On My Bookshelf

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This year I challenged each of my students to read 30 books this school year. It started as just a random, incredible high number that I didn’t expect them to reach. I set it purposefully high so that they would keep reaching for it all year. Well, turns out about 30 out of my 110 students actually DID read the full 30 books already – and we still have five weeks left! They have blown me away with their reading.

I have been inspired by them this year and have been working to keep up with their incredible reading pace. In the process, I’ve read a lot of books myself. Some have been better than others, but most of them I’ve really enjoyed. Here are the most recent books to find themselves on my bookshelf:

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The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb – This was a random book I found at the public library. To be honest, I was in a hurry that afternoon because I had both kids with me, and the only reason I grabbed this book was because it takes place in the rural mountains of Tennessee, which is where my Grandma was born and raised. That’s really the only reason I checked this one out. Turns out, it was a great find because the story is actually really interesting. It’s about this very rural community just after the Civil War. The main character is a poor, morally questionable young woman who goes to live her her even poorer cousin and her husband, and it’s about how their lives all cross paths with Tom Dooley, a young, drunk veteran of the war who manages to ruin everything around him. The characters are not lovable – they aren’t even really likeable – but the story is really well told and the plot keeps you interested.

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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult – This could be the single-most important book I’ve read as a mother and as an educator. It is an incredibly disturbing, powerful, and moving story about a school shooting. I was hesitant to read it at first, being both a teacher and a parent. But what the book focuses on are the choices our children make and how we can help them make better choices. The boy who kills his classmates was viciously bullied for just about his entire life. It was heartbreaking to read for me because the bullying began when he was just a year or two older than Bean, and it touched such a raw nerve with me. It follows the shooter all the way up through school and shows how hurtful and heartbreaking being a teenager can be. As a teacher, it instantly changed the way I managed my classroom. I talked to all of my classes about the book. We had open discussions about bullying and pushing people beyond their limits. In my own home, it made me more aware of not just how my kids will be treated as they grow up, but also how they treat others. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any kind of interaction with kids – their own, or otherwise.

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A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – I have explained this book to other people and they just didn’t seem to find it as interesting as I did, so this one might not be for the masses. A friend from church recommended this to me and then organized a group of people to meet for dinner to talk about it. Sort of like a one-book book club. I had to miss the dinner, but I was really bummed because of how much I loved the book. It’s an autobiography of an author who found his life at the center of a documentary. Film makers wanted to turn his life into a movie, but they basically told him that his real life wasn’t interesting enough, so they were going to have to “doctor up” the truth to make it more exciting. The book is about the process of writing that doctored up movie and how somewhere in the process of creating a fake exciting life, he decides to go out and make his actual life exciting. He begins to make better choices, like committing to ride his bike across the country for charity, even though he had never ridden before and was overweight. He also talks about incredibly inspiring people he’s met and why their lives were so powerfully significant. Basically, it’s about living a better, more full life. The guy is a Christian author, but the book isn’t a philosophical or Christian-based book, but he has a really great view of faith, if you ask me. I read this just after the first of the year, and I honestly think that reading this book was the first step towards me becoming a more active, more healthy, more fulfilled person this year. Months later, I still think about the principles of this book on a weekly basis.

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11-22-63 by Stephen King – I read this one on my Kindle while Chris and I were in Costa Rica. It was my first Stephen King book, and I was a little nervous because I don’t like scary books. But some friends at work insisted that this was not a typical Stephen King book, and that it was actually an incredible story about what would happen if the JFK assassination were prevented. The book is about a time travel portal and the man who decides to go back into time to try to stop the JFK assassination. But it’s about so much more than that! He actually goes back and lives in the 1960’s for several years leading up to the assassination, and it’s about the life he builds there and the relationships he makes. I’m not into sci-fi or anything usually involving time travel, but this book was amazing. The plot took twists and turns that I never saw coming, and it’s told in such a masterful way. I am a Stephen King fan and I never even knew it.

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – I read a couple of Philippa Gregory’s books in college and had mixed feelings about them. I love historical fiction, and it’s not something you find a lot of in mainstream books these days, but she took the sex part of the stories a little far after her first few books came out and when that happened, I quit reading her books because they became more trashy than historical and I lost interest. But I had heard that this book began a series of hers that was more along the lines of the original type of writing she did. I was so happy to find that was true! This book tells the story of King Edward of York and Queen Elizabeth in the 1400’s. I love the strong, female main character and it is just the right amount of historical fact to make it interesting, as well as entertaining. This is the first in a series of books she calls the Cousins’ War and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

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Matched by Ally Condie – I started this book today at the recommendation of some of my students. Though it is a young adult novel, it is supposed to be pretty good. I started it this morning, and after sitting down with it a little tonight after dinner, I’m already half way through it, and it’s pretty good. It’s about this futuristic utopian society that matches you to your spouse. It follows the main character as she is matched to her best guy friend, but then discovers that she might have been mis-matched. It’s about her struggle between her assigned match and her desire to get to know the other boy she might have been matched with. It’s a social commentary on free will and what lengths we will go to to keep it. It seems like a great beach book because it’s easy to read and at the core is a love story. It’s the first in a series, and I think I might add the rest of the series to my summer reading list.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Next on my list at the library is Ken Follet’s “World Without End.” I read “Pillars of the Earth” and it was one of my favorite books ever, so I’ve been waiting for a chunk of time to read the second one. Summer kick off seems to be the perfect time! If you’re interested in seeing other books I’ve read, or following along with what I read this summer, be sure to follow me on Good Reads. My user name is KatieMC.

What about you? Have you read anything good lately?

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41 thoughts on “On My Bookshelf

  1. Beth

    Katie, if you like historical fiction I would recommend the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The first book is called Outlander. It is awesome. I am on my second read through of the series. Also I LOVED World Without End. Follet is currently writing a new series and I have read the first book in that series too (darn if I remember the title now!). Ha Ha reading is my passion! I am going to try to check out a couple of the ones you listed from the library for my Nook or at least get on the waiting list!

  2. Megan

    I have been on a big dystopian kick lately, so I just finished book two in the Divergent series. I really enjoy the ways the characters are flushed out and the commentary it makes about society. My husband has been into the Game of Thrones books, but I just can’t get myself into them. Too many characters I want to throttle. I’m off to the library tomorrow with my kiddos, will have to look for a few of your recommendations!

  3. Niki

    Hi Katie, I too am a Secondary English teacher (7th, 8th and 9th grade) and I read books on the reccomendations of my kids, who LOVE to read! Try the Maze Runner Series and Divergent- the first of another series. Both are really interesting and my students are eating them up. They both feel slightly similar to The Hunger Games, in that they’re dystopian, but they go in entirely different ways,

  4. I love book posts! (in fact, I like them so much I started my own bookish blog: http://bronwenreads.wordpress.com). I teach library science and I have a lot of students interested in YA librarianship, so I’ll definitely be passing along some of your recs to them. I like that you read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, just like I do; I recently finished Quiet, by Susan Cain, which is about introversion. I’d recommend it, especially if you like thinking about how people interact and especially about how introverts learn. It’s affected the way I teach, and the mentoring I give my students.

  5. I just added all of these books on my To Read on Good Reads! I love finding out about new books–especially young adult fiction, I was a school librarian for a few years and love to keep up with the what the kids are reading! My GoodReads is LadyKatie32 if anyone wants a new friend!

  6. Love when you post book choices! I saw you mention Little Bee..and then I read and loved it. Now I am reading the other book, Incendiary, by Chris Cleave. Thanks for inspiring me to read more!!

  7. Matched totally set off an obsession with all of these dystopian YA trilogies and now I can’t get enough! Some of my favorites include The Pledge (Kimberly Derting), Birthmarked (Caragh M. OBrien), and Delirium (Lauren Oliver). I also just read Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor) and loooooved it, but it’s more fantasy than dystopian. And if you want a good memoir, Unorthodox (Deborah Feldman) is a really good book about growing up in the Hasidic community.

  8. bec

    You haven’t read 50 Shades of Gray? Or you’re just not telling us about that one??

  9. I just finished The Godfather. I was/still am on a mafia kick. Before that was a couple of books by Michael Crichton. I love his style combining science with fantasy. Loved them all!

  10. I’m glad to hear that The White Queen is along the lines of her early books. The last one I read was a bit embarrassing.

  11. I loved Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It is one of the few book I have read more than once. I think you are an amazing teacher for having your students read that many books throughout the year. My favorite teacher in school was one who did the exact same thing. πŸ™‚

  12. Your kids should read LEGEND by Marie Lu or the FABLEHAVEN series by Brandon Mull. HOLY AWESOME BOOKS!

    I read about 100+ books per yr. I’m finishing up the Harry Potter series on audio book right now. Forgot how much I love this series! I also just finished Insurgent by Veronica Roth, the hotly anticipated sequel to Divergent. Fabulous!!

  13. I absolutely LOVED Donald Miller’s book. Actually, I love pretty much all of his books. The very first book I read of his was called “Prayer and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenance”… it was about how he and a friend drove around the country in a van for months. It was incredible. But, A Million Miles In a Thousand Years challenged me more than any other book he’s written.

  14. Amy

    I’m a historical fiction junkie. In the last couple months I’ve read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours, both of which center around the landed gentry of England and have deeply shrouded family secrets at their cores. Morton has a talent for peeling back one layer at a time and giving you little pieces of clues along the way–I liked The Forgotten Garden better of the two, though, if I were just going to pick one. I also just finished Natasha Solomon’s The House at Tyneford, which is about a wealthy 19-year-old Jewish girl who is sent by her parents to England to work in maid service on an estate right at the brink of WWII in order to get her safely out of Austria as things were getting dangerous for Jews. I loved this one–I love reading about this time period in general. I usually don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I really enjoyed Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. It is a series of vignettes about many people, some famous, some not, and their lives during and contributions to WWII. So many interesting and touching stories! My grandma was in her early 20s then and my grandpa was in WWII—it’s amazing to read about that time and imagine what it must have been like. FYI, I second the nomination of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Be forewarned that there is a lot of sexytime, especially in the first few books, but the story line is SO GOOD. And there are at least 7 (long) books in the series so far, so you can feast on them for years.

  15. I need to make time to read more books, too…I love that you’ve set that goal of 30 books. And you’re inspiring b/c you have so much on your plate…I think it’s so great you’ve found time to do this, too. And thank you for the book recommendations!

  16. I finished reading the ‘Hunger Games’ series a few weeks ago and ohmygoodness they are SO GOOD! I really like that sort of book and the film was also amazing. I thought they were quite similar to on of my favourite book series, ‘The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’, starting with ‘Wolf Brother’. Although they’re a little young for me now I could read them again and again – love them!

  17. Ooh! I’m glad to see a reader say that Insurgent was a great follow up to Divergent! I need to get it! I’ve been reading all of my husband’s Lee Child books recently. Good, male-version of beach reads. (action/mystery)

  18. Kelly H

    I also recommend the Lee Child Jack Reacher books. Excellent. I also read Defending Jacob, which was a great read. There is a book called The Yellow Lotus I got free on my kindle. It was a wonderful story about a girl and her wet nurse set pre-civil war.

  19. Courtney Sloane

    I’ve not read any of these books yet, but I’m putting several of them on my list to read! Thanks Katie. I’m pretty excited about the Tom Dooley book because it happened in a small town in NC that’s just minutes away from my small town; I grew up going to the outdoor play that they put on in the summer.
    Lately, I’ve been reading the books from Elmore Leonard that the tv show Justified is based on, and they’re very good.

  20. I enjoyed Matched, too, and am looking forward to reading the next in the series. Divergent by Veronica Roth (another YA book) was also really good. And while I LOVED Pillars of the Earth, I did not like World Without End quite as much. Still worth reading, though. πŸ™‚ And seriously if you haven’t read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, you must check it out! It. Is. SO. Good.

  21. Jessica K

    I love Matched and Crossed! And Ally Condie lives in my area!!! You need to read Divergent though, followed by Insurgent. They are teen books too, but they’re amazing!

  22. Ashley

    Perigee Moon by Tara Fuller! It’s a great YA book, and a wonderful summer read!

  23. Jess G.

    nineteen minutes is one of my all time favorites. Its so powerful and written so well. Jodi Picoult is hands down my favorite author. She really gets you invested in the story and feeling the emotions of the characters becasue her books are about real things happening in every day life. Change of Heart and Keeping Faith are 2 other really great ones from her.

  24. Mollie

    If you liked Pillars of the Earth (which I LOVED) and enjoy historical fiction, you should read Allison Weir’s novels. She is an award-winning historian so the histrical accuracy is incredible and the characters are wonderful. I recently finished The Innocent Traitor and plan on reading all of her others. Thanks for your suggestions!

  25. Love the reviews! I just borrowed 19 minutes from my mom, so I’ll be reading it soon hopefully. Adding a few of the others you mentioned to my list πŸ™‚

    I just did a post on the books I’ve been reading as well Here’s a link to all my “reviews” – some are better than others! http://floatingalongblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Books

  26. Jessie P

    Please, give YA novels a chance! They are are often very good – don’t discount something just because the target audience is younger than you. There is great writing to be found at all reading levels. I hope that reading “Matched” will inspire you to pick up more YA books. Looks like you’ve got some great selections there. One of my favorites (which is also historical fiction) is “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. It’s about a young Gentile girl growing up in Nazi Poland. It’s told from the perspective of death, but it’s not weird or depressing or anything – it adds a great deal of insight to the story that unfolds. Also, the “Uglies” series by Scott Westerfield is an interesting dystopian story.

    I do enjoy hearing what others are reading, and have found a few new books to add to my “to-read” list. Thank you!

  27. All of these sound so good! I just added most of them to my Goodreads “to read” shelf. Always love suggestions of good books. πŸ™‚

  28. kelsey s.

    This came at the perfect time! I just finished the Hunger Games series and just posted on facebook for recs of new books. I have time to read when I’m up in the middle of the night feeding the babe but I need something interesting.

  29. kelsey s.

    I also wanted to add that J. Picoult books are amazing. My Sisters Keeper had me bawling and I loved Plain Truth. Her writing is great and she addresses real life debates/issues.

  30. tammy

    Matched! So funny – I brought a copy home with me this weekend, too! Finishing The Dead-Tossed Waves tonight, the sequel to Forest of Hands and Teeth.

  31. I don’t know if anyone tells you this but you are amazing. I’m glad my husband doesn’t read your blog, you would make me look bad. You work full time, raise two happy kids, work out, read, cook, clean, attend church every week, make yourself look cute. I’m lucky to fit that one in once a week let alone every day.

  32. Amber K.

    I am so glad you wrote this blog! I was just trying to decide on some books to download for my Kindle to read on vacation, and you’ve taken care of that for me! Thank you!

  33. You’ve given me more books to add to my already full Kindle of books I haven’t had time to read yet!

  34. Grandma

    Katie – thanks to you and your blog followers, I now have a list of good books to recommend to my book club for the new year beginning in September. I read each comment under this blog and I have so many good ideas. Thank you and your readers.
    If you haven’recommended “Those Who Save Us” to your blog friends, please do so. Best book I have read in ages. Also “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” Great read!

  35. Grandma

    Katie – who knew . . . I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains hearing my mother singing “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.” Had no idea who he was -you can bet it will be on my Kinbdle shortly. Thanks for this info,.

  36. […] Continue reading here: On My Bookshelf […]

  37. Regina

    Thank you for recommending the Don Miller book. It was exactly what I needed to read this weekend! I have also just downloaded his friend’s book (Bob Goff). But before I start that, I am going to get up and create a story for myself today .

  38. The only book I’ve read from this list is the Stephen King one, and it’s by far my favorite of the books I’ve read this year. It’s insanely long, but it really proves not only how good King is, but that he isn’t just a one trick pony when it comes to writing styles.

  39. Lissa

    I just finished A Million Miles….WOW. LOVED it so much. I told my husband that I had a book that I’d love for him to read and for us to talk about. Response: uh oh…that usually means there’s something you want me to change πŸ™‚

  40. Thank you for sharing! I have been looking for something new to read and hadn’t found anything that really held my attention. I will definitely look into these that I haven’t ready yet.

  41. If you liked Nineteen Minutes, try Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher. It’s phenomenal, and like NM, relevant for parents and educators.

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