Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List

Now that we are almost a month into the new season, I’m back to deliver my fall reading list. Since I was perhaps a little overzealous with my summer list, I’ve kept this one a tad shorter. The goal is to inspire you to pick up some of these books, not overwhelm you with too many options. Happy reading!

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Fall Recommendations

Remember, I strongly encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and read something in a new genre. It’s healthy to try new things!

Biography

The Chris Farley Show

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The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.
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If you, like me, are a longtime fan of Chris Farley and all of his larger-than-life characters, then you should read this book. It chronicles Farley’s life through the eyes of his closest friends and family.

Everyone who was around in the 1990s and tuned in to popular culture knows some detail around his premature death, but this book reminds us how he was so much more than his boisterous comedic abilities and drug addiction. By all accounts, he was a kind, sincere, loyal, and tortured soul. Some stories are heartwarming and charming, others are heartbreaking, but all in all, this book does a phenomenal job of differentiating, remembering, and celebrating the man, the myth, and the legend of Chris Farley.

Fiction

Geek Love

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Geek Love is not for the faint of heart. Though it’s essentially a story of the powerful ties that can both bind and break family, its central characters are not at all as ordinary as that description makes them sound. No, they’re “circus freaks,” and proud of it; in order to secure their future as successful carnival owners, the Binewskis decide to breed their own freak family by having the mother consume chemicals, drugs, and radioactive materials during pregnancy. (Note: this was very difficult to read during pregnancy.) The survivors of such experiments include the story’s central characters: Arty, a boy with flippers instead of hands or feet, Elly and Iphy, conjoined twins, Oly, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, and Chick, a boy who looks normal but has telekinetic powers.

As bizarre as this already sounds, the story continues to darken as the children age and struggle to adjust to their familial roles. Then, of course, there’s Arty’s pro-self-mutilation cult and subsequent battle for dominance and Oly’s tailed stripper daughter to really round out the story. Stick with me.

If you can handle a little dose of horror, you’ll find that this book is beautifully and hauntingly told. While the characters are extraordinary and their actions often grotesque, each one is unmistakably human and relatable in the most unexpected of ways. This book will make you think about everything from your relationships to other people’s motives to what is right and what is wrong. It’s a pretty deep read, but one you won’t regret.

Serena

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Serena by Ron Rash
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The tale of a Depression-era timber baron, George, and his arguably more powerful wife, Serena, is one that takes readers on a bit of a wild ride. The time period alone is one that makes me shiver in its bleakness, but Rash goes above and beyond to richly pit his characters against both the unforgiving landscape and each other.

The story is interesting in itself, but the real reason I recommend this book is because Serena is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a long time. She’s self-assured, confident, strong, and, well, basically just a boss. That’s not to say she’s good–she does try to kill her husband’s illegitimate son, after all–but it’s just so hard to come by such a strong female character, especially one from this time period. The thrills, passion, and heartbreak threaded throughout this novel will move you and make you feel a little like you’re staring at a car crash from which you can’t seem to turn away.

Humor

Me Talk Pretty One Day 

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
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I am often asked for book recommendations and this is usually the first one I suggest. Sedaris has a slew of hilarious memoirs, but this one has stuck with me the most and I think it’s because of the way he recounts trying to learn and adjust to French culture. Rather than talking about his distinct voice and trying to convey his particular brand of humor, I’m just going to quote my favorite passage.

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t pick this up. In fact, I’m doing myself an injustice by not rereading it right now.

Romance

Knitting in the City Series

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Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (book one in series)
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At the center of this series is a group of women who are part of a knitting circle and each book features one of their love stories. (For what it’s worth, the second book was my favorite because it’s got the whole friends-turned-lovers trope, which I unabashedly love.)

Unlike many contemporary romance novels, the women in these books are multi-dimensional and smart and the men are respectful and gentlemanly. They are a reminder that good romance heroes don’t need to be borderline abusive to be sexy and that sweet and smoldering can and do co-exist.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Here’s another friends-to-lovers book that made me laugh out loud and smile until my cheeks hurt. Rosie is an extremely awkward yet incredibly lovable aspiring romance novelist. And, as you guessed it, she’s a virgin. When she realizes she can’t possibly write sex scenes without some experience, she throws herself into the dating world. This, of course, forces her resident playboy best friend and roommate, Henry, to realize his attraction and make his move. Yes, the arc might be a little cliché, but I cringed, I laughed, I swooned, and I loved every minute of it. (Note: I wasn’t as big of a fan of the sequel, unfortunately.)

Thriller

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
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Lovers of Gone Girl need to read Gillian Flynn’s debut novel if they haven’t already. Sharp Objects is a psychological thriller about Camille Preaker, a journalist who is sent back to her small hometown to cover the investigation of the murder and disappearance of two young girls.

Once there, she is thrown back into the complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with her estranged mother and younger half-sister. Flynn brilliantly weaves together Camille’s tormented past as it relates to the crimes about which she is there to report, all the while leaving you unsure who can be trusted. At its core, this quick-paced novel is about secrets, family, jealousy, and mental health. You’ll read it late into the night, sweating nervously under your sheets until you finish. And it’ll be worth it.

Your Thoughts

Have you read any of these? If so, what were your thoughts?

What are your favorite books to read in the fall? Let’s start a conversation!

Mama Bear’s Summer 2016 Reading List

It’s been quite a while since my last list of book recommendations, and since I can’t in good conscience claim to be a book blog without them, here we are.

Before you hit the beach, pool, campsite, or couch, consider checking out some of my favorite summertime reads.

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Summer Picks

I’ve organized these suggestions by genre. Before you jump ahead to your tried and true favorite, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone this summer and pick something you normally wouldn’t read. You never know what you might end up liking.

Humor

Galápagos

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Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut
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Kurt Vonnegut was an incredible author whose vast body of work would make any bookshelf better. This book in particular is my favorite and is one I’ve recommended and gifted countless times. It’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit post-apocalyptic fiction, and a whole lot of satire.

The book follows a small, strange group of people stranded on an island in the Galápagos. After a pandemic leaves the rest of mankind sterile, they become the last surviving humans with the ability to procreate. Therefore their descendants alone are responsible for how human beings evolve (hint: life is a lot less complicated with a small brain). Told by an omniscient, ghostly narrator, this book will make you laugh and cringe at some of the more painfully accurate portrayals of our society.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson
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Bill Bryson is an American author—he famously wrote A Walk in the Woods–who spent a couple of decades living in the UK. This book is a collection of essays he wrote for a British paper about returning and readjusting to the U.S.

Bryson is hilariously observant as he contemplates some of the bizarre and seemingly mundane features of our culture. Though a few of the essays are a bit dated as the book was published in 2000, you can’t help but smile as Bryson artfully describes things like his nostalgia for motel room showers and the perplexing differences between American and English postal systems.

Fiction

Gone with the Wind

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Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
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Okay, let’s pause. If you haven’t read this book, then it should be the first on your to-read list. If you haven’t even heard of this book, then you need to climb out from under your pop culture rock.

Topping out at about 1,000 pages (I recommend reading the book on a device for this reason), it is arguably one of the finest pieces of historical fiction ever written, as evidenced its accolades, notoriety, and sheer sales volume.

Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a persnickety and stubborn, yet intelligent and loyal Southern Belle whose life is drastically altered by the Civil War. She alone makes the book worth reading, as you will simultaneously love and hate her, but perhaps the real main character is the American South itself before, during, and after the war.

An epic, Gone with the Wind will be captivate you with its rich writing and complex characters. Though it’s long, you will not want to stop reading it, which makes for a perfect summer reading candidate. For what it’s worth, I also love the movie. If you’re not going to read it, at least make sure you watch it.

Ella Minnow Pea

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
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Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea is charming, interesting, and very short. Like many other books on this list, I’ve recommended it time and time again.

It’s the story of a little island that bans the usage of various letters of the alphabet. The story unfolds in a series of letters between characters, forcing the author to very creatively manipulate the English language in order to have the characters comply with their new, letter-less laws. It’s witty and clever, and makes you appreciate how much you can bend the rules of grammar and syntax all while expanding your vocabulary. Note: you really have to read this one with your eyes in order to properly appreciate it. You will not get the full effect in an audio book.

Swamplandia!

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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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This book fittingly takes place in Florida, where real life can be stranger than fiction. Like some of the other fiction on this list, it is the story of a family. In this case, it’s a family whose livelihood depends on a gator-based theme park that falls from greatness following the death of its star, the mother of the family.

An adventure builds as the main character, a 12-year-old girl, must put on a brave face in an attempt to save her home and family from spiraling out of control. This book has a little bit of everything: outlandish characters, fantastic scenery, and even a bit of mysticism.

Cold Sassy Tree

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Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
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Apparently, something about the summertime makes me want to read stories that take place in the American South. I think it’s because I like to imagine myself sipping ice-cold tea (albeit unsweetened), in a rocking chair, and on an old wraparound porch when I read them. Mosquitoes and heat aside, doesn’t that sound lovely?

Anyway, this is another great historical fiction that chronicles life in a small, turn-of-the-century Georgia town. It’s been quite I while since I read it, but I distinctly remember falling in love with the characters as they navigated the ups and downs of life as well as the gossip that runs rampant throughout it. I smiled with their triumphs, cried with their tragedies, and didn’t want it to end.

Romance

No beach or pool vacation is complete without a little dose of romance. While I used to be embarrassed and secretive about my love of love stories, I’ve come to embrace it in recent years. Say what you will, but romance is a genre that has its own literary value.

The Royal We

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
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If you, like me, are strangely obsessed with England’s royal family, then you should read The Royal We. It’s loosely based on Will and Kate’s life, to the point where some consider it to be fan fiction. I’d argue that it’s much more elegant than that. In fact, I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I started it, but I was pleasantly surprised how engaging and intelligent it was. It’s a novel you’ll want to stay up reading.

Sookie Stackhouse series

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Dead Until Dark (book one) by Charlaine Harris
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If you’re looking for a ridiculous-but-fun series of books, here you go. These novels track the exceedingly at-risk life of Sookie Stackhouse and her friends in Bon Temps, Louisiana. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen True Blood, the HBO series loosely based on these novels.

There are 13 main books and each is more far-fetched than the last (which says a lot seeing as how the first already starts you off with vampires). The writing takes some getting used to, meaning it’s not all that great, but I seriously could not put down these books. You’ll get a nice dose of, ahem, love scenes, and have fun tagging along with Sookie and all her Southern charm.

Nonfiction

Into Thin Air

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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
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You might be justifiably wondering why would I recommend a book set in a such a cold, severe landscape as part of my summertime list. Well, chances are good you will feel a little chilled as you read this harrowing tale. Trust me when I say that reading it in the winter when you are also freezing is a rookie mistake.

Jon Krakauer’s account of his fateful Everest misadventure is famous because it is–to most of us–unimaginable. So much so that it reads more like a thriller than a true story. You’ll read this one quickly and can use it to keep you cool at the pool. Fun fact: when I mentioned this list to Papa Bear, he said, “Oh, will you add Into Thin Air, too?” Doubly recommended.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

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Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
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Need another bitterly cold story to keep you cozy outside this summer? Let’s move from the Himalayas to the Antarctic. Endurance is also a survival story, but this time about Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914. Shackleton’s ship, after which the book is named, was trapped and eventually crushed by ice, leaving its crew stranded and scared for their lives.

Author Lansing had access to real diaries kept by crew members and was able to interview surviving members as he was writing this book, making it incredibly honest, scary, and arresting. As it is a tale of near hopelessness, it is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re able to read it, you’ll find yourself talking about it for a long time.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
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If keeping cool is not your goal, check out Born to Run, which is partly about the author’s path to self-discovery and partly about the history of human beings and our innate ability to run long distances.

This book was recommended to me because I like to run. And while it did inspire me to get out and run more–I only partially subscribe to McDougall’s running philosophies–it ended up appealing to me in a much broader sense, too. Anyone who is interested in learning about new cultures, meeting quirky and nearly certifiably insane characters, or anthropology in general should check this out. You might even find yourself thirsting to be outside to test his theories.

Your Thoughts

I’m going to make this a regular, seasonal feature, so stay tuned for Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment with your summer favorites!