On My Nightstand | NO. 2

August 14, 2017

Book reviews of the stories I’m reading these days:

Delicious by Ruth Reichl

When people ask for book recommendations, this is one of the first titles that pops into my head. It’s one of those rare books that combines so many of my favorite things into a single story. The publishing world, good food, travel, World War ll history, family businesses, and a host of characters spanning all ages and backgrounds. Characters that don’t remind me of anyone else I’ve read, characters I want to have over for dinner. You’ll fall in love with them too, and find yourself seeing the things around you in a different light, especially your spice cabinet. And isn’t that what the best writing does? Makes us look around with a newfound appreciation, or with an extra spoonful of understanding. Read it, Reichl won’t disappoint you.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrAll-the-light-we-cannot-see

This may be one of the most powerfully written novels of World War ll historical fiction I’ve read. Often with multiple storylines, I struggle with preferring one to the other, rushing through one character to get back to the other. But in this, I was equally invested in both Werner and Marie-Laure. Writing from the perspective of a blindness added a whole new dimension of awareness and detail. He tells the story of World War ll where the world itself felt very dark and strange but in a whole nother way for someone whose world had always been dark and foreign. Doerr was able to take the blindness of a single child and shed more light on what those years were like in France than any other writer.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I loved this one so much, loved those nine boys who beat the odds and Hitler in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There are a million stories about World War ll, but this biography gave a glimpse of the American years leading up to the war, which gives a better understanding of us and our role in war. Brown does a wonderful job of portraying these men, and the country that shaped them as they rowed in unison across troubled waters. It has all the facets of a favorite; Olypmic athletes, underdog tale, American history, and the Greatest Generation. You won’t forget this story, these boys, or Joe Rantz.

P.s. While I would never encourage you to skip this read, watching the documentary “The Boys of ‘36” on Netflix was the perfect compliment to this book. It was so neat to see them, exactly as I pictured them on film. It’s one of those stories that makes me inexplicably sad when it ends for all the wonderful people, and incredible stories I’ll never have the chance to meet.


The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert

I’ve been reading alot of World War ll stories lately, and in the wake of all those weighty, worthwhile but weighty stories, I needed something light and sweet before I was ready to jump back into those tumultuous times. This one fit the bill perfectly, while somewhat predictable, its a sweet book about a chef and a food critic, a case of mistaken identity and all the complications that ensue. Reichert strolls you along the streets of Milwaukee, pointing out the best places so easily, you’ll find yourself checking flights if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a sweet, light-hearted read, “Coconut Cake,” is for you.


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The influx of immigrants to the East Coast, arrived to poor, inhospitable living conditions, and hazardous work environments. Poverty, disease and fire swept through the American dream, generating hundred of orphans who were shipped by train to the midwest during the early 1900’s. This was a really hard read, hearing about what so often happened to these kids when they stepped off those trains. Kline maintained two present day storylines with historical flashbacks throughout the book. I like the elderly women Vivian who befriends a troubled teen named Molly but overall I wasn’t particularly attached to either of the characters. Which made the book feel long, and sad, for the sake of being long and sad. Where an attempt was made to tie it up neatly at the end, it kind of fell flat. I was genuinely interested in the history behind the book, but I don’t know that I would recommend it.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Shauna is one of my favorite writers – I’ve read Bread and Wine more than a few times and while I think the world is a much better place in the wake of the honesty and bold vulnerability that marks her writing, I didn’t resonate with this book as much as with her others. I can however absolutely see how much her message is a much needed invitation to our “hustle’ glorifying society to live differently. I love her voice, her wisdom, her encouragement, and her heart for people, and while this wasn’t my favorite of hers, it very well could be yours.


The-Magnolia-StoryThe Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

I went into this book as a Fixer Upper fan and turned the last page more in love with this couple than ever. It’s honest, heartfelt, funny, and inspiring. It’s the messy stuff, the rocky starts, the tears, and the frustrations which makes their success that much sweeter, and so much more relateable. It’s an ‘opposites attract’ style love story, that doesnt shy away from all the trials that come along with that. I finished this book, and my heart swelled for them, for all they’ve accomplished. These are the stories we need to hear, the kind of people we need to be rooting for, the kind of people who raise the bar, who value old-fashioned things like hardwork, integrity and family – people who are worth knowing. They never try to lead you to believe they’re more than they are, they’re honest about their mistakes, and humble with their wins, and thats the most encouraging story of all. It’s written by both of them, jumping back and forth between Chip and Joanna, and you can almost hear their voices radiating off the page. Whether or not you like Fixer Upper, you’ll love Chip and Joanna Gaines, and the Magnolia Story.

The Simplicty of Cider by Amy Reichert

Another book by Reichert, and it’s just as sweet as “Coconut Cake.” It’s cozy and lighthearted, and I’m beginning to love that her books take place in the Midwest. While I’ve spent very little time there, she writes these places so well, it’ll make you feel that you’ve neglected a very special part of the U.S. I read this during the summer, but I can’t think of a better book to kick off your fall reading list. Reichert’s bio says that she “loves to write stories that end well, with characters you’d invite to dinner. And this is exactly what ‘Cider” is, leaving you with the very real desire to get out of town and buy yourself an orchard.


Shaken by Tim Tebow

This book just reinforced what we already know about Tebow, that he’s a good man, with a heart that loves the Lord. What I didn’t know was just how many blows this guy has been dealt over the years. Yet all of it has only served to make him more humble, more generous, more resilient, and even more grounded in his faith. He’s just the worst! While I wouldn’t call it great writing, it reads like the audio transcription of a podcast or interview. But it’s unmistakably his voice which I appreciated. He had a lot of good things to say, an in-depth backstory of all that never reached us through the media, and great deal about what faithfulness looks like in action. I’ve always been adamant that how you feel about Tim Tebow says more about you than it ever will about him. If you hate him, this book might spark some compassion towards him, or at least a forest fire of introspection as to why you do; and if you respect him, you’ll enjoy getting to know him even more.


The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

This one takes place in England on the brink of World War l. Simonson does such a good job of portraying the effects war has not only on the soldiers but on the families and communities that send them off. I liked her characters and the way she embraces the flaws in the best of them, and the moments of goodness to be found in the worst of them. I could so picture East Sussex in 1914. The book felt a bit long, and I picked it up and put it down again more than a few times but overall it was a good read.


All the Stars in the Heavens by Andriana Trigiani

Trigiani’s new book is written just as well as the last twenty, and I’ve loved them all. This one deters from the normal Italian setting, to capture Hollywood in the 1930’s. Based on a true story involving the leading men and women of the Golden Age of the movie business. I flew through this book, which felt like a behind-the-scenes look at the movies I knew so well, with a whole list of new ones I have to see starring the likes of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Loretta Young. It’ll make you fall in love with them all over again, maybe even more so after seeing them outside the spotlight, and into their real lives where their flaws were allowed to peek through. If you love this era of Hollywood, you’re going to love All the Stars in the Heavens.


The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After by Jenny Colgan

This is my first Colgan read and it was cute and predictable in all the best ways. Colgan describes it as “a book written for and about readers,” all wrapped up in the Scottish Highlands. Reminding us why we love books and why people are even more enchanting in real life.






a-gentleman-in-moscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amore Towles

Towles is one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever read. One of those writers that keeps me underlining so many of his sentences. “Rules of Civility” is one of my favorites but “A Gentleman in Moscow” gave it a run for it’s money. He doesn’t just write lines brimming with wit and wisdom and thought provoking observations, he’s also the kind of brilliant storyteller who tells the tale of an entire revolution, a whole country, and a host of characters over the span of forty years from a single hotel in the city of Moscow, without the reader every trying to lean out the window and look for more. I learned so much about the Bolshevik revolution of the 1920’s, a piece of history I previously knew very little about. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I can’t loan you my copy because I’ve underlined every other sentence. It’s wonderful, and insightful, and entertaining, and brilliant. Did I mention I loved it? I think I’ll go read it again…

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