Favorite book + tea pairings

The greatest regret of my life is that I do not like coffee.

Ok, maybe that’s not my greatest regret.

But no matter how many times I try, I cannot seem to force myself to like coffee. I’ve tried all the tricks: Start out with fraps or tons of cream and slowly work your way down. But no matter how many times I try it, I just want to scrub my mouth out with a brush and dish detergent.

There is a silver lining to not liking coffee: TEA!

I love love love tea. I might be a borderline tea snob.

I believe there’s nothing more delicious and cozy than snuggling up with a piping hot cup of tea and a good book.

So whether you enjoy pretending to be British (I do) or are trying to get into drinking tea, here are my recommendations for your rainy afternoon treat:

Note: I don’t use affiliate links in this post.

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie + Earl Grey Supreme

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Confession: This is my all-time favorite tea. I buy it in the large size because it’s that good. Harney and Sons actually says in the product description that most people never go back to regular Earl Grey. They are correct.

I’m not a blood and gore mystery reader. I shamelessly like cozy mysteries because I like to be able to sleep at night. I also like not feeling paranoid that someone’s stalking me.

Murder on the Orient Express is your cozy mystery meets British history meets twisty plot-driven story.

Earl Grey Supreme is the natural companion because it’s the king of Earl Greys, and Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery. It’s also one of the most popular teas in the world, and Agatha Christie is the most bestselling author of all time (behind the Bible and Shakespeare). These two belong together.

Bright but complex, wonderful alone or with a dash of milk, Earl Grey Supreme and Agatha Christie won’t disappoint.

 

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith + Scottish Morn

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Remember how I said I like cozy mysteries? Robert Galbraith is the exception.

In case you’ve been living under a literary rock, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Her Cormoran Strike series ain’t no Harry Potter, I can tell you that much.

Robust, dark, and with just enough bite to thrill, Career of Evil is the perfect pairing for Scottish Morn.

Strike is your perfect jaded (and one-legged) detective. Robin Ellacott, his assistant, is strong, optimistic, intuitive—and perhaps a tad too forgiving. She’s way too good for that annoying chauvinistic boyfriend.

The first book in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, is lighter fare. But the next two books in the series, including Career of Evil, are more grisly. I like these books as occasionally (and deliciously) as a like bold, dark, Scottish Morn tea.

 

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith + Scottish Afternoon

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On the topic of cozy stories, Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series is probably the coziest of cozy stories you’ll pick up.

Filled with hilarious, memorable characters and McCall’s keen, but gentle commentary on Edinburgh life, 44 Scotland Street has much to delight. If you love fast-paced, plot driven stories, this may not be for you. But if you enjoy character studies (and a sprinkling of philosophy here and there), this is your series. Best part? There are 11 books and counting, so you have plenty to sink your teeth into!

I highly recommend 44 Scotland Street on audiobook. The narration is great and the accents are wonderful.

Scottish Afternoon tea has hints of Darjeeling, making it slightly more refined than its sister tea, Scottish Morn. Darjeeling is known as the champagne of teas, so you’ll feel fancy as you sip this tea while reading about life in Edinburgh—filled with more than one note of refinement!

Great audiobook narrators, Part 1

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

— Lemony Snicket

Picking a good audiobook isn’t just about picking the right book.

It’s about picking a voice you can listen to for the next 12 hours. I’ve written about it before, but a narrator can make or break an audiobook.

Struggling to find something you’ll enjoy? I’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are some of my favorite audiobooks by narrator:

 

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Rosamund Pike, Pride and Prejudice

Not only is Rosamund Pike my favorite Jane Bennet of all the Pride and Prejudice film adaptations, she is a marvelous narrator. Her voice is melodious and her voices for different characters are marvelous. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can count, but listening to Pike’s narration was like hearing it for the first time. Her voices are excellent, and her delivery impeccable.

Use your free 1-month trial from Audible and fall in love with this classic again!

 

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Carey Elwes, As You Wish

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride (especially the movie), you’ll absolutely love this audiobook. Carey Elwes (aka Wesley) narrates the story of The Princess Bride‘s journey from book to movie production. His humorous stories, wonderful voice (who could resist Wesley??), and storytelling ability is a wonderful tribute to the movie and its fans.

What I especially love about this particular audiobook is that many of the original actors narrate sections of the book from their perspective. The story of making the film is almost as hilarious as the film itself.

 

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Rob Inglis, Lord of the Rings

I love Rob Inglis’ narration. Every time I press play, I feel like I’m being wrapped up cozy blanket by the fire with a mug of tea, listening as Gandalf reads me a story. While I absolutely love Lord of the Rings, there are definitely some thick/slow parts that audiobook helps you power through.

Also if you, like me, love Lord of the Rings but hate reading the songs and poems, you’re in luck. Rob Inglis actually sings every song, so you can finally appreciate Tolkien’s poetry instead of just skipping over it.

 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

If you love listening to writers read their own books, listen to a copy of Between the World and Me next. I honestly don’t know if I would have recognized all the emotion, heartache, and passion Coates writes with if I hadn’t heard him read his own words aloud.

Beyond the fact that Coates is an excellent narrator, Between the World and Me is an excellent book, and it’s one you need to read. I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what it was like to be black in America before reading this book. I probably never will, fully. But this book was a good place to start. Listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and let Between the World in Me draw you one step closer to understanding, compassion, and hope.

 

Who are your favorite audiobook narrators?

 

*No affiliate links used in this post

Old book, new review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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Title: The Pillars of the Earth
Author: Ken Follett
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Is it worth reading? Yes. For more conservative readers, there will definitely be some sections to skip over (sex, rape, violence etc.). However, despite these flaws, Follett’s world is so captivating and the drama of the cathedral’s construction is so captivating, that if you love being sucked into a new world, you’ll find much to enjoy.

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

This September, Ken Follett will be releasing a new book — the first since he completed the Century Trilogy (which I’m currently reading). Out in September, A Column of Fire is the third book in his Kingsbridge series.

I decided to revisit book one in the series, The Pillars of the Earth, in a new review of the 1989 epic.

First, this book is no joke. At a whopping 1,000+ pages, it’s no quick read. This is not a Harry Potter-1,000 pages that vanish all too quickly. It’s a sizable commitment. But that shouldn’t scare you away, and here’s why:

 

The weird and ugly

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. But there’s definitely some disturbing content. If you’re particularly sensitive to these topics, you might want to skip on Pillars.

Graphic sex and rape: There is a lot of sex throughout, and most scenes are pretty descriptive. I found it easy to skip over them (no major plot points lost), but the amount of detail felt unnecessary. I didn’t pick up a romance novel. Be warned: One rape scene is particularly disturbing and graphic.

Plot devices: As another reviewer pointed out, sometimes the plot felt a bit methodical: Things are going well, HUGE PROBLEM, solution is discovered at the last second, repeat. It’s no surprise that Follett started out writing thrillers.

I eventually came to expect that if things were going well, it was only a matter of time until things got crappy again. Nothing is sacred. No one is invincible. Even though I knew exactly what Follett was doing, I couldn’t. Stop. Reading.

Corruption and violence: Medieval England is about what you would expect — violent, cruel, every man for himself. There are accusations of witchcraft, misogyny in its worst forms, and evil, oppressive leaders. The injustice was so despicable at some points that it took my breath away.

Despite the ugliness depicted throughout Pillars, the stories rang true. Even today, evil exists and abounds. Nothing irks me more than a story that untruthfully depicts human nature.

Now, some of the characters were almost a little too evil, and much of the sex was highly dramatized. But overall, Follett does a good job of presenting flawed, believable characters who develop throughout the story.

 

The beautiful and good

Religion and the Church: For Christian readers, one important thing to keep in mind is that Follett does not believe in God. This is part of what drew me to the book in the first place. It’s totally fascinating to me that someone who doesn’t practice Christianity would write a book about the construction of a cathedral.

Yet somehow Follett creates multi-layered, three-dimensional characters who struggle with their beliefs and wrestle with discerning how God would have them live — something Christians experience daily.

For the most part, Follett was respectful of the church (even though he doesn’t subscribe to faith himself) and Prior Philip is still one of my favorite Christian characters.

World building: This is Follett’s true triumph. The world that he weaves is beautifully intricate and surprisingly real. The layered, rich world-building alone made it worth skipping over all the negative parts.

I’m amazed at how Follett has the ability to capture life in a different time and place, so that you really start to believe you’re immersed in medieval England. I was completely sucked into a different time and place.

Every time I read a Follett, I learn something new about history and people. I know everyone doesn’t love learning (so tragic), but when you read Follett, it doesn’t feel like learning. That’s the beauty of it.

I do wish the book had included a diagram of a cathedral. I’m not familiar with cathedral architecture and terms, and I ended up searching cathedrals online so I could visualize the descriptions of the construction.

 

Why I’m not interested in World Without End

This brings me to why I haven’t read the sequel, World Without End, and why I probably won’t be reading A Column of Fire.

It’s important to note that World Without End was written 20 years after Pillars. Several friends who have read both books (and many Goodreads reviews) point out that much of Follett’s political and personal philosophy seems to have shifted in the years since Pillars was published.

Whereas in Pillars we had Prior Philip — a believer in God, but also a strong, courageous, and flawed character — World Without End seems to be exclusively populated with religious figures who are evil and corrupt.

As a person of faith, I just can’t bring myself to read it. I’m not trying to be naive — I know that throughout history (and today) many religious institutions have been controlled by the corrupt. (Spotlight is one of my favorite movies!)

But why devote the time to reading a 1,000-page book that will likely just make me frustrated?

Life’s just too short and there are too many other good books to read.

 

Have you read The Pillars of the Earth? What did you think? Have you read the sequel?

4 books to inspire your next big change

Reconsidering your career? Stuck in a funk? Ready to kickstart your daily routine?

Step into my office.

This year has been full of HUGE transitions for me. Maybe it is for you too.

Whether you’ve decided to beat that bad habit or you’re heading back to grad school (or moving across the country), these books will help streamline your focus. They’re inspiring and thought provoking, and I hope you’ll benefit from them as much as I have.

Confession: I listened to most of these on audiobook (Read earlier confession).

Enjoy!

1. Grit, by Angela Duckworth

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I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it hadn’t been available for free at my workplace (what kind of person says no to a free book??). But I’m so glad I did!

This book was both convicting and encouraging. 

In Grit, Angela Duckworth debunks the myth that talent is a better predictor of success than effort. She argues that determination, purpose, and endurance are key to achieving long-term success.

In high school, I was successful because I worked hard, not because I was naturally talented in math or chemistry. I was determined to succeed and I was comfortable with failure. But something changed in college. I started thinking that because other students were “naturally smarter” than me, I couldn’t measure up. This book was a much-needed wakeup call. It helped me regain some confidence and perspective I lost in college.

Recommended if you feel a bit lost in your career and you wonder if you have what it takes to achieve your goals. Be warned, there are long passages describing her scientific methods, and some parts are repetitive. Be strong and stick around for the good stuff!

 

2. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

the power of habit charles duhigg nonfiction picks

The Power of Habit is a seriously fascinating book.

I’m a how-to junkie and I’m also fascinated by the way things (and people) work. I love tips for becoming more efficient and productive. I also love the How Stuff Works podcast and the TV show How It’s Made.

If that sounds like you, this is your book.

The Power of Habit explains the brain forms habits and how you can retake control of your own habits. Duhigg also talks about the history of habit science and how habits impact the way we live, work, and make decisions.

I especially enjoyed the sections on habit formation in the workplace and how marketers use the basic principles of habits to influence consumers. I swear I’m not a science junkie (AT ALL), but I still enjoyed this book all the same. (However, I do have a sneaky suspicion I would have had a harder time finishing it if I hadn’t listened on audiobook.)

The only part I didn’t like was the last section covering Angie Bachmann — I thought it was a bit weak, didn’t give any satisfactory conclusions, and wasn’t as interesting as the rest of the book.

Recommended if you want to adjust bad habits, cultivate good habits, and want to be more aware of how your subconscious impacts your decision making.

 

3. The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

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I used to love the Myers-Briggs personality test, but I always felt like the half of my results described me, and the other half didn’t. (I’m an ESFJ, in case you were wondering.)

Then I discovered the Enneagram, and my whole personality-test loving world was shattered … in the best possible way.

The Enneagram described me so perfectly, it was a little creepy. I learned about my basic fears, my unique contribution to the world, and why I react to certain situations the way I do.

If you’re curious about learning more about yourself to improve your relationships, self-doubt, and workplace habits, The Road Back to You is a great place to start. As a primer for the Enneagram, it takes you through all nine personality types and explains how the enneagram works. It also offers plenty of helpful tips for overcoming your core “deadly sin,” learning to interact more productively with others, and using your unique strengths to contribute to the flourishing of others.

Knowing that I’m an Enneagram 6 helped me recognize how fear is always holding me back. For the first time in my life, I realized that most of my unhealthy beliefs, habits, and attitudes are based in fear. This is game-changing stuff.

Recommended if you want to understand yourself better so you can start relating to others better. (Aka: why certain things make you mad, how you can get along with that annoying coworker, and why your parents are so weird.)

 

4. Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warrenliturgy of the ordinary tish harrison warren nonfiction picks

Confession: I find the pressure to “live every day like your last” exhausting and overwhelming.

But in this cultural moment, there’s a pervading idea that your life — filled with the unglamorous tasks of laundry, 9-to-5 jobs, and doctor’s appointments — is being wasted unless you’re doing big, exciting, and audacious things.

If we’re not carpe diem-ing every moment, we must be doing something wrong.

Liturgy of the Ordinary offers a different vision: Although many years of our lives will be spent doing everyday, ordinary tasks, that’s ok.

In fact, it’s during these seemingly unimportant moments that we are forming spiritual (and unspiritual) habits that shape who we are. We are being sanctified through ordinariness.

Warren also points out that Jesus Christ was a humble carpenter for 30 years before He changed the world. If ordinary life was embraced by God Himself, then there must be deep spiritual value in the formative work He is doing in our rhythms and routines.

Recommended if you’re ready to start paying attention to how your habits and routines are molding and shaping you spiritually. Maybe you’re at a place in life where you need to stay planted, grow roots, and purposefully commit to endurance and ordinariness. This book will help you not let that time go to waste.

 

What books inspire you? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

Accidental Hiatus: That time I moved across the country

Hello, fellow readers. It’s been a while.

Two months ago, I totally didn’t mean to go on hiatus from blogging (and reading for that matter). But then, I totally didn’t mean to move across the country either, and that happened, so here we are.

A big life change has been on the horizon for a while. My husband and I have been waiting, hoping, praying, and longing for the “what’s next” in our life for a long time, but it came much faster than we were expecting.

accidental hiatus

In the form of moving from Virginia to Colorado.

In six weeks.

It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. A stressful, exciting, strange whirlwind.

The mountains have been calling to us for a long time, and we (well, mostly me), finally found the courage to answer.

But I’m excited to be back to writing! I’m mostly (ish) settled in to my new place, my new routine, and my new life. We’re loving it out west so far (minus the whole not having any friends thing), and I’m ready to discover some new book stores, new libraries, and review some more books!

Thanks for sticking with me. Let’s get reading!

My favorite audiobook genre

Once upon a time, I dropped $60 on a stack of nonfiction books at Books-A-Million, and I didn’t. finish. a. single. one.

I’m ashamed.

Really, it’s a complete scandal.

Not the $60 part, but the fact that I couldn’t finish any of them. I just got bored. I don’t know why exactly, but for the longest time, I have struggled to finish (or even enjoy) nonfiction.

AND

In some ways, it’s a classic case of analysis paralysis: I would spend so much time pouring over every single meaningful sentence that it was impossible for me to actually finish. And because of my over-analyzing, reading nonfiction required so much brainpower that I’d rather just pick up a fiction book or magazine — anything that didn’t require deep personal contemplation.

Until recently, when I discovered something beautiful.

Like a glorious, glittering unicorn riding out of the clouds and trailed by a stream of rainbow-colored butterflies, I discovered the magic grail.

The nonfiction audiobook.

Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me: It was possible for me to love nonfiction!

It was just like the moment I discovered I could like guacamole. I’d wanted to like it for so long, recognized the benefits of liking it (it’s totally hipster to be into guac, obvs), and I’d even tried a few bites at restaurants … but I just hadn’t discovered the perfect method of enjoying it (homemade, extra chunky, light on the onion).

And from that moment forward my whole life has changed. (Ok not really, but this is BOOKS and GUAC we’re talking here people)

I know this is all difficult for my fellow visual learners out there to swallow, but hear me out:

Isn’t finishing a book is better than it laying around, untouched and lonely, for months?

If you’re worried you won’t retain as much knowledge listening to audiobooks as you would reading them, just remember this simple math: you’ll probably remember about 60% of what you listen to via audiobook, as opposed to 85% if you read it with your eyeballs. Contrast that with about 20% remembered if you never finish the book.

I’m 100% making this math up. I actually have no idea and these results have no basis in scientific fact (please don’t sue me).

My math teacher father would be so proud.

 

What genres do you like listening to on audiobook?

Old book, new review: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

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Title: Blue Like Jazz
Author: Donald Miller
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Is it worth reading? Yes. I didn’t find the writing style sophisticated or completely enjoyable, but the perspective and ideas presented make this one worth the read. Expect to be challenged and prepare to ask yourself questions about your own version of faith.

 

You get a strange mix of feelings when you arrive late to the party — over ten years late, to be exact — on a book like Blue Like Jazz.

On the whole, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one.

When Blue Like Jazz first came out, I was barely a teenager. Miller was writing to a generation just a little bit ahead of mine, who were tired with a fading 1950’s cultural Christianity and eager to reconcile their beliefs with a postmodern world.

On this point, I think Miller was incredibly successful. He writes about the real struggles a Christian has with living in our present age while juggling the American cultural baggage many grew up with.

In so many ways, Blue Like Jazz is permission to lean in to doubts and questions and permission to push back against “the way it’s always been.” In that sense, even ten years later, Blue Like Jazz a breath of fresh air.

All that being said, I waffled back and forth about whether this was a 3-star or 4-star book for me. Here’s why:

NOT A FAN: WRITING STYLE

While Donald Miller had some truly insightful and convicting points, the writing style totally bogged me down. In fact, that’s my main beef with the book and the reason I only gave it three stars.

And to make matters worse, many of Miller’s memories and experiences just weren’t that interesting to me. So not only did I not like the way it was written, I found the content largely boring.

Maybe this is a sign of the times. Maybe our culture is addicted to larger-than-life, over-the-top amazing life experiences to justify reading a memoir about them (ahem, celebrity memoirs).

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think it’s more just personal taste.

I also found his conversational, we’re-just-getting-coffee style of writing was a bit annoying at times. I appreciated his humility throughout the book, but at other times I just wanted him to stop being wishy-washy and make an argument without so many qualifiers.

The editor in me wanted to tighten up sentences, cut down on the unfocused musings and filler text, and totally scrap the pop culture references.

When I read a book, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a blog post or rambling thoughts. But I know many people who absolutely love Miller’s writing and find his style incredibly approachable. That’s great — just not for me.

I can applaud Miller for talking openly and authentically about his struggles of reconciling Christian faith with secular culture. But I couldn’t decide if his “shock you out of your comfort zone for the purpose of making you think” strategy was totally effective or not.

On the whole, I was disappointed that the writing was (in my opinion) so unfocused for a book that had such great insights.

HIPSTER MOMENTS … BEFORE THEY WERE COOL

Reading Blue Like Jazz 14 years after publication was like suddenly discovering the roots of Christian hipsterism. Before it was mainstream, of course.

Case in point: “I read through the Koran before it was even popular.” (Blue Like Jazz, 87)

THE REALLY GOOD STUFF

Don’t let my critique fool you — there is some great stuff in Blue Like Jazz. Like really great.

This is my favorite quote from the book:

“When I am talking to somebody there are always two conversations going on. The first is on the surface; it is about politics or music or whatever it is our mouths are saying. The other is beneath beneath the surface, on the level of the heart, and my heart is either communicating that I like the person I am talking to or I don’t. God wants both conversations to be true. That is, we are supposed to speak truth in love. If both conversations are not true, God is not involved in the exchange, we are on our own, and on our own, we will lead people astray.” (Blue Like Jazz, 222)

This shook me.

I used to think my problem in high school was that I couldn’t stop judging people. But these few sentences made me realize that while I was focused on speaking the truth, I wasn’t communicating love at all. Deep down I didn’t like many people I interacted with (much less love them) because I was too focused on how they weren’t living up to my own made-up definition of what “living for Christ” looked like.

What a wake-up call.

Another great point Miller makes is that all the terrible things in the world — evil, suffering, racism, violence — come back to the problem of our own hearts.

Miller asks, if we’re not willing to fix the problems within us, how can we even begin to fight for justice in the world?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Part of me finds it hard to recommend Blue Like Jazz because I just didn’t enjoy reading it that much.

But at the same time, I learned some really powerful things about myself and my own expression of Christianity precisely because I went along for the ride and saw this thing through. Especially if you’re not sure about this whole Christianity thing, Blue Like Jazz is a great place to start.

Overall, I’m not disappointed I read it, and I’d probably even recommend it (with a grain of salt).

But I’m glad I highlighted all the good parts so I don’t have to read it again.

What did you think about Blue Like Jazz? Love it or hate it?

Quote source:
Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (p. 87). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Have you noticed? WWII books all seem to have blue covers

I recently looked over my list of books that I read in 2016 (as book lovers do) and discovered that, unintentionally, I read several WWII-era books last year.

I also happened to notice one overarching detail: Each book strongly featured the color blue in its cover artwork.

Coincidence? Maybe.

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Or the smart marketing people at publishing houses have discovered we are attracted to blue or associate WWII fiction with blue.

Who can say for sure? In the wise words of the Tootsie Pop owl, “The World May Never Know.”

But for all you fellow conspiracy theorists out there, the evidence is uncanny:

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale Kristin Hannah WWII Blue Book Cover

The most compelling part of The Nightingale, in my opinion, was the perspective — women left behind during war. How they cope, how they fought back, what their lives might have been like. It was fascinating.

However, it did take me a while to get into The Nightingale (the first several chapters seemed to just be Isabel and Vianne bickering constantly), and a few times it seemed to stray into modern chick-lit style writing.

I also found that the same arguments and scenarios kept happening over and over. Cliche phrases and stock filler text were used throughout. I think the book could have been much shorter — and more powerful — if Hannah had cut some of the fat that didn’t contribute to the story.

But overall, The Nightingale was a satisfying, fresh read. I definitely recommend it!

One note on the audiobook version: it’s lengthy. I might have skimmed through a few parts (and enjoyed the book a bit more) if I’d been reading rather than listening.

 

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the light we cannot see anthony doerr blue cover wwii booksAll the Light We Cannot See brims with beautiful imagery and symbolism … the town of Saint-Malo, the streets of Paris, and the Museum of Natural History pulse with life as we learn about each place through Marie-Laure’s senses.

I loved experiencing the world through Marie-Laure’s blindness. The imagery alone makes this book a worthwhile read.

When I was reading All the Light We Cannot See, I felt like I was in the story. It was like I was living life right beside Marie-Laure. On the other hand, when I read The Nightingale, I felt like someone was telling me a story.

But I struggled with Werner’s later chapters. I thought his early life was interesting, but by the time he began traveling across Europe, I found myself struggling to continue.

Overall, All the Light We Cannot See started off strong, but I eventually got lost in the middle. The ending was (mostly) satisfying, but it just didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Maybe I should have listened to this one on audiobook.

 

3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone brave is forgiven chris cleave blue cover wwii book

I won’t talk about every detail I went over in my full review of Everyone Brave is Forgiven. But here it is in a nutshell: Skip this one.

There are soooooooo many better WWII novels out there. I was seduced by the lovely cover artwork and the dust jacket filled with promises of racial themes and love triangles … but alas, I was sorely disappointed.

WWII is such a tragic, formative, and fascinating time in history. That’s why I was so surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven lacked any of the drama, suspend, or emotion that usually surrounds art set during this time.

Thankfully, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a fast read, despite its hefty 418 page count.

Overall, I was disappointed at how flat the characters were, how lifeless London felt, and how the most intense, emotional moments left me feeling numb and apathetic. At one point, when the war seemed most dire and a key character was practically dying, I was bored.  I just didn’t care.

4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

light-between-oceans

Ok, so this book is technically not set during WWII.

But I’m still going to include it in the list because helps prove my point. Is that technically cheating? Maybe a little. But this is something I can live with.

I won’t rehash my entire review of this book (you can read it here if you want), but needless to say it probably has the strongest plot tension of any of the other books listed here.

The story picks up after WWI, when Tom is still trying to recover from the horrors of war. He soon finds a new life with Isabel … a life that helps him begin to forget.

And then they make terrible, life-altering choice.

The Light Between Oceans made me stressed, angry, and emotional all at once. And it’s a fast read. The story has a strong hook and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end — and the payoff is surprisingly satisfying.

 

<< BONUS ROUND >>

1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

47281I’m including Number the Stars in the bonus section because it’s not part of any current book trend if it was published in 1989.

But it’s blue!

Number the Stars was one of my first introductions to World War II when I was assigned to read it for a class project.

Before reading this book, I thought that history was boring because it was mostly about remembering facts, dates, and numbers. But Number the Stars showed me that history is the story of real people with real stories, doing real things that have the power to change the world.

Since then, whenever I learn about a new period in history (in school and out of school), I like to read literature that was written during that time period or about that time period.

There is so much to be learned about human nature when read from the perspective of someone experiencing history in the moment. Number the Stars is a children’s book, but it’s definitely worth the read!

 

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

It’s got a little bit of blue on the cover … sort of. Ok, ok, I know this one completely messes up my “blue cover” motif.

But no WW II book list would be complete without my all-time favorite WWII (or rather, post-WWII) novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

In a word, this book is delightful.

Written in letters, it tells the story of Juliet Ashton as she searches for the subject of her next book and healing from the war. What she discovers is a quirky, lovable village on the English channel island of Guernsey with a unique story of their experiences during the war.

It perfectly balances love, humor, hope, and the pain of war without being heavy-handed or flippant. I highly, highly recommend it for your next historical fiction read!

Whether it’s a new book trend or not, blue is definitely having a moment with WWII fiction.

What’s your favorite WWII novel?

More important question: Does it have blue on the cover?

 

Snooze Alert: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

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Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Is it worth reading? No. I found it to be long, flat, and confusing at times. Characters are underdeveloped, the plot tries to accomplish too much, and dialogue is tiresome. There are  so many great WWII novels out there … this is not one of them.

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

Where to begin.

If Everyone Brave is Forgiven hadn’t been the selection for the book club I’m in, I would have DNFed it pretty early on.

In a nutshell, Everyone Brave is Forgiven was one of the most disappointing books I’ve read in a while. All the elements of a great story were there: Little-known history of WWII, racial tensions, love triangle … but somehow it just falls flat. Chris Cleave is a bestselling author and many people have enjoyed this book.

Perhaps it’s just my personal tastes, but this particular book just didn’t work for me.

This is the only Chris Cleave book I’ve read, so I might just not like the way he writes. I’ve thought about reading Little Bee several times, but I don’t think I can do it if it’s similar in style to this one.

Characters & Setting

WWII is one of the most tragic, formative, and fascinating times in history. That’s why I was surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven was so snooze-worthy. It lacked any of the drama that usually surrounds this era of history.

The characters were one-dimensional and the most emotional parts of the story left me nodding off to sleep.

The transitions and descriptions throughout the book were often very strange. At times I didn’t know what was real and what was a dream, what the characters were thinking or doing, or who characters even were (For example, one book club member didn’t know how Hilda was related to Mary until partway through the book). Once or twice I asked myself, Do I have to be British to understand this??

We never get inside character’s heads, understand their motivations, or see how they deal with grief, heartache, or joy.

Another strange thing: Almost all of the dialogue in this book was just witty banter. Characters rarely talked directly about the true, terrible things that were happening. Everything was a sarcastic joke. Maybe Cleave was trying to make the point that the war was too horrible for words, and could only be spoken about in jokes … but it came across as trite and shallow.

And if the dust cover description hadn’t mentioned that Alistair and Mary fell in love when they first met, I wouldn’t have picked up on that fact at all.

This is one of my ultimate book pet peeves: I can’t stand it when a dust jacket description is a bait and switch. The description for this book made it sound like the book was going to go one direction, but it went a completely different one. I don’t know why, but that always leaves me feeling deceived and shortchanged.

Story & Plot

I so wish Everyone Brave is Forgiven had focused exclusively on the relationship between Mary and black students during the war. Not only would it have been timely, it would have been valuable to read a black perspective during WWII. The dust jacket made it seem like that was where the book was going, but it was just a sidebar storyline.

In fact, there wasn’t any clear, dominant storyline throughout the entire book … it’s like it tried to cover too much ground without really making any clear point. We have Mary and Tom’s story, the school story, the war in general, Alastair’s experiences, Alastair and Hilda’s story, Mary and Hilda’s friendship, and then Mary and Alastair’s romance. None were particularly successful.

I walked away from this book not sure what, exactly, I was supposed to learn or get out of reading it.

But perhaps one of the most unbelievable aspects of the book is Mary’s behavior.

She galavants around London doing whatever her heart desires … like spending the night and sleeping with her boyfriend (did people really do this so willy-nilly before birth control?) or frequenting “seedy” clubs. If her family is really as affluent and concerned with image as the book makes them sound, I have a hard time believing that during the 1940s she could have slept at her boyfriend’s house or hung around the club without strong consequences to her parents’ political image.

Even the TV show Call the Midwife (which is set in the 1950s) clearly shows that sex outside of marriage was, in general, publicly frowned upon.

Final Thoughts

The most positive thing I can say about Everyone Brave is Forgiven is that it reads really quickly. Small mercies.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If the scope of the story had been pared down, and the characters and setting had been more developed, this could have been something special. But it just fell flat for me.

There was no drama. There was no anticipation. There was no conflict, climax, or resolution. And then the ending: No resolution. No hope. It ended on such a discordant note.

I think the most painful part or reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven was this: At the most dramatic, important, and tragic moments, I felt nothing. I felt numb. I just didn’t care.

As a reader, that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

DNF: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

DNF-

Title: The Nest
Author: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
My rating: DNF
Genre: Fiction, General
Is it worth reading? I wouldn’t recommend it. I thought this would be like reading a celebrity gossip magazine — a easy, breezy, guilty pleasure. This was definitely not that. The Nest was more like a romance novel featuring unlikeable characters and catty behavior.

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

I hate marking a book DNF, especially on books I’ve made significant headway in or purchased (although I got the Kindle version for cheap through a Goodreads Deal email).

I especially hate disliking a book with cover artwork as beautiful as The Nest.

But I just can’t finish. I’m about 55% of the way through, and I just can’t read one. more. line. I can’t pretend to be interested in the sex, selfishness, shallowness, and frankly, boring storylines anymore.

Life is too short to finish books you don’t like. So I gave myself a gold star and moved on.

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The Nest started off promising enough, with interesting details and quirks about each character, but it quickly spiraled into mostly focusing on their sex lives. (What happened to the nest? I thought that was what this book was about?)

Honestly, I’m just not that interested in reading about a (gay or straight) character’s sexual experiences and explorations — especially when it doesn’t seem to have a point. The Nest is not a coming-of-age story, and it’s not trying to make a stance or a statement. Several characters felt like they were reduced to their sexual urges … like there was little else notable or interesting about them as people.

And then there’s the plot in general. The first 1/4 of the book actually deals with “the nest,” but halfway through I had no clue where this book was going. The different viewpoints and background stories were interesting, but there wasn’t a central narrative that tied all the random storylines together.

Also, The Nest had practically no sympathetic characters. It was hard to feel compassion, empathy, and understanding to people who are so utterly unpleasant (and made such terrible choices). I couldn’t find much to love or appreciate in any of them.

I had high hopes that The Nest would be a light and entertaining read. Instead, I feel like I need to go take a shower.

 

What did you think of The Nest? Did the ending justify the means?