Tag Archives: reading
It’s Valentine’s Day!
Hearts and sparkles and candy for everyone!
For as much as I love heart-shaped things and red things and L-O-V-E, there’s something undeniably cheesy — albeit fun — about this holiday. I have fond memories of writing out little cards for my classmates growing up, then waiting for my latest crush to declare his feelings on February 14. When the proclamation wasn’t forthcoming, I tried to tell myself there was always next year. Always the romantic!
My fiance and I will be cooking up a storm at home and avoiding the crowds tonight, and that’s just fine with me. On our first and only “engaged” Valentine’s Day, I’d rather avoid the chaos and catch up on “Downton Abbey” (though sweet Cupid, it’s been really depressing lately). We went out on Sunday for our traditional French dinner in a nearby town, and it was a sweet and personal evening!
And on this day devoted to romance, I’ve been thinking about love stories. I haven’t read enough good ones lately. I’m always seeking something sweeping in magnitude — yet grounded in reality. I want a give-and-take relationship between two people who recognize that while they could stand separately, they’re better together. I want my novels to be romantic without provoking frequent eye-rolls, and y’all know I can get down with an eye-roll. (It’s how I roll.) (And sorry for that bad pun.)
When it comes to love stories, I usually require them in my reading. An otherwise fabulous book without the emotion and drama of a blossoming romance just doesn’t hold the same appeal. There are exceptions to this, of course — and the love story itself is a delicate balancing act. It’s crucial to have things develop naturally — or for me to feel like they do, anyway.
I’m probably not making any sense. Too many contraband Valentine’s chocolates. Sugar rush!
(Only kidding. I’m still committed to healthy living, though those heart-shaped Peeps are eyeballing me.)
And so, in honor of this day of love, I present to you . . .
Meg’s Favorite Love Stories
(That Won’t Make You Gag)
Okay, I’m a little biased with this one — because it’s one of my favorite books of all time. No exaggeration. In fact, if I can convince you to read one book in my years of book- and life-blogging, I hope it’s Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. It’s that good — and I’m that serious. Though the romance in Rice’s novel isn’t center-stage, it’s unforgettable . . . just like this story. In fact, I really need to pluck it back off my shelf; we’ve been separated for far too long.
Beyond its quaint setting in the English countryside, Harriet Evans’ I Remember You is everything I devour in a novel. Particular care is paid to the two leads: childhood best friends who grow up in one another’s pockets, but separate over the years through grief, romance and everything in between. Though it occasionally falls victim to some chick-lit cliches, it’s a sweeping tale of first love that really resonated with me — and was one I recommended for months.
Separated by war, hostility and racism, Kristina McMorris’ lovebirds in Bridge of Scarlet Leaves face impossible heartache in their quest to just be together. (Makes online dating look like a cakewalk, eh?) This historical novel, set in World War II, is meticulously researched — and absolutely engrossing. Maddie and Lane make an unforgettable pairing.
When you pair romance with the undeniable pull of Italian cooking, you get a savory dish like Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School — and I gobbled it up. A budding romance told against the backdrop of familial love on the coast of Maine, this fun story left me with a full heart . . . and a growling stomach.
There’s no denying the allure of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, a young adult novel that took the reading community by storm. With its Parisian setting, dreamy male lead and enticing will-they-or-won’t-they premise (they always start out as “just friends,” don’t they?), Perkins’ debut had one of the best finales I’ve read. I was literally swooning, if such a thing is possible, and I didn’t want it to end. If you’ve refrained from grabbing it until now, consider this your homework. Your Valentine’s Day homework.
Through divine providence (or a postal mix-up?), I’ve come to possess an extra copy of Allie Larkin’s Why Can’t I Be You — a book I read and really enjoyed last month. This story of friendship, mistaken identity and coming into your own resonated with me . . . and perhaps it’s time for it to resonate with you! (And early, too; the book publishes later this month.)
One randomly-selected winner will get a brand spankin’ new paperback copy, sent over by yours truly — and to enter, simply
fill out this brief form. I’ll choose a winner via Random.org at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, and email them for their mailing address. U.S. entrants only, please. Good luck!
(Comments closed to avoid confusion!)
EDIT on 2/07: Congrats to Nicole, our randomly-chosen winner! Nicole, I’ve emailed you.
We all know I’m slightly OCD about many things — among them lists and record-keeping. Being both an avid reader and an obsessive traveler, armchair and otherwise, I decided 2012 would be the year I kept track of all the places I “visited” through my reading.
Inspired by Aths, I kept a running Google map with the main locations of every book I read. Because some novels spanned several towns, states or countries, I chose to catalog the “main” setting and discard the others. If an exact location was never named, I “rounded up” to the state or closest town I could find. There were exceptions to that, though, and some places had no discernible setting — or more than one place was critical to the story. So I made allowances where I wanted.
In keeping this organized tally, I was most interested to see how diversified my reading was this year. Were most of my books set in New York City or London, as it often feels? Did I read novels set in any foreign countries? Were my characters of varying racial backgrounds, descents and interests?
The answer to all of the above, I’m happy to say, is yes! Though I did read many books set in New York (16), only one (!) was set in London. I know, I’m just . . . I can’t get over it. I read others set in England, of course, but only one book set in London? Really?
I scarcely know myself.
Of the 71 books I read this year, some of the more exotic locations included:
• Beijing and Shanghai, China
• Amsterdam, The Netherlands
• Gowna and Dublin, Ireland
• Ghana, Africa
• Nagoya, Japan
• Madrid, Spain
• Porto Vergogna, Italy
• Kingsbridge and Milton, England
• Mumbai, India
Back stateside, my reading was pretty centered around California — not too surprising given my trip there last May. I read eight books set in the Golden State, several in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and also journeyed to destinations in states I’ve never seen in person. Among my American reading were spots in:
• Boston, Massachusetts
• St. Mary’s County and Annapolis, Maryland (home!)
• Atlanta, Georgia
• Portland, Maine
• Wiscasset, Maine
• Chicago, Illinois
• Cleveland, Ohio
• Provo, Utah
• Kansas City, Missouri
• Malvern, Pennsylvania
• The Cascade Mountains of Oregon
• Dalhart, Texas
• Seattle, Washington
And for all the numbers fans out there . . .
• 28 percent of the settings were international
• 72 percent of the settings were in the United States
In 2013, I hope to expand my literary horizons and journey to many new and interesting locales! We’ll see how exotic I can get.
So what did I read in 2012?
1. Across The Universe by Beth Revis
2. History Of A Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
3. What Came First by Carol Snow
4. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
5. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
6. Fatal Mistake by CB Lovejoy
7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
8. Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
9. The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene
10. Compulsively Mr. Darcy by Nina Benneton
11. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris
12. How To Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donohue
13. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
14. The Civilized World by Susi Wyss
15. Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
16. Another Piece Of My Heart by Jane Green
17. All The Flowers In Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
18. The Singles by Meredith Goldstein
19. S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim by Cynthia Sass
20. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
21. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer
22. Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky
23. These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen
24. Bossypants by Tina Fey
25. Japan Took the J.A.P. Out Of Me by Lisa Cook
26. A Vacation On the Island of Ex-Boyfriends by Stacy Bierlein
27. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
28. In The Bag by Kate Klise
29. An Object Of Beauty by Steve Martin
30. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
31. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
32. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
33. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
34. Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus
35. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
36. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
37. As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney
38. And Laughter Fell From The Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
39. Birthday Pie by Andrew Wooten
40. Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson
41. Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
43. The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
44. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
45. Point, Click, Love by Molly Shapiro
46. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
47. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
48. Populazzi by Elise Allen
49. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
50. The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns by Margaret Dilloway
51. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
52. Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose
53. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
54. Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski
55. We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier by Celia Rivenbark
56. Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
57. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
58. Harvest by Richard Horan
59. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
60. Lip Service by M.J. Rose
61. Love On the Big Screen by William Torgerson
62. I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert
63. You Tell Your Dog First by Alison Pace
64. The Good Woman by Jane Porter
65. Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas
66. Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
67. Lunch With Buddha by Roland Merullo
68. Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole Georges
69. I Kill Me by Tracy H. Tucker
70. The Wedding Beat by Devan Sipher
71. The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride
Family, magic and love combine in one entertaining read from Susan McBride. The small-town setting, ripe with intrigue, was enough to keep me flipping the pages — but the novel’s focus on sisters, lost love and motherhood really kept me coming back for more.
“A lie that Gretchen Brink told 40 years ago comes back to haunt her when a tornado brings together Sam, a mysterious man who can’t remember anything, and Abby, her newly pregnant daughter who is convinced Sam is her long-lost father. Though decades old, when Gretchen’s secrets are revealed, the ramifications will affect them all in ways they never could have imagined.
A mesmerizing study of family and love, The Truth About Love and Lightning is touching and observant, reminding us that we never know when our lives are on the precipice of change.” (Goodreads)
With a special focus on Native American lore, family dynamics and mystery, McBride’s The Truth About Love and Lightning finds us wading through the waters of the past with a few principle characters: Gretchen, a single mother who has never gotten over the shock of losing her best friend, Sam; Abigail, Gretchen’s grown daughter, who grows up believing Sam is her dad; and Sam himself, the youngest of a Native American family of farmers with a long history in Walnut Ridge, Missouri.
All in all, I tore through this book in the weeks leading up to Christmas — a notoriously busy time in which I often had to set the book aside for other tasks. Something kept bringing me back to McBride’s plot, though — a sense of intrigue that found me desperate to answer a few key questions: could this mysterious man blown in by a tornado actually be Sam Winston? Where had he been all this time? Is he actually Abby’s father?
Though the build-up to those resolutions felt a little bigger than the resolutions themselves, I really enjoyed this story — and wished we could have gotten to better know Gretchen’s two blind sisters, Trudy and Bennie. I loved the sisters’ preternatural abilities to see or hear things others couldn’t, giving them an otherworldly quality, and wished we could have seen their interior lives.
Flipping between the past and present, The Truth About Love and Lightning does a fine job of blending folklore with the lessons of the present. As much as the story centers on Sam and Gretchen, especially in their youth, it’s also the tale of the Winston family — and the land on which they’ve made a home for decades. It was fascinating how the farm comes to be in Gretchen’s possession, and I could definitely perfectly picture the setting — a testament to McBride’s storytelling.
Though the story left me with more questions than answers, I really enjoyed it. Fans of Sarah Addison Allen’s brand of magical realism, stories of first love, novels centered on folklore and those looking for a quick, entertaining read with a healthy dash of mystery will find plenty to enjoy in The Truth About Love and Lightning.
3.5 out of 5!
Happy day-after-Christmas, everyone! Hard to believe we’re here again, glancing over our shoulders at another year of living, loving, eating — and reading. Though 2012 proved to be a slower reading year for me, completing 71 books to last year’s 82, I found myself really enjoying what I was reading — and focused on branching out.
That meant I discovered some narrative non-fiction for the first time in my adult reading life, and I challenged myself to step out of my chick lit box. That’s not to say I don’t still love women’s fic — trust me, I do — but I also enjoyed the change of pace that biographies offered me.
Audio books were my good buddies this year, too. Since discovering the joys of being read to (you know, elementary-school style), I’m rarely without an audio book on my drives around town. Since my music is all stale and boring and blah, it’s great having something to keep my attention when I’m running errands. And now I feel less annoyed about having to go get diet soda from the grocery store again.
Last year’s reading honors celebrated literary fiction, young adult and more — and at the end of my post, I hoped 2012 would find me continuing “all the things I hold dear: excellent literature; prose that stops me dead in my well-worn tracks; journeys to new places, continents and cultures. I hope to read more non-fiction in the coming months, especially about American history, and to get excited about women’s fiction again. On the personal writing front, I hope to finish another novel by the spring and to continue making creative writing a priority in my own life.”
With the exception of that last bit (I’m severely slacking on the novel-writing front), I’m going to stamp a big ol’ mission accomplished. Feels good.
In the coming year, I’m going to be realistic: as Spencer and I get rolling on our wedding plans and my sister prepares for her nuptials, too, much of my free time will be consumed with bridal-related excitement. And that’s okay. Reading (and blogging!) are meant to be fun; I just can’t stress over my reading pace. I’m never without a book, so that won’t change — but I have to figure I won’t get through as many novels as before. I’ll likely have to be choosier with what I pick up and review, so that should be an interesting challenge.
But on to the best of the year! What makes a book end-of-the-year-recap worthy? How do I whittle 71 books down to the cream of the bookish crop? I ask myself a few important questions: months after finishing, am I still thinking about it? Can I recall details, characters, settings? Did it spoil me for other books? Am I grateful — maybe changed — for having read it?
If the answer is yes, you’ll find it below. And what a fun reflection it’s been.
Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2012
1. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer
My foray into young adult literature was limited this year, but I’m so incredibly glad I didn’t miss out in this one. You’re probably sick of me talking about it, but hopefully my constant chatter has convinced you to pick it up. I’m serious: it’s moving and funny and unforgettable. Hummer is a true talent, and this book was a life-changer for me. If I’ve talked you into picking up one book from write meg!, I hope it’s this one. You won’t regret it — and that’s why it’s in my No. 1 spot.
2. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Read in the summer, Beautiful Ruins is just the sort of book that lodges in your brain and refuses to leave. Though I always picture a scene while reading, this book inspired full-blown movies in my mind — which works well, considering it’s partially about movies. It’s gorgeous, lush, vivid — and filled with incredibly memorable, endearing characters. Plus, it’s set in Italy — and Elizabeth Taylor is a quasi-character. I described it as “spellbinding” back in June, and you know what? I’m a smart lady. Spellbinding only begins to cover it.
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Surprising, heart-wrenching and utterly lovely, I didn’t go into Harold expecting to come out a tearful, washed-up mess — but Joyce’s unforgettable language rendered me speechless. The tale of a middle-aged man who traverses the whole of England on foot in his own way of reconciling the past “took me by surprise,” if I may quote myself, and it was literary without being dull. For a book with a simple premise, it was incredible.
4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
February and March were spent with Isaacson’s epic tome on the life and death of Steve Jobs, an iconic American visionary. Though I went into the book with little knowledge of Jobs’ life, I now consider myself well-versed in Jobs-ology. Accessible, detailed and compelling, Steve Jobs packs a mighty punch. And if I got a little mired down in the details at points, I’d expect nothing less from a book on such an influential, exacting man.
5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Never have I loved and hated a character so completely and simultaneously. Young heroine Victoria’s story was engrossing, though difficult at many points — but I was completely addicted to this book. As we teetered toward the story’s conclusion, I didn’t want it to end. Plus? I feel quite comfortable with the Victorian language of flowers now. Sometimes a rose isn’t just a rose.
• Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas
Macarons, pies, cupcakes — and more! Thomas’ sweet, frothy recollections of her year in Paris working for Louis Vuitton is a treat for armchair travelers and foodies alike. Though the narrative itself could have used a little more meat, Thomas’ memoir was a fun and delicious read — and one that has me desperate to book a flight to France tomorrow.
• Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson
To know Stephanie Nielson is to love her. After surviving a small plane crash that left she and her beloved husband badly burned and broken, Stephanie works tirelessly to keep her family together — and to find a way to be happy again. Told with endless faith, her memoir is raw and realistic. Though Stephanie herself seems perennially upbeat, she doesn’t hesitate to discuss the depression, fear and emptiness that threatened to overtake her after waking from a coma. I’ve followed her blog for a while, and her story is incredible.
Packing the Sultriest Punch
• History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
Um . . . is it hot in here, or is it just History of a Pleasure Seeker? Mason’s tale of a social-climber in belle époque Amsterdam is sexy, literary, lovely. The author’s language captured me from page one and refused to let go. In January, I wrote the novel is “lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to change an entire family and free them from their stuffy, well-made cages.” And it’s definitely one that stays on the brain.
Most Inspiring of Hepburn Nostalgia
• Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
Wasson’s ode to the power of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” made me want to don pearls and parade through New York City. Not that, you know, I wouldn’t do that on a normal day. But choosing to read Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. on my way back from a sisters trip to the big city in May elevated the story to magical status. It was informational, entertaining and fun.
When I was a freshman in college, my speech professor was very community-oriented. Our class was required to deliver a talk on a worthy local charity — and that assignment was a chance to flex our persuasive muscles. The goal? Convincing our classmates to help in whatever way they could. And inspiring us to lend a hand, too.
Helping others is close to my heart, and I chose an organization easily. That Christmas in 2003, I volunteered to help distribute toys to needy families in Southern Maryland. The gratitude, spirit of giving and generosity were so inspiring — and it was an unforgettable experience.
I’ve always wanted to go back and help again, but . . . well, in the past nine years, life has just happened. Every fall I get a letter from Christmas Connection asking if I can help by donating toys or time. Though I always chip in with merchandise, thinking that’s the fun part (shopping!), I decided it was high time to get back into the nitty-gritty of the program. A few months back, I signed up to help distribute toys on Dec. 18. My sister joined in, too.
It’s been a crazy few days, obviously, and the holidays are definitely sneaking up on me. Despite being in the Christmas spirit since October and having this event on my calendar for months, I’m struggling to get myself together since the presentation of my sparkly new accessory! But Kate and I donned our Santa hats Tuesday night and rolled over to the church to help.
A volunteer addressed the group soon after we arrived. “Thank you all for coming!” she called. “Okay — I need some volunteers to distribute books.”
Books? Say what? I hadn’t realized there were books. Recalling last time I helped, I figured there would be toys, toiletries, stockings. But books?
I was on the book table in no time. You’re shocked, I know.
While Kate shopped with individual clients, helping choose gifts for 2- and 3- and 15-year-olds, I manned the books with a teacher. It was easy to channel my bookselling days: who are you shopping for today? What types of stories do they like? Can they read on their own? Are they into chapter books? Do they like princesses or animals or history?
I felt like a self-proclaimed book elf, my jingle-bell necklace bobbing with every step I took.
We tore through some books on Tuesday, let me tell you. Two hours passed in the blink of an eye. Most of the books on our massive table, pictured at top, were donated by individuals or businesses. But even the used ones were in good shape — and plenty of gems could be found. I delighted in finding perfect reads for youngsters, thinking about how the right story can unlock the imagination of a child. In the overflowing stacks were books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, R.L. Stine. I found Goosebumps, Ramona and Beezus, Black Beauty.
“Did you read this when you were little?” I asked, over and over again. The parents’ delighted smiles were the constant response.
Many smiled widely, gently taking my offerings. Four books per child — and some moms and dads could barely narrow down their stacks. While just a few people bypassed the books completely, nearly everyone devoted time to choosing just the right reads. And they took my recommendations seriously.
“My son loves history. He reads so well — really well. Do you have anything on American history?”
“Do you have any dictionaries?”
“Have you seen an atlas? Or anything on the presidents?”
“What would you recommend for a 13-year-old boy who loves adventure?”
The boys were the toughest — but I love a challenge. I’m happy to say no one left empty-handed — and I know every novel will land with the right person.
Any stereotype regarding parents who turn to charity to supply their kids with Christmas gifts could be dismissed after spending just ten minutes at a program like this. While there will always be folks taking advantage of the system, that’s never been my personal experience. Everyone I met was happy, grateful and warm. The mood was festive. When we left, we felt uplifted.
And I wasn’t thinking about it as charity work. I wasn’t there because I had to be. Nothing buffs the spirit to a shine like helping others — and I was thinking about matching a child with the perfect book for him or her. So many parents delighted in telling me how much their kids love books, which surprised me — especially in this era. But there we were.
And I hope there are plenty of happy kids with the Wimpy Kid and Berenstain Bears on Christmas morning. I’m thinking about them all.