Thank You for Listening, by Julia Whelan

Sewanee Chester used to be an actress, but now she narrates books. She has had an accident that would make it difficult for her to get the starring, bombshell roles she used to rock: she lost an eye and has a scar down one side of her face. When she’s sitting in the bar at the audiobook convention and Nick charms her into a wild night with him, she is totally ready. He has no idea of her real name, and she knows she’ll never see him again.

Back in her real life in L.A., Sewanee is dealing with her failing, irascible grandmother and her father, who refuses to care for her. Sewanee’s grandmother is an old Hollywood starlet, and her pet name for her granddaughter is Doll Face. When Sewanee is offered a very lucrative contract to narrate a recently deceased author’s romance novel, she almost turns it down, since she has pledged never to do romance again. However, the compensation is so great that she would be able to get her grandmother the memory care she really needs, so she agrees. The male lead for the audiobook is Brock McKnight, an incredibly popular narrator with a vast and rabid fanbase. Thus begins a very confusing time for Sewanee.

The great fun of this novel, of course, is all the meta content. Julia Whelan is an audiobook narrator who has written a novel about an audiobook narrator who is getting entangled with an audiobook narrator, and of course, the audiobook is read by the author, who is an audiobook narrator. As a matter of fact, she narrated the audiobook of Tara Westover’s Educated, which I reviewed here. It’s entertaining with a dash of introspection and emotion. Themes of trust, self-acceptance, friendship, and caregiving.

But mostly, it’s just so much fun.

Disclaimer: I listened, of course, to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Burning Truth

“It’s absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”

                              Oscar Wilde

                              The Importance of Being Earnest

No, it’s not the 16th century. This image is from a book burning in Tennessee this year, 2022.

Oscar Wilde would know about being challenged. It is ridiculous that we even have banned books in a supposedly open society. While everyone is free to make reading choices for themselves and for their children, they are not free to make those choices for their neighbors or their neighbors’ children. And yet, 2022 has seen more challenges to books than any year since the American Library Association has been keeping track. This year, September 18-24 is Banned Book Week. We don’t celebrate Banned Book Week. We mourn that we have to observe it still.

Many of the recent challenges have been toward books about sexuality, particularly LGBTQ+ themes. It is understandable when a parent tells a teacher that they do not feel that their children are developmentally prepared for these topics, but to insist that the books are removed from libraries, including high school and public libraries, is tantamount to insisting that these people are removed from our society. That is impossible and offensive.

Even less rational is the push to remove books about diverse racial and ethnic groups. There is no age restriction for such knowledge. Brad Meltzer’s picture book I Am Barack Obama has been challenged, along with other titles in his popular young children’s series that sometimes features black people from history. Why? Do Americans want their children to think that we never had a black president? Do they want them to be ignorant of history? It is unconscionable.

I make a deliberate effort to read banned and challenged books. I want to understand and empathize with the spectrum of human experience, and fiction allows us to live inside someone else’s head for a while. If we live another life for a time, we may be less inclined to try to erase them from existence. We are all more alike than we are different.

Here are some of the children’s and teens’ books that I’ve reviewed for EatReadSleep that have been banned or challenged over the years. You can select from any of these for yourself or your kids, or you can choose any of the 850 titles on the Texas congressman’s list that he is forcing schools to remove. Read, get uncomfortable, stretch, read more. Let’s stay free.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. A terrific middle grade novel that was challenged for being anti-white. This is the author’s real-life experience as an Asian immigrant.
New Kid, by Jerry Craft. In the same post, this friendly middle-grade graphic novel tells the story of the author’s and his son’s experiences as black students in mostly-white schools.
All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This teen novel about police brutality is on the banned books list, along with Stamped, which Jason Reynolds wrote with Ibram X. Kendi.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. The author’s poetic autobiography of her childhood. I am proud to own an autographed advance reader copy.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. A gritty, realistic debut novel about urban violence. The truth is sometimes difficult, but we can’t make it disappear by silencing authors.

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Banned for foul language and because Park is mixed-race. Because neither of those happen in real life. It is also heartbreakingly beautiful.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Two Mexican-American boys fall in love. There are no sexual descriptions in the book, and the author is gay. LGBTQ+ people are a target.

We Are the Ants, by David Shaun Hutchinson. A wild debut by a really nice author, who is also gay. Mind-bending sci-fi.
Answers in the Pages, by David Levithan. This is not a banned book, but a middle grade novel about banned books, by a gay author and editor who has many other banned books to his name.

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Starting with the Little Ones

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary!

I read everything, but children’s books are also my profession. I loved reading to my son when he was little, and now I have grandchildren to turn into bibliophiles. During the ten years that I’ve been writing EatReadSleep, I have been the children’s selector for a large library system. Here are some of my favorites from that time.

Board Books

I have only written one post about these sturdy little volumes, and it was meant to be funny. Seriously, though, Sandra Boynton, Michael Dahl, and others have poured their prodigious talents into books that will be slobbered and chewed on, and parents everywhere appreciate it.

Academic Board Books are a thriving industry. Lots of titles here. Also lots of snark.

Picture Books

Picture books! Those little artistic gems. How I love them. The best picture books convey oceans of meaning in just a few well-chosen words, along with gorgeous or hilarious illustrations. Here are some of my favorites over the years. Many of the reviews are grouped in the original posts. Click the links for full reviews!

Series:

How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen is one the most prolific living writers, and this continuing series never fails to teach lessons in the cleverest ways.
Pete the Cat is one groovy dude. James Litwin started the series, which was continued by James Dean. This is one of the most popular series going these days.
Olivia makes an appearance in the same post. She is one precocious little pig.
Duck and Goose are a charming pair, one more adventurous than the other. Tad Hills is also the author of the excellent Rocket Learns to Read and others.
Jean Reagan writes the How to Babysit a…. series, instructing children to allow grandparents naps and other helpful advice. Comedy that hits close to home.
Bonny Becker started the Bear series with A Visitor for Bear. Sweet, charming, and amusing. Large volumes just right for bedtimes.
What dog lover doesn’t sympathize with Carter Goodrich’s Mister Bud? Adorable.
Some children’s books, like Muppets movies, are at least partly written for grownups, even though they definitely work for the kids, too. I Am Otter is one of those.

Single Titles:

Oh, this poor, little penguin. Flight School will have you sympathetically laughing along.
The Tortoise & the Hare is a wordless wonder, just one of the Caldecott winner’s stunning creations.
There Might Be Lobsters is a summery title that will help timid children to overcome their fears.
Hum and Swish is another breezy, oceanside title. This one encourages children to stay true to their own vision.
Great Joy is not your usual Santa-and-his-reindeer Christmas books for kids. Enduring and gorgeous. Tissues not included.
I mean, seriously. Look at those ears and tell me you’re not in love. In a Jar is for every child whose friend has moved away.
Sweety is a confident little misfit. For every child who marches to the beat of her own drummer. Sweetness and naked mole rats. (That’s a species, not a state of undress.)
This Is My Home, This Is My School. A fond look back by a happily homeschooled author, for his younger fellow home educators and their friends in conventional school settings.
Everything about Madeline Finn and the Library Dog will make you say, “Awww.” There are other books that follow, but I love this one.
Watercress is a recent multi-award winner, a quietly beautiful book that packs an emotional wallop.
Clovis Keeps His Cool, but just barely. That huge bull with the petite feet! Hilarious with a message.
Achingly poignant, Boats for Papa is for little ones experiencing the loss of a parent, whether through divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death.
The Steads can do no wrong. A Sick Day for Amos McGee was the first Caldecott winner for this married couple and features an old zookeeper and his loving animals.
Saint George and the Dragon was old when my son was young. A medieval myth retold and spectacularly illustrated by one of my favorite book artists.

There will be many more children’s books to come, so stay tuned!

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Wine Girl, by Victoria James

Don’t let the Mona Lisa cover fool you; her life is far from slow and serene.

When a girl becomes the country’s youngest sommelier, one would expect that she grew up in a vineyard, working with grape crops and vintages throughout her childhood. Not so Victoria James. She and her three little siblings were virtually abandoned while their alcoholic father stayed on long business trips and their princess (no, seriously) mother suffered from such severe mental illness that she never left her bedroom for weeks on end. One time, when Victoria was eight years old, her slightly older brother divided up one sleeve of saltines to last the four children for a week.

Such a childhood breeds toughness, and Victoria would need it to succeed. She started her restaurant career at the local diner when she was thirteen years old, soaking up all the life lessons her boss could impart. “Find something that you can love about every customer.” She remembered that one as she moved on to the next restaurant and the next, studying every free moment. She learned to be a bartender and to hustle, to work harder and faster in each place. Once she was introduced to wine, she studied nonstop and worked to earn money for classes and certification exams.

Although James exulted in her progress as a sommelier, this is not a breezy rags-to-riches story. She suffered abuse and disrespect almost universally for years. Yes, the reader gets to hear about trips to those magical tucked-away restaurants and vineyards in rural parts of idyllic wine countries, but also some brutal episodes that reveal the dark side of the service industry. Once she arrived at the top of her field, James established Wine Empowered, a nonprofit organization to promote women and minorities in service careers, so that those who are usually stuck at the bottom of the ladder will have the skills and support to move up in the ranks.

This memoir is a natural for foodies and oenophiles, but it is also a surprising fit for the legions of readers who devoured Educated, by Tara Westover, and for all those who love a story of dreams fulfilled through hard work and persistence.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Favorite Young Adult Series and Titles

The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!

For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.

Beloved Series

If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.

Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series starts with a teen-appropriate The Thief and then moves into complex and subtle intrigue with a hint of fantasy.
I will read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, but her “Raven Cycle” is a favorite fantasy series. It starts with The Raven Boys.
Another winning series is “The Lumaterre Chronicles,” by Melina Marchetta, which starts with Finnikin of the Rock, but I reviewed the second volume, Quintana of Charyn. High fantasy with some adult content. The writing is exquisite.  
My Plain Jane and others by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are hilariously reimagined classics. These are delightful audiobooks, too, narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Favorite Authors and Single Titles

Jason Reynolds has been the author of many of my favorite kids’ books. The first teen title I read by Jason was the stunning Long Way Down.
John Green had a lot of hits, such as Turtles All the Way Down, although his last work, The Anthropocene Reviewed, was for adults. His teens were always precocious and witty, like the kids I worked with in our library book groups.
Ruta Sepetys is another author who is consistently a winner, especially her first, Between Shades of Gray, and my favorite, The Fountains of Silence.
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee. A young Chinese woman in reconstruction Atlanta is determined to make it as a writer.
Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A true story about the Christian author’s family fleeing Iran, humorously told in the style of Scheherazade.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. A brilliant teen romance made agonizing by family secrets and the helplessness of the young and dependent.

There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. Take a trip to Persia—Iran—with this vulnerable and sweet young man and his family. It won the Morris Award for debut novels.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A brother and sister work through dark secrets to live into the meaning of art. A Printz and Stonewall winner.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. In 2013, it was the first LGBTQ romance I ever read. This beautiful and heartbreaking book won the Stonewall Award, a Printz honor, and the Pura Belpré Award.
I read the mind-bending We Are the Ants on my way to a Baker & Taylor conference in Orlando, where I met the kind author, Shaun David Hutchinson, and we wept together over the loved ones we had lost to Alzheimer’s.

In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!

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Favorite Faith-Based Nonfiction

(“…if she were not possessed of a fury.”)*

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep Ten Year Celebration series!

I have been, as Dan Koch** would say, on a complicated faith journey, and whenever something significant (or truly miniscule) is happening in my life, I have to read all about it. This list contains titles that have been among the most impactful for me, although there were plenty of them that I read before this blog began, and others that I read when I was in a place of fear and kept to myself (see Pete Enns, below). There are also faith-based titles in the “Anti-Racist Reads” section, already posted. Bear in mind that I read many of these when I was deeply searching, somewhat depressed, or furious.

Click on the title for the full review.

Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey. Number one, no doubt about it. I read this and Bessey’s Jesus Feminist around the time of my mother’s passing and other global disasters, and it was exactly the right timing. This is sort of a long and complicated review.
Tell It Slant, by Eugene Peterson. I saw this one in a photo of Jon Foreman’s piano and brought the book with me on a family vacation to Virginia. Since it was a relaxed vacation, it got passed around to rave reviews.
Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning. A deeply contemplative volume for those of us who need assurance of God’s love.
The New Copernicans, by David Seel, Jr. A different and more positive understanding of the faith of Millennials, those of us who think like Millennials, and why. To use a hackneyed phrase, a true paradigm shift.
Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. She writes with a flaming sword. Since I reviewed this book, I have heard it mentioned all over the place, and for good reason. Essential.
Thin Places, by Tracey Balzer. A foray into the Celtic understanding of spirituality for this old Celt. I want to go on one of her trips to Iona!
The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. A classic on discipleship and kingdom living now.
Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, and also pretty much everything else he wrote. He is my go-to guy for solid teaching.
Running Scared, by Ed Welch. I read it myself one year, and then David and I taught it a few years later. If you are anxious or worried, I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.
Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue. Science Mike threw out everything about faith, and then, spurred on by a divine vision, re-examined each little element and decided what he could truly believe. Tearing it down to bare bones.
What If Jesus Was Serious? By Skye Jethani. A radical little devotional for adults and families with teens. Cuts away religious trappings to get down to what Jesus really said (although I am confident that Jesus understood the subjunctive mood).
The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. Not that I agreed with him on everything, but we had a little book group on my back porch to discuss this one, and I have such fond memories of that group of ladies that the book warms my heart.
I blogged about Peter Enns’s book The Sin of Certainty, but this Bible professor’s book that really impacted me was How the Bible Actually Works, which I was probably afraid to write about at the time. A definite must-read.

Disclaimer: I own all of these books, which is not typical for this librarian, so you can see where I’m putting my book money. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not express those of my employer or anyone else.

* Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. Benedict is speaking of Beatrice, whom he despises, and with whom, therefore, he falls madly in love.

**Dan Koch is the host of the You Have Permission podcast and is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, focusing on spiritual abuse. One of my favorite podcasts.

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American Reboot, by Will Hurd

Who’s ready to rally for a passionately moderate candidate? Will Hurd is a former U.S. congressman and CIA operative. He is razor-sharp and forward-thinking. While he is truly conservative and believes in a strong national defense, a position he can back up from his years of traveling some of the world’s toughest areas on the field with the CIA, he has some scorching criticisms of our current brand of politics on both sides.

Will is the son of a Black father and a White mother, and he hails from the U.S. congressional district with the longest Mexican border: the Texas 23rd district. He is solidly pro-immigration. He is also pro-life, which means that he believes that all Americans deserve health care, but not as issued by the ACA, which gives Americans health insurance that makes it too expensive to actually get the care. He is a feminist and in favor of LGBTQ+ rights. One of his greatest concerns is that our leaders, and Americans in general, are not paying enough attention to the threat of Chinese supremacy, and he has the facts to make his point. He also thinks that climate change is being used as a political football, while it should be on everybody’s front burner.

Hurd plays to the middle. He posits that we all have more in common than we think, and that good laws come from the center 80%, not the ten percenters on either extreme. Thanks to Covid’s effect on transportation, he once had a multi-day, completely unplanned road trip with Beto O’Rourke from Texas to D.C. that was livestreamed on social media to huge audiences. At first, even Beto and Will thought it would be one long, exhausting argument, but then they were able to prove the point that if people would get together and talk seriously about issues, rather than posing for the cameras in photo-op soundbites, real compromise and progress could be made.

The last couple of chapters about our federal government’s complete failure to keep up with technology will scare you so badly that you will be staring at the ceiling at night, sleepless. Will has a computer science degree and ran a technology startup, so he understands tech right down to the bits and bytes. If you have ever watched with dismay and embarrassment as our senators and congressmen interview social media moguls, you will know that we’re in trouble. Our political leaders are incredibly ancient, and even those who are not have “people” who take care of their technology needs and social media accounts (which is not always a bad thing, as we’ve witnessed in the last few years.) Hurd believes that World War I was fought in the trenches, World War II was fought in the air, and World War III will be fought in cyberspace—and we are absolutely not ready. It is a bit of relief that our leaders have finally recognized that we have to start with chip production at home, but that it just a baby step forward. Hurd has plans.

The subtitle of this book is An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done. Of course, Hurd will probably throw his hat into the ring for the 2024 presidential contest, and yes, this is his requisite autobiography to launch his campaign. However, this is not at all a bad CV for president, and I, for one, am completely exhausted by the shrieking power mongers at both ends of the spectrum and would be happy to welcome a super-smart, really nice person into the position. We don’t know the slate of candidates yet, but let’s hope that there are some rational, energetic moderates we could all get behind.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book after watching Will Hurd on Book TV and other long-form interviews. Opinions expressed—oh, my goodness—are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Best of EatReadSleep, Part 2

General Adult Nonfiction and Anti-Racist Reads

I love nonfiction so much that I am going to divide it up into categories. I read widely across the Dewey Decimal System (a little library lingo) because I am omnicurious. If you don’t see your interests in general nonfiction, I have a couple of specialized categories coming up in this post and the next.

Click on the title links for the full review.

General Nonfiction and Memoirs

Think Again, by Adam Grant. The review on this title has been very popular, with continuing interest over the past year or so. Grant examines the value of changing our minds in both business and personal decisions.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport. The most creative people guard their uninterrupted time. This book has brought about positive innovation in many lives and organizations.
Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari. A fantastic title that did not get enough love. Listen to the audio. Important and engaging.
Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, by Dr. Richard Bernstein. This famous doctor is a pioneer in the field of diabetes research. Anyone with diabetes, type 1 or 2, should own this book.
A Craftsman’s Legacy, by Eric Gorges. I have a longer, related post on TheReaderWrites, and both have received tons of hits from mechanics to knitters. I think we humans love to create with our hands.
Salad Love, by David Bez. Of all the many cookbooks I’ve reviewed, this simple, thorough volume with a crystal-clear layout is still a favorite in our house after 7 years.
Educated, by Tara Westover. This harrowing memoir of a woman raised in the fundamentalist Mormon church was on the bestseller list for years. Riveting.
Vincent and Theo, by Deborah Heiligman. A young adult biography of the famous artist and his brother that won all the awards and is perfect for art-loving adults.
The Dark Queens, by Shelley Puhak. Two wild women of the Dark Ages whose stories had been nearly erased. Think Brunhilda and Circe Lannister.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. A difficult American story out of Appalachia, honestly revealed by one of its favorite sons. Oh, I had such hopes for Vance before he sold out.

Anti-Racist Reads

A few years ago, David and I looked around at our very white world and realized that we lived in a bubble. We started intentionally reading as many books as we could on race in America. I began with White Fragility, which was a complete mistake, since I found it elitist and ridiculous. It is one of the very few negative reviews I’ve ever written. However, things improved greatly after that, and many of these books have been influential in our lives. Some are aimed at the white evangelical church and its members. These are all adult nonfiction, but many fiction titles in the blog, especially children’s and young adults’ banned book reviews, are also anti-racist.

Click on the title link for full reviews.

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is the most scholarly and thoroughly researched of all the anti-racist books we own. A must-read for everyone.
Rediscipling the White Church, by David W. Swanson. Written by a pastor for other church leaders, really. Wisdom for those seeking to be part of the solution.
Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison. This was the best book we read by a black Christian leader, compassionately targeted to white Christians. She has a network of discussion groups all over the country.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. The best-organized anti-racist book we read. It is set up in question-and-answer format to make it easy to navigate and understand.
How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith. Learning racial history by geography. Very effective, and filled with surprises.

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EatReadSleep is Ten Years Old!

On July 21, 2012, I posted my first blog post. I wasn’t even sure what a blog was at the time, and one of my first stories was about the death of my dryer. After a while, a friend of mine advised me that most people enjoy blogs with pictures, so I had to figure out how to take and transfer photos, and we were off to the races. Over the course of ten years, EatReadSleep has reached 141 countries, with many tens of thousands of readers, although the lack of enthusiasm in Greenland is tragic.

The country with the greatest number of hits, of course, is the United States, followed by Canada. Rounding out the top ten are, in order, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, France, India, the Philippines, and Spain. As you can see, all of the European countries have logged in at some time, usually often, and in the last couple of months, a reader from Ireland often logs in before I wake up in the morning. I have regular Russian readers, and the People’s Republic of China has found ERS 27 times! Some of the interesting countries that have only found ERS once include St. Kitts & Nevis, Brunei, Yemen, New Caladonia, Curaçao, Zimbabwe, and Guernsey. I have really improved my geography skills!

EatReadSleep started out as an everything blog because I missed writing so much when I went to work fulltime as a librarian. Turns out that working full time and trying to keep up with the latest books made it impossible to write at any decent level, so I created a separate blog in 2016 called TheReaderWrites, but I rarely use it, unfortunately. After that, ERS became all about book reviews, which is a good thing, since I had started writing about politics in 2016 for some reason that we all know, and that’s just not good for my blood pressure. I will retire in a year or so, after which I hope to write more stories and memoirs on TRW.

TheReaderWrites lies fallow at the moment.

Are you dying to know which posts were the most popular? The first answer is disappointing from a data point of view: it’s just the home page and archives, which means people tuning in and just scrolling, which is awesome, actually. I’ve had tens of thousands of people doing just that. I have a confession to make: it was years before I knew to put individual URLs on the Facebook posts for each review. I just put the URL of the blog itself, so many of those Home Page/Archives hits are just from that! Hopefully, readers know how to use the search bar and are finding the posts they want.

As far as the most popular title, it’s surprising: Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I have a feeling that a lot of school librarians and teachers give out the web address to their students, not just for this children’s fiction title, but for many of them! Sometimes I seem to have a run on a particular children’s title for days on end. “Hm, thirty people read the review of Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, today. Oh, and yesterday, too.” Of the top twenty posts, eleven of them are for children or teens. Four are spiritual books, and several are my own stories.

Blackmoor is one of the early Proper Romances by Shadow Mountain.

The third most popular post makes me laugh every time. I have had thousands of hits for the post “What Is a Proper Romance?” It is written about the Shadow Mountain adult series called Proper Romance, and I have searched their website fruitlessly to see if they have a link to EatReadSleep. I have no idea if people are truly looking for those books or if they are trying to inject virtue into their love lives or those of their teenagers, but I get at least a few reads of that 2015 piece every day.

As I noted above, before 2016, I had written posts that were not book reviews, and some of the most popular with readers and most important to me are the series of posts about my neighbors’ struggle to change North Carolina law concerning cannabidiol, the non-hallucinogenic oil from marijuana. Their daughter, Zora, has intractable epilepsy, and this natural drug had been shown to prevent seizures. I am happy to say that Zora is now a teenager and is living a much healthier life. Furthermore, North Carolina laws about medical marijuana continue to evolve.

Other popular non-book posts include my own— let’s say it— fabulous recipe for low-carb chocolate chip cookies and related cookbook and diet posts. The story about “Southern Guys and Knives” also gets regular hits all the time.

The Best of EatReadSleep series!!

While it is as impossible to choose my favorite pieces as it would be to choose your favorite children (I can’t relate; I have an only child), I want to put a few titles in each category, just for your entertainment and enlightenment. Sort of a “Best of EatReadSleep” so far. Today, we’ll start with adult fiction, with more genres in the coming weeks.

Favorite Adult Novels

Many Americans read mostly fiction, from thrillers to romances, but I have to know for sure that I will love a novel before I crack it open. This is not a problem, since I work in the selection department of a large library system, where I am bombarded by publisher marketing all day long. Plus, the adult fiction selector works just a few feet away, and she keeps us up to date.

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. My favorite novel of Spring, 2021

I can definitely say that in 2021, my two favorite novels were Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, in the spring and Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr, in the fall. They were both phenomenal and entirely different from one another. This year, Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the best novel so far. Both Chambers and O’Farrell have new books coming out in the next couple of months, and I am looking forward to them. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See should be on everyone’s “Books I Need to Read Before I Die” list.

Cloud Cuckoo Land was my favorite novel of Fall, 2021.

Here are some of my other favorite novels over the last few years, in no particular order. Links to the reviews are in the captions.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. Absorbing with a twist. I do love a twist.
Lila (and others in the series), by Marilynne Robinson. Deep, deep, deep, and fine writing.
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. Listen to the audio read by Tom Hanks and read These Precious Days to find out how that happened.
The Personal Librarian and others by Marie Benedict. I’m a librarian, and I’ve been to this library, so of course, but Marie Benedict is bringing many women’s stories to life.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. I can’t speak for the tv series, but this novel made me identify with someone who is nothing like me.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. It’s been a bestseller ever since it came out for very good reason. Let’s hope the movie lives up to it. One of my lifetime favorites.
The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. Most people know her for Gods in Alabama, but I like this one so much more.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Historical fiction with a soupçon of scifi/fantasy.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix. I usually run away from horror novels, but this one had me laughing through my screams.
The Half-Drowned King and sequels, by Linnea Hartsuyker. This series is so underrated. It’s historical fiction, but if you like Game of Thrones, you will like Linnea Hartsuyker.
Uprooted and Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. Classic fantasy. Grimm’s fairy tales for grownups.

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Stay tuned for more from “The Best of EatReadSleep”, including faith-based nonfiction, books for teens and kids, anti-racist reads, and more!

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Haven, by Emma Donoghue

Three monks set sail in a boat. Thus begins Emma Donaghue’s intensely focused novel set in a religious community during the Dark Ages. Artt is a middle-aged giant of a man whose extreme piety and spiritual experiences set him apart as a saint. When he has a vision in the night, he wakes the abbot with a demand that he let him depart from the monastery for an uncharted island with two brother monks. Not just random men, though. He requires Cormac, a battle-scarred older man who is a recent convert, and young Trian, an innocent young monk whose childhood by the sea will prove invaluable.

Unquestioning obedience was assumed for clergy in those days, but eventually Cormac and Trian realize that Artt is not headed for a particular island, but rather he depends on the Lord to lead them to the right bit of land. After passing by every inhabited site they see, he pulls up on a rocky cliff of a place, with less than one inch of soil, covered with birds of every kind screaming and flapping. Cormac tries to grow vegetables, and when Trian is unable to catch many fish, Artt sets him to killing the birds for food. Artt does not want them to trade with other settlements, nor does he want them to build shelters for themselves, but he does want Trian to begin copying manuscripts for hours each day. Cormac and Trian silently repent for their own lack of faith when compared to this incredibly holy man.

Emma Donoghue wrote this quietly disturbing novel during the pandemic, and it is certainly a study of the effects of isolation on individuals and small communities. Although it is a fictional story, it is set on the actual island of Skellig Michael, a rocky island off the coast of Ireland that shows archeological traces of a small monastic settlement. Donoghue pursues a slow pace, with time to drill deeply into the inner world of each of these three very different men and to observe the struggle that Cormac and Trian endure as their lifelong beliefs crash into their dawning fear and horror.

One might think that fourteen hundred years would remove the reader from the emotions of the story, but history is replete with powerful leaders who have manipulated their followers into performing acts they would have abhorred just a few years earlier. Even in our own small lives, there are always authoritarian narcissists scheming to gain control over groups of willing admirers, and often we don’t wake up and break the spell before innocent people suffer.

Donoghue’s bestselling novel Room was about two people locked in a small shed. This novel is similarly claustrophobic and compelling, even though it takes place on an uninhabited island in the middle of the wild, wind-swept sea.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel from @LittleBrown, which will be published on August 23, 2022. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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