Category Archives: Book Recommendations

2018 Books In Review

The Big Ol’ Book Roundup, Vol. 2

Last year, I resolved to read a book every two weeks, and as I documented my progress on Instagram under the hashtag #carissareads, I surpassed my goal with 29 books. This year, I did my best to continue the trend of logging my books and I’m ringing in the new year with 39 new books swimming around in my brain.

In taking inventory of the books I read this year, I’m happy to see a few more women and people of color than I read in 2017, as well as more books I would honestly recommend. As you’ll see, I still love memoirs, American literature, and stories of faith communities. But I also branched out a little into sci-fi and fantasy this year.

I wrote in more detail about the books I read in separate posts in January, February, March, April, May, June-July, and August-December.

Once again, I’ve compiled them here for quick ‘n easy recommendations for your new year.

Continue reading 2018 Books In Review

What I Read: August to December 2018

photo of mountain with ice covered with black and gray cloud
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Well, if you’ve been keeping score at home, my initial goal for this year was to post every month about the books I’d read during that month.

That didn’t happen.

However, I did end up reading and tracking the books I read, and that led me to plenty of reflection and sharing. So I’ll count this as a win for my 2018 resolution.

I read 24 books at the beginning of the year, and I’m wrapping up the year with 38 books, surpassing my goal of 30 that I made at the end of 2017. I’ll do a post a little later compiling all the books I read, but for now, here are the books I’ve read since August:

Continue reading What I Read: August to December 2018

What I Read: June & July 2018

A few years ago, I would have looked at today’s date – August 10 – and decided I was so far behind on my 2018 goal of reading & documenting books that I would just give up and try again next January. But the years have granted me wisdom (ha), and I decided today was a perfectly acceptable day to write about what I read in June and July. Life’s too short to worry about being perfectly consistent. So, here’s what I’ve read this summer:

Am I there Yet? by Mari Andrew

Mari Andrew came through San Francisco on her book tour (and gave this precious and inspiring Q&A session), and after being her Instagram fan for a few years, I had the utter delight of meeting her and buying her book from her. Best known for her daily doodles on Instagram, Mari published many of her drawings along with short chapters with reflections on her 20s–dating, independence, transitions, traveling, heartache, and grief. It’s wild how many times I find myself reading her writing and strongly, specifically identifying with her, even though I know she and I have led entirely different lives. She has a gift for relating and deepening her experiences through art, and this book will make you want to reflect on every leaf you see and find meaning in the life you live right now.

How to Be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee

Yes. Yes, they did. The brains behind the popular Christian satire site The Babylon Bee wrote a book. The publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, sent me a copy to review, and I read it primarily out of morbid curiosity. It turns out that I, a product of the 90s-early 2000s Christian culture of youth group and Christian media, am the exact audience for this book. Anyone who falls into this category will get every joke. And while I did have a few literal LOLs, I had to read this book over the course of about a month because the jokes are all in the same vein and got a little tedious after a few chapters. My recommendation: take in small doses. Not every joke will hit you just right, but laugh at the parts you relate to. Let the cynicism roll off your back. It’s good to laugh at yourself and at the ways that we’ve co-opted biblical faith.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This book was a loaner from my dear roommate as a lighter read on my family cruise (she physically forced me to not pack Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass as cruise reading) and it was both lighthearted and deeply poignant and smart. It follows a gentleman in the twilight of his life and his dealings of love, social life, and family. I don’t read much fiction with British characters, but this was so charming and delightful. I’m not sure the last time I rooted so hard for a protagonist as I did for Major Pettigrew.

Educated by Tara Westover

Finishing this book literally took my breath away. A sob caught in my chest and I literally stopped breathing when I read the last line. It took me a few breaths to recover. The last book to which I had such a visceral reaction was The Glass Castle, set in the poor Appalachian region, which I could somewhat picture from having lived in central Virginia. But that’s a setting I happened upon and observed as an outsider. In Educated, Tara describes a place in the Mountain West that I have a strange yet inseparable relationship with, the religion of Mormonism and its offshoots that I have engaged both academically and evangelistically. The way Tara engages with her story, and her historiography, is brilliant. This is easily the best memoir I have read, and I’m grateful that Tara wrote her spellbinding story with such elegance and detail.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This young adult novel, which is being made into a movie in October, gripped me and brought me into a world I’ve only known through secondhand stories and the news. Bahni Turpin narrated the audiobook masterfully, and after visiting the world of Garden Heights, I cannot think about systemic race issues and police violence in the same way.

As school starts back in session and I teach three different courses, I’ll be spending much more time reading the works of a standard high school classroom, but I hope to find the joy of reading in personal reads too!

As always, thanks for reading about my reading. Happy trails!

What I Read: May 2018

Well, friends, this was a fantastic month of books. I read a brilliant range of memoirs and novels, and I’m so excited to share them with you.

Between school winding down and listening to audiobooks while I run or drive, I’ve been carving out time and space for reading lately, and I hope to have even more time over the summer, as my to-read pile is ever-growing.

Let’s jump in to my May reads. As usual, I recommend them all to varying degrees.

The Polygamist’s Daughter

Anna LeBaron

I’ve connected on social media withĀ Anna LeBaron through several book launch teams, and I recognized her last name as polygamist because I’ve lived in Utah, where it’s notorious. So I’m not sure what took me so long to read this amazing woman’s memoir!

I listened to the audiobook, and to hear her story in her own beautiful, genuine voice was an incredible experience. She does such a beautiful job of detailing the redemption in her difficult journey, and I’m grateful I read this book. The insider perspective from someone who grew up in polygamy was eye-opening and challenging.

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

I read this book alongside my honors freshmen. I had seen the movie many years ago but this was my first encounter with the book–and what an encounter it is.

This Holocaust story is beautiful and devastating. And the narration is magnificent; the style resonated with me and haunted me. This book is a brilliant must-read.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

My freshmen read this book as well, and it was interesting for me to read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief simultaneously. Both of them depict the underdogs, the solitary ones standing up against an evil ideology, even when no one but their own family stands beside them.

My overall impression of reading To Kill a Mockingbird (technically for the second time, but I hardly remember it from high school) is that this book is an utter masterpiece. Every detail is flawless and powerful and worthy of the classification of “classic.”

Now that Scout’s story is fresh on my mind, Go Set a Watchman is on my summer reading list. I’m looking forward to experiencing that book for myself.

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Lauren Graham

Guys, I love everything Lauren Graham has ever done, and this book is no exception. I love her as Lorelai Gilmore in Gilmore Girls. I love her as Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. I love her memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can. I love the clips of her singing in Guys and Dolls on Broadway that I searched for on Youtube after reading Talking as Fast as I Can. I follow her on Twitter.

I love this woman so much that it only made sense to read her debut novel, too. Hearing her read the audiobook was sweet–I find her voice soothing, and she adds to her characters in a way that enhances the experience. The novel isn’t earth-shattering, capital-L Literature, but it’s believable and structured in an interesting way and it’s a sweet, fun story about an actress trying to make it in New York. It was a perfect light read for my long runs. And did I mention I love Lauren Graham?

(Side note: I’m currently on a mission to read every book-length work by as many authors as I can. I’m starting small with non-vocational writers who’ve written about 2 books apiece, like Bob Goff and Lauren Graham. If you don’t count Andy Weir’s short story collection, then I’ve read all two of his books too. It’s a fun project, and I’d like to expand it eventually to tackle Jhumpa Lahiri’s bibliography, as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Mark Twain’s.)

What I Talk About when I Talk About Running

Haruki Murakami

I picked this book up at Half Price Books because I liked the cover, and because it’s a book about running and writing, two topics I love. In his memoir, which was originally written in Japanese and translated to English, Murakami rambles in an endearing way about his runs, his writing process, sometimes just his day. Sometimes he has astute observations to share about discipline or the beauty of his passions. I read this book nightly as I fell asleep, and it was a soothing, philosophical gem.

The Crucible

Arthur Miller

This four-act play was written in the 1950s about the Salem Witch Trials with the intention of drawing parallels between witch hunts and the Red Scare. Isn’t that SO FUN?! I think this was the majority of my juniors’ favorite literature from American Literature. It’s wild, dramatic, frustrating, and intense. It was another book I hadn’t read since I skimmed it in high school, so I enjoyed delving deeper.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Mark Haddon

This book was a recommendation from an English department meeting. It’s a first-person narration by a young boy in England who has autism. I loved the way the author captured his voice so uniquely and offered entirely reasonable explanations for the sometimes-confusing actions of a child with autism. It’s endearing and charming and gripping and a little heart-wrenching.

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate

John J. Thompson

After I bought Murakami’s running book, I actually drove back to Half-Price Books because I saw this book on a display and couldn’t stop thinking about the subtitle: “Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World.” I love the concept of returning from industrialism to smaller, more human, more personal business interactions, like buying real food from farmer’s markets where your money changes hands with the person who grew it instead of self-checking out of a grocery store with a cart full of anonymous, identical products. I know that not everyone has the access or the means to buy artisan-made food or beverages, but I think that everyone should (and so do many wonderful organizations that are supplying good, whole food to food deserts).

What I liked about this book is that it details brewers, bakers, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, gardeners, and musicians who are connected to their work intricately and without mass production, and he compares these people to Christians and the church. It’s thought-provoking, and it’s one of those books that makes me think, “Why didn’t I write this?”

I think this month touched on some of my favorite topics: Holocaust writings, memoirs, sustainable food practices, running, and the classics. I’m not sure how June will top it, but I’ll sure try!

Thanks for reading. If you have any recommendations for books to add to my ever-growing summer list, please send ’em my way! Some books that I know are coming up are The Outsiders, Mountains Beyond Mountains, and How to Be a Perfect Christian (the new book by the Babylon Bee). It should be a good time. šŸ™‚

Until next month!

What I Read: April 2018

Great news, dear reader: This month was full of fun, good reads! You’ll only find one school-related read on this list, which means I am enjoying some lovely leisure reading.

The Martian

Andy Weir

In anticipation of attending Silicon Valley Comic Con this month, I decided to read a popular book-turned-film from one of this year’s panelists, Andy Weir. Science fiction isn’t normally my go-to genre, especially highly technical writing like Weir’s. I didn’t take chemistry in school, so I was lost for almost all the science-y parts. But he incorporates intelligent and often biting humor and wit, and it was a delight to read. The movie is amazing as well, and I’ve seen NASA scientists call it incredibly accurate. So, that’s saying something, I guess.

Andy Weir as an author is also phenomenal to hear in person: at the panel, he was kind and funny (much like his main character in The Martian), and it’s obvious he loves this genre dearly. He’s almost a pioneer of “hard” science fiction writing, and it’s neat to see him taking the front lines.

Artemis

Andy Weir

After hearing about Weir’s second novel at his panel, I knew I needed to read it. Just like his first book, his protagonist is witty and clever. I didn’t feel as much noble purpose driving this novel–or perhaps I didn’t feel quite as much empathy for the narrator. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating, science-y, and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Everybody Always

Bob Goff

When my friend Michelle gave me Bob’s first book back in college, I soaked it up and let it fuel me to love people fully in a very full season in my life. Around that time, I got to meet Bob at Liberty, and he was an icon in my faith. When Bob’s wife Sweet Maria published a book, it was perfectly timed to my stage in life on the topic of hospitality and small acts of love.

This book was perfectly timed again. It’s a great sequel to Love Does because it takes the ideas he begins with and digs in. Yes, we should love people, but what happens when it’s hard? What happens when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? What does it look like to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and love even then? Bob allows for more nuanced, emotional, and intense ideas in this book, and I deeply appreciate it.

This book recently hit the New York Times Bestseller List, and I may have had something to do with it because of how many copies I bought for everyone I know! It’sĀ that good.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

I don’t say this lightly: this book made me believe in literature. It’s often disparaged as a boring, plotless, or dry tale of a man and a fish, but when I read it the summer of 10th grade, I felt that I was transported to Havana and sailed out too deep into the water with Santiago. It was the first book I ever threw across the room from frustration.

When I assigned it to my juniors this year, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to memories from my youth upon a second reading. On the contrary, looking for the themes of hope and resilience showed me even more beauty in this short masterpiece.

A quote I’ll leave you with:

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

And finally, a taste of the books I’m reading in May: topics including the Holocaust, polygamy, and witches. (All in separate works, thank God.) It should be a fun month!

What I Read: March 2018

It’s time for my monthly roundup of the books I’ve read! You’ll likely notice a theme in this list: books I’ve assigned to my students! I’m reading for work a lot lately. (Best job ever?) Here’s what I finished in March:

The Great Gatsby

I read this book for the first time last summer, and I read it again with my junior class this semester. In the course of prepping, teaching, and reviewing the book, I’ve probably read it three times in a month, but it has something new and fresh for me every time, often because of my students’ questions and observations.

Some literary theorists believe that each time we approach a book, the text appears differently to us. This book is a stunning example of that to me. I’m so lucky to be in a profession where I get to reread and discuss a masterpiece like Gatsby over and over.

The Namesake

I read this book alongside my honors freshmen. It was my second reading of this book as well–I wrote a paper on it in grad school, and now I want to go back and rewrite the whole thing because this book is just as rich, if not more, on the second reading.

The depths of emotion, the beautiful descriptions, and the ideas of family and identity and cultural expectations are powerful. When I first read this book, I was a bit dissatisfied by its lack of a “happy” ending, but I discovered upon my second reading that everything resolves beautifully, and it is one of my favorite books.

Romeo and Juliet

I read this Shakespearean classic with my freshmen for the first time since high school (at which point I don’t think IĀ really read it). Watching them act it out and seeing which parts they liked most was so much fun.

One of the most worthwhile endeavors of my college career was taking a Shakespeare class and truly learning to understand his prose; not only do I appreciate the rampant dirty jokes, but the metaphors and themes are clear to me as well. Shakespeare is a master, and his writing is always rich.

Ready Player One

This was my “fun” read this month. When my boyfriendĀ insistedĀ that we buy tickets weeks in advance for this new Spielberg movie, I decided I should read the book and figure out what this crazy sci-fi movie was going to be about.

The book was so, so fun. The narration by Wil Wheaton was flawless, and Ernest Cline writes a movie that plays out in your head. The movie doesn’t follow the book too closely, but I so enjoyed the adventure of the book that I almost didn’t care. Though I’m not a huge sci-fi/adventure reader, this book was a quirky, nerdy, fun little adventure and I am glad I read it!

What was on your list this month?

What I Read: February 2018

Wow! This month was another whirlwind, and I’m in shock that it’s already March. I’m the head coach of the softball team at Fremont Christian School, in addition to all my first-year teacher duties, so this month I only accomplished reading one book. But it was a fun one!

As You Wish: InconceivableĀ Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

I first watched The Princess Bride when I was in middle school. I was home with an injury and waiting to go to the doctor, and my mom, not sure what else to do with me, sat me down in front of the TV. I was enthralled, and I’ve been a member of the cult following of the movie for years.

So, the “tell-all” style of Cary Elwes’ book intrigued me, and I picked it up as a “fun read” from the bookstore. It immediately struck me with how detailed it is; it’s filled with inside-baseball references to the film industry in England and the US, and I don’t know enough about film to appreciate every reference.

But fun stories about Andre the Giant? Picture-perfect moments from filming with Robin Wright? The revelation that the actor who played Vizzini was nervous he’d get fired every day of the job? I’m in for all of it!

This book was a fun and “easy” read. Several people (including the man sitting next to me on a recent flight) told me the audiobook is amazing, with many of the cast and crew voicing their “blurbs” that appear throughout the book.

Looking forward to many more books in March!