Category: Book Lists

Read Banned Books!

It is Banned Books Week 2017! Every year in September, the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read and freedom of information by highlighting classically-banned books as well as the most frequently challenged books each year. A lot of the books I’m aware of, but some of them surprised me. (James and the Giant Peach? Really?) Every year, people officially request (challenge) to have certain books removed from libraries, and the fact that this still happens kind of shocks me. A lot of the books are children’s books and YA books, in an attempt to block certain subjects (generally race, gender issues, basically anything considered diverse content) from kids. And like a kid, if you tell me not to read a book, I’m definitely going to read it. In my opinion, censorship has no place in libraries, bookstores, or anywhere else that books are available for the general public. Are certain books geared toward older kids or adults? Yes, of course. Waiting until someone is a certain age to read specific books is completely different from wanting books banned from EVERYONE.

It’s important to bring attention to this issue and to read banned books! Why? To promote freedom of choice and the freedom to read anything we want. I’m sure some people have the best intentions when they challenge books, but others are simply trying to push their own agendas onto everyone else. Harry Potter has been challenged so many times because some people (a pretty small group, I’d say, given Potter’s continued popularity) think it promotes witchcraft and corrupt ideas. Those people seem to ignore the fact that Harry’s true power comes from his mother’s love, not magic, and that the entire series advocates for family, friendship, love, being inclusive, and knowledge. Not so scandalous after all!

I’ve listed a few of my favorite banned books below, as well as some of the most popular and regularly-challenged books. Many of them have been challenged because they include diverse content, something we should all be reading MORE of, not less.

Have you read any of these? Which banned books are on your reading list this week and this year? Do any of these titles surprise you?

You can find a complete list of challenged and banned books at the ALA website HERE.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

How to Fit Reading In During the School Year!

Well, it’s the start of another school year, and with that comes homework, sports, extracurricular clubs, early bedtimes (some nights), and tired kids and parents. It can be difficult to fit in all of the fun, leisurely activities we usually do during the summer. We are definitely having a hard time letting go of playing outside until dark, then coming in and reading way past all of our bedtimes. But reading is so important to my kids and me that we have a few ways we like to make sure we fit reading in during the school year.

How do you make sure to read to or with your kids during the school year? How do they get in alone reading time? Let me know in the comments!

Schedule It!

This seems obvious, but sometimes even I forget to leave enough time in the day for reading. If reading before bed is part of your routine, just make sure you leave enough time in the daily schedule for it. Sometimes that means moving dinner and playing outside up 30 minutes. (And sometimes the kids just need to play outside and skip reading for a night. That’s ok too!!) Even if it’s just ten minutes per kid, we make an effort to leave a little reading time each night.

During Dinner

I know a lot of people will disagree on this one, but sometimes I allow reading during dinner. If the kids have to eat at a different time from my husband and me (like the nights they have soccer practice and they need to eat early), oftentimes I’ll read to them while they eat. I actually really enjoy it, and it’s a nice way to have some calm reading time in between activities. My older son read at the table during lunch quite a bit during the summer, and I generally don’t like that at dinner, but if he’s really into a book . . . haven’t we all been there?

My kids will also sometimes read to themselves at breakfast. None of us are particularly thrilled to be up super early, and aren’t always great conversationalists before 7AM, so this is a good way to ease into the day and get some reading in. (And if everyone is cranky, it curbs any arguments that might pop up!)

In the Car

We almost always have an audiobook playing in the car, and we listen on the way to school (We’re listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets again right now.) and on the way home, on the way to sports, or while we run errands. If we’ve had a late night and weren’t able to read, they like knowing that they’ll at least get to listen to a story on the way to school in the morning.

Spare Time at School

This is one I didn’t think of until my kids insisted on taking books in their already heavy backpacks last year. Turns out, they do have a little time to read to themselves at school! (Schoolwork seems to be more difficult and given in greater quantities than when I was in elementary school, so I really didn’t know if they would be able to read anything other than school-assigned books.) The kids aren’t allowed to talk much in the hallway in the morning, so they can read while they wait to be let into their classrooms. They are also allowed to read in class if they finish their assigned work early, and sometimes during snack time. If it’s a particularly good book, my kids will also read on the bus ride home. So as long as their backpacks aren’t full to bursting, send along a (paperback) book to school! They’ll probably be able to get in a chapter or two.

For Yourself

The school year can be a difficult time to fit reading in for adults as well! Days are busy, afternoons and evenings are often packed with after-school activities, and by the time the sun goes down I’m often too tired to read more than a few pages before I zonk out. (Because I can’t go to sleep without reading at least a few pages of something.) If you plan ahead a little bit (basically, bring a book with you everywhere you go), it’s possible to fit in a good chunk of reading during those busy days. I’m always listening to an audiobook or podcast when I drive without my kids. The pickup line at school is a great place to fit in a little reading, as is during sports practices. (We all enjoy watching our kids play sports, but I think it’s ok to take some of that practice time to read!) And sometimes my boys just want to read to themselves at night, or to each other, and I try to take that opportunity to read my own book at the same time. We’re all getting in reading time and spending some nice quiet time together at the end of the day.

The school year is busy, but if you make reading a priority, there are lots of pockets of time to get it done!

Tell me some of your tricks to getting in more reading time during the school year!


How to Start a Book Club

These are some great book club picks!

A Man Called Ove The Handmaid’s Tale The Great Gatsby Cocoa Beach The Last Days of Night

As a bookish person, it’s surprising to me that I have never been in a book club. The closest I’ve ever come was the way my childhood best friend and I shared our love of books. We talked about books (a lot of Baby-Sitter’s Club, Louise Rennison, and classics such as Bridge to Terebithia), suggested books for each other (I still refuse to read Old Yeller), and viewed each other’s bookshelves as our own personal libraries. Every play date and sleepover ended with trading books, and we still send each other books every once in awhile. (And after her urging me to read it for at least 20 years, I’m finally going to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this year.)

All that to say: I decided to start a book club in my neighborhood because we didn’t have one, and I missed talking about books in person! I posted about it and our first book choice, A Man Called Ove, on Instagram and received so many positive comments and questions that I wanted to write about a few things I’ve learned so far about starting a book club from scratch. Hopefully some of this will be helpful to you, and if you have any suggestions for me PLEASE send me a message or leave a comment!

(Read my 5-star review of A Man Called Ove HERE.)

Who Do You Want in Your Book Club?

By this question, I don’t mean for anyone to be ultra-exclusive about their book club membership. But it is helpful if you have people in mind: friends, neighbors, strangers? Decide who you want to ask first! (And if it’s strangers, this could be as simple as posting a flier in your local library with your book pick and meeting there!) I chose my neighborhood because I knew there was a lot of interest in starting a book club.

What Kind of Book Club Do You Want?

What do you want out of your book club? Do you want a serious book discussion with pre-planned questions and no chitchat? Do you prefer a more relaxed discussion, with time for book talk and neighborhood gossip? This decision will probably help determine the answer to the next question.

Where Do You Want to Meet?

If you want to stick to a more serious book discussion, I would suggest meeting with your group at a library-the setting is quiet, you won’t be too distracted, and most libraries have conference rooms available to use for things like this. If you want a relaxed book club, you can get away with a few different locations. Having different people host in their homes each month seems to be the most popular choice, and that’s what our book club is doing. We all bring food and drinks, hang out for a bit, then talk about the book. No planned discussion, unless there’s something specific someone wants to talk about. If you want something even easier, you could meet at a restaurant each month, a coffee shop, a dessert bar, really anywhere with enough seating for your group. (Can you tell that food is a must for me at these events?) You should also decide how often you want to meet, and try to pre-plan meeting dates a couple of months in advance.

How to Pick the Books

This can be tricky. We all want everyone to like the book, but that just doesn’t always happen. My favorite way to choose a book each month is to have whoever is hosting that month pick. (If you’re meeting in a public place, just have people volunteer to choose a book each month.) I like this because it’s a great way to be introduced to books you might not usually go for. In our group, several people were afraid that they wouldn’t like Ove, but they ended up loving the book! (Who wouldn’t?!) You could also theme your book club, or change the theme each year. Best sellers, classics, Modern Mrs. Darcy book club or summer reading picks. The sky is really the limit here.

*A few people in my neighborhood book club wanted to host but didn’t want to pick a book, so they asked for suggestions. I made a list of books (some best sellers, some classics, some lesser-known books) and added it to our Facebook group. If someone doesn’t want to choose a book on their own, they can just pick one from the list! And anyone can add books to the list if they see something interesting, so the list of suggestions is always growing.

Serious or Relaxed, Keep It Organized!

I know, I know, organization. So tedious. But it’s really not! I use a simple spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of members, addresses, who’s hosting each month, which books we’ve picked, our list of book suggestions, and who RSVPs each month. Once you get it set up, it’s so quick and easy to update. Would you all be interested in a free download of this? Let me know!

I also created a private Facebook group for our book club, and I keep it updated with book selections, meeting dates, book suggestions, and a thread for extra discussion for each book. It’s a simple way to keep connected in between meetings.

Are you in a book club? Do you want your book club to be different? Let us know how your book club works and what suggestions you have for making book club even more fun!

Extra Note!

If an in-person book club just isn’t an option because of time, location, or any other reason, consider joining the Instagram bookstagram community. (Bookstagram is just a fun name for all the wonderfully bookish accounts there. Mine is @texasgirlreads.) There are so many online book clubs that choose a book each month and discuss on Instagram in the comments. So easy!! (My favorite is @saltwaterreads! We’re reading Cocoa Beach for July’s selection.)


Reluctant Readers: Do I HAVE to read?

The last thing any lifetime reader wants to hear a kid say is, “Do I HAVE to read?” Because no, unless it’s for school, kids don’t technically HAVE to read. But we hope that they all WANT to read. Big difference.

As a reader and a mom, this frustrates me to no end! My kids love books, but even they have moments of reading reluctance. (There are weeks that my 8-year-old refuses to read anything except his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Over and over. My 6-year-old is currently uninterested that anything that isn’t Star Wars-based.) So I went on a book-hunting expedition to try and find interesting, weird, funny, great books that my kids would love and maybe wouldn’t have chosen on their own. I also thought about why some kids love to read and why some just don’t seem interested.

Why are they reluctant? Is reading difficult or have they just not found books of interest? And why is reading for pleasure so important anyway? Why not just let kids do the bare minimum for school and accept that some of them just don’t like to read?

(Sidenote: I am that stubborn person who will never accept that people don’t like to read. They just haven’t found the right books yet!)

As adults, we get to choose what we want to read. Comedy, mystery, suspense, literature with a capital L. We might ask friends for suggestions or read book reviews to get ideas, but ultimately the decision is up to us. Why should it be different for kids? I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I am an offender of trying to push my own literary wants onto my kids. “What do you mean The Boxcar Children isn’t interesting?! Yes it is, try it again.” Now, if it’s an age thing, and happens to be a book that would be better when they’re older, maybe giving it another try would be ok. But the more we push what we think our kids SHOULD read onto them, the less they will WANT to read. Why not give them some options and then let them choose? Or, better yet, let them roam free in the children’s section of the library and pick anything? This one is hard for me, but at the library I usually just sit at a kid’s table with my own book and let them discover books on their own. (I sneak in a few here and there, though. Hey, no one’s perfect.)

We all have reasons for reading. Sometimes it’s for work, sometimes it’s to learn, and sometimes yes, it’s because the teacher says we have to. But reading for fun, in my opinion, is the best reason of all. I think it’s especially important for kids for a variety of reasons. They inevitably end up learning something, even if it’s just how to tell a funny joke. (Thanks, Captain Underpants.) Through books, kids can travel the world, become a guest in another time period, or visit imaginary lands, which will expand their own imaginations. Books also offer a type of friend that can’t always be found in real life, a friend on the pages who a child can relate to, or aspire to be like. And when you find the right book, reading is just fun! It is important to gently encourage kids to take a break from the busy-ness of life and snuggle up with a book.

Here are a few of the many books that might be perfect for your reluctant reader. Leave them lying around, or just start reading aloud from them when your kid is nearby. They might still be a tough sell, but I think at least one of these will capture your little reader’s attention.

Let me know in the comments what books your kids have fallen in love with! I would love to add more to my list!

**I have focused on elementary school-age books here, but I’m planning a future post about middle school and high school reluctant readers as well.

Mr. Ball Makes a To-Do List
The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Darth Vader and Son
Goodnight Darth Vader
Vader’s Little Princess
Darth Vader and Friends
Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates
Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery
Magic Tree House
Star Wars: Jedi Academy
Squish 1: Super Amoeba
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Ada Twist, Scientist
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Iggy Peck, Architect
The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose!)
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
The Day the Crayons Quit
The Day the Crayons Came Home
Dragons Love Tacos


Summer Reading


Images from Goodreads

Summer is a great time to get a little extra reading done (although it doesn’t help my to be read pile AT ALL), and this year there are several books that I can’t wait to get my hands on! Here are a few releases that I’m excited about, and a few that I’ve been able to read already!

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
From the publisher:
“Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, is back with an uproarious new novel of a family driven by fortune, an ex-wife driven psychotic with jealousy, a battle royal fought through couture gown sabotage, and the heir to one of Asia’s greatest fortunes locked out of his inheritance.”

I have wanted to read all of Kwan’s novels for awhile, and my plan is to pick a weekend this summer and read all three back to back. These are fun, gossipy books, perfect for summer! Crazy Rich Asians is being made into a movie, and I want to make sure to have them all read in plenty of time.
May 23

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
From the publisher:
“Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.”

This is going to be a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but I can’t wait to read it anyway. It is based on a true story that sounds like it couldn’t possibly be true, which is makes it all the more horrifying. I’ve heard great things about this one, and a box of Kleenex will be nearby when I read it.
June 6

Camino Island by John Grisham
From the publisher:
“A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.”

What’s more perfect for summer than a new John Grisham novel? A new John Grisham novel about a library, a bookstore, and a novelist with writer’s block. This sounds perfect for book lovers, with a great mystery, and just right for the beach.
June 6

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
From the publisher:
“In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met.”

This is Roy’s first novel since The God of Small Things was published in 1997, so there is most definitely an excited buzz around this book. I love character-driven books, so I can’t wait to delve into the lives that Roy has shared with her readers. This is not going to be a fluffy summer read, but perfect to curl up with on a humid, rainy day indoors.
June 6

Love Story: A Novel (The Baxter Family) by Karen Kingsbury
From the publisher:
“When John Baxter is asked to relive his long-ago love story with Elizabeth for his grandson Cole’s heritage project, he’s not sure he can do it. The sadness might simply be too great. But he agrees and allows his heart and soul to go places they haven’t gone in decades. Back to the breathless first moments, but also to the secret heartbreak that brought John and Elizabeth together. At the same time, Baxter family friend Cody Coleman is working through the breakup of his complicated relationship with Andi Ellison. He is determined to move on when a chance sighting changes his plans—and heart. Can Cody convince Andi to give their love another try, or is it time for them to say goodbye for good?”

I haven’t read any of Kingsbury’s Baxter series, but this one sounds so good! Family sagas are great for any season, but if you have time to binge read a series during the summer, this one might be the one for it!
June 6

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
From the publisher:
“Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point. When a family crisis forces them to band together–or at least appear to–the twins come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the resentments that have driven them apart.”

Hilderbrand is the queen of summer reads, and this year’s publication looks to be just as juicy and fun as her other books. This is high on my summer reading list, and I can’t wait to devour it by a pool!
June 13

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
From the publisher:
“Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.”

So far, this is my favorite book of the summer. I absolutely loved it (Read my review of the novel HERE.), and I’ve added all of Reid’s books to my to be read list. This is a perfect summer read, but it’s not as fluffy as you might think. Be prepared to read this one from cover to cover in a couple of days, and to have the characters stick around in your head for awhile.
June 13

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall: A Collection of Outlander Fiction by Diana Gabaldon
From the publisher:
“A collection of seven short stories set in the Outlander universe, never before published together, including two original stories. This riveting, romantic collection includes: “Besieged” (original novella), “Survival” (original novella), “Virgins,” “The Space Between,” “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” and “The Custom of the Army.””

It’s Outlander. What more do you need?! For all of us who are anxiously waiting for Gabaldon’s next Outlander novel, this is the perfect in-between book, full of short stories.
June 27

Final Girls by Riley Sager
From the publisher:
“Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. “

This is the debut novel from Riley Sager . . . but not really, since it’s a pseudonym for a previously published author. There’s another mystery to be solved there. 10 years after the Sack Man went on a killing rampage, it appears that he is targeting the Final Girls. Will they be able to escape a second time? I’ll be reading this one with ALL the lights on!
July 11

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
From the publisher:
“It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. No body—only a hiking boot—has ever been found. But then Olive starts having waking dreams—or are they hallucinations?—that her mother is still alive. Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, their family, and the stories we tell ourselves about the people we love.”

I’m in the middle of reading this one, and it is quite the page-turner! Brown slowly draws you into the story so that you are fully invested in finding out what happened to Billie, and why Olive is seeing her mother’s . . . ghost? Or something else?
July 11

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
From the publisher:
“Something terrible has been found on the beach. Something which will force Isa to confront her past, together with the three best friends she hasn’t seen for years, but has never forgotten. Theirs is no cozy reunion: Salten isn’t a safe place for them, after what they did. At school the girls used to play the Lying Game. They competed to convince people of the most outrageous stories. But for some, did the boundary between fact and fantasy become too blurred?”

The flap copy for this one is sparse, and I think it is so for a reason. Sometimes it’s better to go into a book not knowing much about the plot, and Ware’s books are definitely in that category. After In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, I can’t wait to see what she’s come up with now!
July 25

Glass Houses: A Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny
From the publisher:
“When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Armand Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, knows something is seriously wrong. Yet he does nothing. Legally, what can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.”

If you are a Louise Penny fan, you’ve probably already pre-ordered her thirteenth novel in the Inspector Gamache series. I’ve been putting off reading her first, Still Life, because I know I’m going to love them and want to read them all at once. This series will most likely be my binge-read this summer. Will I be able to read all 12 before this one comes out??
August 29