The Unpretentious Reader

10 books you can’t put down

Over the past year or so I read a number of books that hooked me right from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. It’s the best kind of reading experience, if you ask me. While it’s true the books that make you work the hardest often provide the most rewarding payoff in the end, some days I just need something easy that invites me in, something that causes me to look up after an unknown number of pages and hours and question, “What time is it?”

These are some of those books.

 

Everything, Everything
Everything, Everything

by Nicola Yoon

YA fiction about a girl who has “bubble baby disease” where she cannot leave her home, because she’s fatally allergic to the world. She lives as full of a life as she can, confined to her house with her mom and full-time nurse, but one day someone moves in next door that has her questioning everything.

 

Bird Box
Bird Box

by Josh Malerman

Horror/thriller. It’s a post-apocalyptic world, there are just a handful of survivors, and something is lurking that has killed the rest of mankind. The things we can’t see are sometimes far scarier than the things we can, and Bird Box does (in my opinion) a phenomenal job of playing up this idea. I had nightmares about this book, and maybe that will scare you off, but it was one of those books that had me thinking about it for DAYS afterward.

 

Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Tell the Wolves I’m Home

by Carol Rifka Brunt

A beautiful, thought-provoking, poignant coming-of-age tale about love, heartache, and loss. Set in the late 1980s, a 14-year-old girl loses her beloved uncle and eventually finds healing in a new and unexpected friendship. It’s emotional and raw and I absolutely loved it.

 

We Were Liars
We Were Liars

by E. Lockhart

I read this from start to finish on a flight from SLC to Nashville. It was just SO GOOD. A group of friends from very well-off families spend their summers on a private island, where they refer to themselves as The Liars. Mystery lies under the surface, though, and one girl tries to discover the truth of things. It’s a sophisticated, not-your-typical YA fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

The Truth About Alice
The Truth About Alice

by Jennifer Mathieu

YA fiction that explores how easily girls are judged, perceived, labeled, and written off as a certain type of person. This book follows the story of Alice and the rumors that are flying about something she may or may not have done one night at a party. It’s a truly brilliant, sobering, insightful look into high school rumors and the havoc they can cause. This is another one that I read entirely in one sitting.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

Christopher is an extremely gifted 15-year-old autistic boy who decides one day that he absolutely must solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. The book follows his thought processes and challenges as he investigates the murder, and I found it to be charming, well-written, and endearing. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by a British person, and that’s definitely how I recommend reading the book if you can.

 

Room
Room

by Emma Donoghue

Told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy whose entire world is “Room,” you soon learn that this boy and his young mother have been held captive for years. I didn’t think I would like this book initially, but the author brilliantly tells an engaging, consuming story and you quickly forget you’re listening to a 5-year-old’s voice. I won’t say too much for fear of ruining the plot, but, man – I absolutely loved this one. I have yet to see the film, but it’s on my list.

 

The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

While this book (and author) certainly has its haters, the ratings don’t lie – and I 100% fall into the “I absolutely loved this” camp. In case you’ve been living under a rock and aren’t familiar with the plot: a teenage girl has cancer and one day meets a boy at a cancer support group. It’s a YA love story that will make you cry, and the movie is – surprisingly – a great complement to the book.

 

Gone Girl
Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

Another one that you’ve certainly heard of, Gone Girl absolutely lives up to the hype. It’s full of twists and turns, betrayal and shock, and I could never have predicted what was going to happen (and I love it when a book surprises me). I read this over a weekend and thought about it for days afterward. If you haven’t seen the (phenomenal) movie adaptation, I’d recommend reading the book first, for sure.

 

Me Before You
Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes

Oh, Jojo Moyes. You have captured my heart and I will read everything you ever publish, no questions asked. Me Before You is a story about Louisa, a woman in her late 20s, who’s just lost her job and by a series of events ends up taking a job as a caretaker for a man named Will. Will is in his early 30s, and two years previously, was in a terrible motorcycle accident which left him as a quadriplegic. The story is beautiful, well-written, and simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. I found the sequel After You to be just as good.

 

What are some of your favorite, can’t-put-down books?

Life lately, vol. 1

A curated list of photos from my life over the past few weeks. Enjoy!

A gorgeous, pastel sunrise greeting me on the way to work:

Sunrise

The most delicious pork bahn mi sandwich from Even Stevens:

Even Stevens

A sweet gift from a friend, all the way from France:

Gift

Indie the cat:

Indie

Indie the cat, hiding (poorly):

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Because sleep eludes me:

Tea

In which I attempt to eat healthy:

Salad

A girl and her (very spoiled) cat:

Tracy

And finally, MEGA CATAN (so, so fun!):

afterlight

I hope you’re having a great weekend so far!!

15 books on my reading list

15 books to read

Wonder – About a kid born with a facial “difference” who starts attending a mainstream school. I’ve seen multiple bloggers recommend this book, so it’s time to add it to my list.

All the Light We Cannot See – I bought this book over a year ago, with every intention of reading it right away…but it’s still sitting on my shelf, collecting dust. I’ve heard so many good things about it, and even though WWII fiction can sometimes take a while to hook me, I’m still very much interested in it.

A Little Life – Sometimes I want to read a book solely based on the fact that it’s won a number of awards and/or been talked about constantly, and such is the case with A Little Life. I anticipate this being a difficult but important read.

The Fifth Season – I’m a sucker for a good epic fantasy, and I’ve been hearing great things about this one by N. K. Jemisin.

All the Birds in the Sky – Highly recommended by one of my favorite authors, Rainbow Rowell, and that’s pretty much all it takes for me to put a book on my reading list.

Fates and Furies – Basically every blogger out there has recommended this book, and the premise is really intriguing. I’ve had my name on the waiting list to borrow this from the library for a while now, but there are still 20 people ahead of me! 🙁

The Year of the Flood – It took me years, but I finally made the plunge into the world of Margaret Atwood, and now I’m sorry I waited so long. I chose to read the first in her MaddAddam trilogy, Oryx and Crake, and while I wouldn’t classify it as an easy read – you have to take your time with her writing – it was really, really good. So this is the second in the series.

Carry On – As mentioned, I love Rainbow Rowell, and this is her most recent book published last year. It’s actually a spin-off from my absolute favorite novel by her, Fangirl, which follows a young woman in college who writes fanfiction. Carry On is like the continuation of that fanfiction, but in Rainbow’s voice, not the character’s from Fangirl. It’s very meta. Haha.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – I read/listened to my first David Sedaris book last year (Me Talk Pretty One Day) and really loved it. I plan on listening to this one, too, because his delivery is just fantastic.

Americanah – Another that I know virtually nothing about but want to read because it’s won so many awards and gotten so much attention. Generally with these overhyped books I just dive in without learning much about the premise or plot first. I like to experience it as much as I can without prior bias!

Last Night in Montreal – I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel early last year and positively loved it. The plot, the characters, the setting…everything. I have high hopes for this one.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – A journalist investigates a string of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula, Montana over a four-year period. Certainly not a “feel-good” read, but very much a necessary one. We have to do better as a society.

One Plus One – I’m a huge Jojo Moyes fan. After devouring The Girl You Left Behind, I read Me Before You and then anxiously awaited the sequel, After You, which I’ve since read and loved. I’m sure I’m going to adore One Plus One just as much as the others.

Big Little Lies – Some friends and I started a book club last year, and the first book we read was The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I thought it was a super fun and clever read, and I really want to explore more of her writing. Big Little Lies has great reviews!

A Knight of the Word – I’ve been a Terry Brooks fan for as long as I can remember. Last year I finally started branching out to some of his non-Shannara titles and read the first in The Word and the Void series. I enjoyed it, though perhaps not as much as his Shannara series, but enough that I definitely want to keep reading!

 

Qs: What books are you most looking forward to reading? What should I add to my list?

Book review: The Distance from Me to You

distance-from-me-to-you

Premise

While the rest of her friends are heading off to their first semester as college freshmen, McKenna has chosen a slightly different path – one that involves taking a year off between high school and college, and – no biggie – hiking the entire Appalachian Trail alone. The book follows her journey as she slowly treks her way down from Maine to Georgia.

Thoughts

As a general rule, I find most YA fiction hooks me right at the start, and this book was no exception. I was immediately engaged in the uniqueness of the story, and not only that, but the book just has so many great themes. McKenna is a strong, likable female protagonist who makes decisions that surprise you. The story is empowering, especially for young women, and also depicted what I thought to be a very accurate representation of what it might be like to do something so independent, so potentially dangerous, as a young woman alone. The reactions McKenna gets from people who discover she’s hiking alone are exactly what you’d expect, and when she inevitably runs into a few A-holes on the trail, her thoughts after the encounter really summarize it quite well:

MEN. Making the whole world believe that a woman couldn’t and shouldn’t feel safe on her own. […] It made McKenna seriously mad. Why should she have to feel unsafe? Didn’t this world belong to her as much as it belonged to any man? 

PREACH IT, SISTER! There are tons of moments like this in the book, and it made me love it that much more. So empowering! So liberating! And yes, there’s a bit of a love story thrown in there too, but again, it’s not in the way you’d expect.

The author explores what it might be like to go on a trip entirely alone, and I found the idea becoming more and more appealing with every word. So much so, in fact, that I already have a blog post in the works about it – ha!

The one thing I wish I’d gotten more of is, well, everything! I feel like the book was just this small snippet from McKenna’s life, and she was such an interesting and complex character that I’d absolutely love to read more books about her. What does she do after hiking the AT? Where does life take her? The story has a promising ending, and it really made me wish the book was one in a whole series.

Overall, if you enjoy adventure stories, strong female characters, and YA fiction, I’d say this one is a winner for sure. Special thanks to Brooke for surprising me with this book in the mail – it was such a great read for the new year!

Oh hi, it’s 2016.

IMG_8604

Hi!

HELLO AND WELCOME.

Umm….This blog/website has been in the works for a while. I’d say I’m ashamed of how long it’s taken me to post, but shame is something I’m trying to combat this year, so let’s just say I feel a bit silly for procrastinating as long as I have.

I started toying around with the idea of a blog and an accompanying podcast last March (as in..almost a full year ago), put a bunch of work into it, even paid for a legitimate logo from a graphic design friend, bought a nice microphone, and then….insert excuse here. I dunno, life just happened. And I’m still feeling iffy about the podcast (SUCH A COMMITMENT), but enough is enough – I miss blogging and while I can’t confirm that this blog will always be 100% book review/reading-related, I can promise that those topics will make up at least a good chunk of the content. Other posts will be about whatever the heck I feel like, because I’m an adult and I do what I want.

So I’m starting off this year with a few goals, as I’m sure many of you are too. I’m a project-oriented person; successful yearly projects include a Project 365, cooking 52 new recipes, and reading 100 books (somehow not to the detriment of my entire social life).

This year, my goals are a little more abstract, and I think I’m ok with that. This year I want to focus on mindfulness, personal ambition, and self-care. What does that even mean? Often, we put ourselves last in every category in life – health, relaxation, hobbies, enjoyment, personal fulfillment, etc. And this year is the year I’m going to learn how to say “no.” It’s the year I’m going to learn how to be kind to myself, and to my body. And it’s the year I’m going to really and truly pursue the things I’m interested in…no halfheartedness allowed!

1. Write. Just freaking write something, already.

Write more!

Creative writing is that seemingly unreachable thing I view wistfully from afar. It’s that thing I love, but can’t ever seem to do in my free time (I already write nonfiction for my job). It’s filled with “not good enoughs,” staring hopelessly at empty Word documents, and being creatively tired. I want to get past whatever roadblocks I’ve created in my brain and just DO THE DANG THING ALREADY. I’m exploring writing prompts, word goal ideas, journal projects, etc. I can’t expect to be good at something if I…well…never do it.

2. Travel more. Travel somewhere new. Find adventure.

DSC_5299

Traveling is a life-breathing experience for me. I can’t describe the fulfillment I get in encountering new places, cultures, restaurants, and experiences. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to spend money on (and I hate spending money…just ask my husband, haha), and I also feel like it’s one of the most valuable things you can spend your money on. I’ve already got a good start on this goal, as I’m planning a girls weekend in San Diego next month, and I’ll be visiting Nashville to hike Mt. LeConte in April with my mom, uncle, and cousin. June brings the possibility of a work trip to New Orleans, a place I’ve never been but would love to visit, and in August, Danny and I will take our annual trip somewhere new…and hopefully somewhere tropical. 😉

3. Read 50 books.

reading

Ever since reading 100 books in 2013, I haven’t exactly felt the, ahem, desire to do that again. I’m sure I could if I set my mind to it, but I’ve learned that I tend to read at a slightly slower pace than what’s required for 100 books over 365 days, and I enjoy it so much more when I don’t have a deadline breathing down my neck. I set a goal for 50 books in 2015, and only managed to get to 38, so I’m setting it at 50 again to see if I can make it happen this time.

4. Get healthy.

fitbit

Notice I say healthy, not skinny. So much of my life – practically my entire existence – has been consumed with trying to get skinny (um, it hasn’t happened yet), body negativity, and a general lack of self-confidence in my appearance and physical abilities. This year, I’d like to get truly healthy – both physically and mentally. This is a topic I’ll likely post more about in the future, because hello I have lots of thoughts on the subject!

5. Continue learning to code.

Print

I was 13 years old when I typed my first line of HTML, and my love for coding has only grown since then. Aside from a few classes in high school and college, I never pursued it seriously (why, I have no idea) until last summer, when my good friend Josh started raving about this little site called Treehouse. I checked it out, and honestly, it’s worth every penny. I dove in and spent a couple of months learning Javascript, and then, like it always does, life got in the way and I stopped learning. This year I plan on picking it up again. I don’t have any hard goals, but I’d absolutely love it if I became proficient in at least one language (Javascript? Ruby?) by the end of the year.

And that’s it! As far as regular posting goes, I have no idea what sort of schedule I’ll keep, so I’m just going to play it by ear and see what feels natural. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I’m excited for 2016 – I hope you are too! 🙂

Qs: What are your goals for 2016? Are you a resolution person?