Must Haves for Winter Survival.


It's been a shockingly mild winter here... so far. But I know that could change at any minute, and I've got five winter essentials on stand-by for the moment the temperatures start to drop it like it's, er, cold:

Review: Ashley Bell, by Dean Koontz (and an interview!)

This review originally ran in a Maximum Shelf issue of Shelf Awareness.

Despite her somewhat frivolous-sounding name--or perhaps because of it--Bibi Blair, the 22-year-old protagonist of Ashley Bell, is determined to make it clear that she is fierce and dauntless. Engaged to a Navy SEAL currently on an unspecified mission in an unspecified country, she's learned a thing or two about what it means to be strong. And as an author, she understands the power of imagination in shaping a story--even when that story might be her own. These are traits that serve her well when she is diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and told she has less than a year to live.

At first, her response to this statement--"Really just one year? We'll see."--appears to be little more than wishful thinking in the face of a horrible prognosis. But it quickly becomes clear that, unlike her laid-back parents--both California surfers--Bibi does not subscribe to the "it will be what it will be" way of life. "She loved her parents, but she was not them. Fate did not rule her. She was master of her fate, the captain of her soul. She would not quit. SURRENDER was not a word that could be made from the lettered tiles of her name."

Week in Reading: December 7

decked the halls christmas decorations pets
My halls are decked. So are my pets.

'Tis, as they say, the season: to be merry and joyful (falala)*, to deck the halls, to be jolly. I know there are lots (and lots) of folks out there who find the whole Christmas thing more a burden than a joy. There's all the work associated with getting the tree and decorating the tree and hanging the lights and vacuuming up the tree needles (for days) and making cookies and holiday parties and sending Christmas cards and let me just tell you, I love every. damn. second. of it all.

So today, I'm sitting here typing this post wearing a Charlie Brown Christmas sweatshirt, sipping coffee with a spot of egg nog in it, thinking about where we'll go tonight to pick out our first tree in our first house, wondering what Christmas-themed reading I'll find in this week amidst a few January deadlines. On my stack:

Bookworm Gift Guide: Subscription Boxes

The subscription box has taken off, ya'll. You can get subscription boxes of sample-sizes beauty products, dog toys and treats, runner goodies, you name it. Below are a few of my favorite bookish subscription options (all of which would make excellent gifts for the bookworm you don't know how to shop for this holiday season...):

Looking Ahead: December Books

December is not traditionally known as a heavy publishing month, but that's not to say there aren't a few gems on the horizon...

age of reinvention, ashley bell, dean koontz, life-changing magic of not giving a fuck

The 2016 Clean Your Reader Challenge: Join Us!

clean your reader, ebook challenge, ereader challenge, 2016 reading challenge

Come one, come all, to the 2016 Clean Your Reader Challenge.

The goal is simple: read as many (or as few) e-books from your e-reader as you like over a three-month period (January through March 2016). Because I'm not great at hosting (or participating in) challenges with lots of rules and regulations, that's all there is for structure, but here are a few guidelines and suggestions:

Week in Reading: November 30

It's a cold, grey, perfectly New England November day as I sit and write this, though by the time the post goes live, we'll be well on our way home after a wonderful weekend of family and entirely too much food. I'm sipping coffee from my mother-in-law's Christmas mugs and thinking of the many, many things I have to get done when I get home and wishing I had more time to curl up and read as the weather turns colder and the days get shorter and more fully packed. On my stack this week:

Best of November

November was in many ways a not-so-great month: Paris, Beirut, Mali and other locales have been subjected to horrible, terrible acts of death and violence; the United States waved its xenophobic flag in reactions across the country; national headlines spoke of racism on college campuses, at political rallies, and in protests against police shootings. Between staring hopelessly at news reels, running another half, reflecting on (and celebrating) my birthday, co-chairing a charity auction, and prepping for the holidays... I didn't read a lot. The only book I actually started and finished this month, in fact, was H is for Hawk, a contemplative and meditative and truly absolutely wonderful memoir of a woman (who is also a falconer) coping with the loss of her father and her decent into depression and back out again. Although that's oversimplifying the thing. Just: read it. It's great.

Since I don't really have many books to talk about today, here, instead, are some of my favorite things from the internet this month:

We Can Only Be Said to Be Alive...

we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures, thankfulness quote, thornton wilder quote

Week in Reading: Nonfiction and Seasonal Reads (and Recovery Runs)

I'm coming to you late with a Week in Reading this post, but the holidays are upon us so I expect I'll be embracing creative scheduling here for the next few weeks...

I ran another half marathon this weekend--this time the Annapolis Running Classic--on a crystal clear, cold Saturday morning. The course was hillier than I'd expected, but I still beat my past PR with a new time of 2:14:52 (versus 2:17:51 at the Freedom's Run in October). My GPS actually clocked me at a 2:09:42 for the half-marathon distance, and 2:15 and change for the full 13.75 miles that we actually ran; not sure if the course was mis-marked, but I'll take the PR either way.

Book Review: Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins's debut novel (following her much-acclaimed short story collection, Battleborn), introduces readers to Southern California in the near future--a region in which extensive drought has permanently altered both the physical and social landscape. The land is mostly deserted but for a handful of holdouts: those unable to afford evacuation and those unwelcome in the more fertile areas of the United States.

Cookbooks for Newlyweds (and really, everyone else too)

I wrote a thing for MarthaStewartWeddings.com on cookbooks for newlyweds...

...what would you add to the list?

Nonfiction November: Nontraditional Nonfiction

nonfiction november 2015

This week for Nonfiction November, we're talking about nonfiction in nontraditional book formats: e-books, audiobooks, comics, enhanced books, etc. Though the majority of my nonfiction reading comes in traditional paper books (I really, really like to underline things, and no amount of e-reading highlights can ever change my mind on that), there are a few types of nonfiction books that call to me in less traditional formats:

Week in Reading: November 16

It's telling that my reading stack this week is practically identical to last week's; between world news and birthday celebrations, my days have been full of highs and lows and very little reading (I wrote a bit about birthdays and my 30 by 30 list on Saturday, if you're interested).

30 by 30: A Birthday Update

I wrote a post about birthdays and embracing the concept of aging earlier this week to share today (my birthday), but deleted it last night in the midst of the news updates from Paris and around the world. Somehow, what I had to say about realizing I am one year closer to 30--which, yes, I realize is not that old--seemed invalid and inconsequential today. The world and its happenings are so much bigger than one person, than one birthday, than one moment in time; even the most horrible moments can remind us of that.

When I turned 27, I wrote a list of 30 things I want to accomplish before I turn 30. I slacked off on that list a lot this year, at times even wondering why I'd set such ridiculous goals for myself. Go fishing? Plant flowers? What consequence could such activities possibly have on the world--on myself?

Book Review: Not on Fire, but Burning, by Greg Hrbek

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Not on Fire, but Burning opens on catastrophe in San Francisco, in the not-too-distant future. A large object hovers over the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge collapses, and a mushroom cloud of radiation covers the city. Skyler, a young woman babysitting in an apartment overlooking the bridge, is caught up in the radiation, unable to save either the child she is watching or herself. She dies thinking of her youngest brother, Dorian.

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

This week's theme for Nonfiction November, hosted at Regular Rumination, is book pairings--matching up non-fiction books with fictional counterparts, or vice versa--which is one of my favorite ways to explore a particular subject. On a random assortments of topics, here are a few that stand out to me:

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County and Lies We Tell Ourselves

Kristen Green's memoir and history explores a shameful but important piece of American history--the closing of the public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia to protest desegregation. Robin Talley's YA novel is the fictionalized story of two high school girls--one black, one white--on opposite sides of the segregation debate who find themselves thrown into an unexpected friendship. (I wrote about this pairing in more depth earlier this year.)

Packing for Mars and The Martian

Andy Weir's novel, The Martian, has made it big with a movie adaptation starring Matt Damon. While it's a fun story (I highly recommend the audio version), it's even more interesting to me because of all the science in it; Weir definitely did his homework. To continue the exploration of space travel and all its glories, pick up Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, a scientific study of space travel complete with Roach's characteristic wit and humor.

Just Like Us and The Book of Unknown Americans

Helen Thorpe's study of four immigrant girls in America isn't perfect, but it is an interesting glimpse into the experience of trying to span the distance between one's homeland and life in America. It also touches on the varying experiences of those in the United States with and without papers--especially those who came here as children. Cristina Henriquez' novel moves this study from Colorado to Delaware, nonfiction to fiction, but explores similar themes of belonging and patriotism and hope.


Anyone else like to pair fiction and non-fiction when reading on a particular subject?

Week in Reading: November 10

I'm a day late and probably a dollar (or several) short in getting this up this week; I was in New York this weekend (in part for the Book Riot Live cocktail hour at the Strand--which was wonderful!) and chose to dedicate my limited suitcase space to extra books instead of my laptop. And those short dollars were spent on books (and bagels) while there. So now here I am, prepping for a week of nonfiction reading for the continued celebrations of Nonfiction November.

A Year in Nonfiction

As part of Nonfiction November, I'm looking back over at all of the non-fiction I've read so far this year... and hot damn, has it been a good year of nonfiction picks. So far this year, I've read 33 non-fiction books (up from 25 total in 2014 and only 16 in 2013). In large part, this has been a shift in my review books--and the product of a lot of really incredible non-fiction books coming out recently.

It's always hard to pick just one favorite from a stack of books as diverse as my 33 non-fiction books, so instead I'll highlight a few that really stuck out to me:

Review: My Year of Running Dangerously, by Tom Foreman

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Naturally, after my year of rediscovering running (not dangerously), I leapt at the opportunity to pick it up.

CNN correspondent Tom Foreman used to run marathons--in his 20s. One day, as Foreman was contemplating blowing out 51 candles on his next birthday cake, his eldest daughter (then 18) asked him to run a marathon with her. Little did he know that simple request would rekindle a long-lost love of running, leading him to run not only that one marathon with his daughter but also five half marathons, two additional full marathons and a 55-mile ultra-marathon, all over the course of a year.

Nonfiction November Plans

nonfiction november

Nonfiction November is back again this year, and I'm excited to be emphasizing some non-fic selections in my November reading... just as soon as I wrap up my current reads. In an effort to continue to focus these precious few deadline-light weeks on backlist and wrapping up my annual reading challenges, here's what I'm eying for the month:

furiously happy, liar temptress soldier spy, when women were birds, wild, the reason i jump, how to live, h is for hawk, notorious rbg, at home, the skies belong to us,

From my 2015 TBR Challenge list:

And a few just-because alternatives:

I obviously won't get to all of these, but a girl can dream...

What are your favorite non-fiction picks? What should I have added to my stacks?

Week in Reading: November 2

Frederick, MD (taken 10/30/15)
We're soaking up the last of the fall colors around these parts, and I'm soaking up a few more weeks of backlist binging. On my headphones, I've finally found my groove with A Tale of Two Cities--that is, when I'm not listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat. I'm still working through one poem at a time in The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and am (slowly) getting through Frankenstein.

Looking Ahead: November Books & Reading Events

October set the bar pretty damn high as reading goes, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited for a few promising books in November:

Looking Back: October Reading

I took a few weeks off from this little blogosphere, so it was a fairly quiet month here... but that's not to say there wasn't a hell of a lot of reading.

Contemporary Nigerian Voices

This piece originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Until recently, I'm ashamed to admit, my reading of Nigerian authors was limited to the works of Chinua Achebe (which are certainly worth reading, if you haven't already). I had been overlooking a host of more recent fiction from Nigerian voices, all of which work to highlight the complex and often misunderstood history and culture of this unusual country.

Week in Reading: October 26, 2015

It's the last week of October (somehow?) and I'm basking in the relative relaxation of a slow review month. This week, I devoured Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award-winning novel from 2011; it was the kind of beautiful, cruel, heartbreaking novel that made me want to set it down and not continue but left me unable to look away. Truly, truly, truly excellent. I also finished Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last, which I liked, but not as much as some of Atwood's previous works.

Book Review & Interview: The Food Lab, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

I just realized that despite my gushing over this book, I failed to post the review and interview here that I did for Shelf Awareness for Readers. So, without further ado, a great many words on what I will call the best cookbook of 2015 (and the first cookbook I've ever sat down and read cover-to-cover).

This review and interview originally ran in Shelf Awareness' Maximum Shelf on August 26, 2015.

Running Recap: Freedom's Run Half Marathon

Antietam National Battlefield

I've mentioned in a few posts and on Twitter that I've been training for a half marathon this summer and fall, and now that race is solidly behind me. My hip flexors have stopped throbbing, my glutes don't scream every time I go up the stairs, and the taper madness that set in the two weeks before my race has abated (taper madness: it's a real thing).

While this wasn't my first half (I did a few in 2011-2012), it was my first in several years--and my lazy butt was working back up to 13 miles from couch potato. The first few weeks of training were the worst both mentally and physically (see an earlier post where I questioned whether I could actually finish a 5-mile run), but over time, I gained confidence as I gained muscle memory, and running became (mostly) fun again.