Upcoming: Unbound Book Festival

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Photo from Unbound Book Festival’s homepage

Winter months are harsh. In the Midwest, this winter we’ve had ample time to ponder our thoughts, twiddle our thumbs, and read copious tomes of literature while ice pinged and frosted our windows.

We haven’t, however, had as much time to share great works with one another.

Enter: Unbound Book Festival in Columbia, Missouri.

While searching for book readings for a favorite author — Melissa Febos — a friend and I came across this event which takes place in late April. There are many other authors whom we’re also excited to see, including:

… and many more! These are merely the ones that I’m excited about… be sure to check their list here.

Unbound’s website describes the event as one which “aims to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives.”

Awesome! Where do I sign up?

And, still: “We believe that life should be a conversation, and so every event at Unbound will be wildly interactive.  There’ll be no boring monologues here.  Guest authors will be interviewed by other guest authors.  There will be Q and A sessions – [attendees will] be able to post questions in advance for individual authors on the website – panels, and multiple chances to meet and speak with your literary heroes.  We have all manner of unusual events planned.  Our festival will be innovative, different, stimulating and – above all – fun.”

What?! I get to participate and not just sit?! Shut up and take my money!

But wait…. IT’S FREE.

Yes, the entire event, which runs April 20th through April 22nd, is completely free. The festival works to “raise funds and awareness to improve literacy standards throughout the State of Missouri… [as it] has one of the lowest literacy rates in the United States, for both children and adults.”

So, they’re bringing some of my favorite authors to the Midwest, I get to actively participate, it costs me nothing, and it is meant to raise awareness and money for literacy?

Yep. Cashing in all the checks for this one.

Hope to see you all in April!


Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Photo from Penguin Books Australia

There are books that must be read despite one’s interests, life situation, or gender.

This is one of those books.

I do not have much to say about this book other than that it holds a power unique to the genre and the time period in which it now exists. It is impossible to say what a reader may find, what connections will spur into his or her own life.

I am not a dramatist; I do not believe in apocalyptic tales of woe. As such, this novel presents not how we will all go out, but rather the tiny ways in which we can (will?) eventually all destroy each other.

The writing is flawless. The nuance, incredible. It haunted me as I read it, and it haunts me after, now, just as strongly.

This book is a must read. So, please, go read it.

*I have not yet watched the Hulu series, but my book version (photo above) included the show’s cover. The 2017 forward by Atwood was also helpful in understanding her motives.

Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.51.09 PMIn 2018, I’ve decided to push the boundaries of my typical reading tendencies. I’m inherently drawn to nitty-gritty memoirs about imperfect lives; the deep characterization of contemporary fiction; and the beauty contained in the raw emotion of concise, poignant poetry.

I know this about myself.

And yet, I can’t tell the last time I’ve read a romance novel. It was surely before 2009; I had to have been in high school or college. Historical fiction? It’s been awhile.

Alas, I arrive at As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner, an advanced edition thanks to Book of the Month club. Set in the early 1900’s—including issues from WWI to prohibition—it certainly falls into the category of historical fiction, and there is a smidgen of romance too.

While the tag line inside the dust jacket reads “From the darkest hours rises life in all its glory,” I feel left wanting more glory after finishing up the final chapter.

For more on As Bright As Heaven, due to be published February 6th, 2018, by Berkley Books, please continue.

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Review: The Other Side of Beauty by Leah Darrow

51RJaOGtXnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Darrow is an international religious speaker, and she works to encourage listeners, especially women, to follow a Christian ideal of beauty instead of the version impressed by Western culture.

Leah spoke to my community back in October, and I really enjoyed her humble nature, anecdotal delivery, and overall message. As such, I asked my dad to get me her book for Christmas and I’m happy to say he delivered.

Beauty is a strange concept, and I can tell you that—praise the Lord—I have grown into a type of beauty that I am much more comfortable with than when I was thirteen. The type of beauty I’m concerned with now, however, has very little to do with whether or not I have concealer or a hair straightener and more to do with if I’m doing enough to add goodness to the world. Darrow, it seems, feels the same.

For more on The Other Side of Beauty, published by Nelson Books in November 2017, please continue.

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Review: Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 5.24.01 PMSquinting to see past my steering wheel, I cautiously drove down the icy, winter road toward my parents’ home to pick up my son. Ahead, I could see something in the middle of the street. White, rustling, out of place. It moved enough that I thought perhaps it was an animal. No, not just an animal—a kitten. There was a kitten in the middle of the road. I decided to drive closer to help. (If I’m anything to a kitten it’s Florence Nightingale.)

Yet, as I drove closer, I could see that it wasn’t a kitten at all. It was merely an open napkin, rustling in the wind. My headlights, the wind, and my faulty night vision had me seeing a kitten where there was nothing but a culinary accessory. It didn’t need my help at all. Not that I could tell.


Life often hands us scenarios that are all together different in appearance than actual substance.

Such is also the case with Kristin Kirkland, wife of popular ob-gyn Dr. Paul Kirkland of Yellow Springs, Ohio. After a night with neighborhood wives, drinking wine and christening a new fire pit, Kristin disappears without a trace, her two twins with her.

The other women—as well as Paul—are left to wonder where Kristin went, why she left, and how they were completely unaware just hours before she vanished.

For more on Not That I Could Tell, set to be published by St. Martin’s Press in March of 2018, please continue.

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Review: Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 8.36.46 PM“You fool,” she cried again, and heard the girl whimper. What a fool you are, she thought, fuming. What fools we all are. We girls. Afraid of the wrong things, at the wrong times. Afraid of a burned face, when outside, outside waiting for you are fires you cannot imagine. Men, holding matches up to your gasoline eyes. Flames, flames all around you, licking at your just-born breasts, your just-bled body. And infernos. Infernos as wide as the world. Waiting to impoverish you, make you ash, and even the wind, even the wind. Even the wind, my dear, she thought, watching you burn, wiling it, passing over you, and through you. Scattering you, because you are a girl, and because you are ash.

For more on Girls Burn Brighter, set to be published in March of 2018 by Flatiron Books, please continue.

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Review: Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 2.37.32 PMAt a quarter of the way through this book, I’d already decided that the remaining pages could be garbage and the text would still be WORTHY.

First, a book that provides “reviews” of read novels as break up notes or love letters? Sign me up! Written by a librarian—one with infinite access to ALL THE BOOKS?! Yes, I need it and I need it now. Thanks to NetGalley, I had a copy sitting on my Kindle shelf for too long. I should have started this sooner.

Spencer’s preface begins “Reading has shaped me, guided me, reflected me, and helped me understand and connect with, and this is not hyperbole, HUMANITY. If you picked up this book, it’s because somewhere in the past (and more in the future, if I have anything to do with it) a book has changed your life.”

Amen, bibliophile sister.

I was pleased to journey through Spence’s “Read” list with her telling me about her love life (and awful break-ups) with novels. She’s much funnier than I, and I’m certain—were we friends in Real Life—she would have me squirting Cabernet Sauvignon out my nostrils into my hummus dip hoping not to get anything on my library return pile.

For more on Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life, set to be published September 26th by Flatiron Books, continue. 

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Review: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 12.55.54 PMI often judge a book by how many times I Snapchat friends snippets of prose.

I must have sent 30 snaps from this book to various bibliophile friends, coworkers, and relatives. I laughed. I cried. (Full disclosure: I might have peed a little. Hey, just being honest.)

That said, this book was very good. Geared primarily toward women—ideally Christian women for the loads of Jesus references—the novel covers just how messy and beautiful life can be. Interspersed with relatable lists of “how-to” sections that nearly collapsed me with humor, the novel is primarily informal chapters of pseudo-blog post narratives.

Jen’s life is not perfect, but as she declares for all—imperfect can be beautiful.

For more on Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life, published in 2017, continue. 

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Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.27.10 PM“Mom, have you ever been to Russia?” my son once randomly asked as we drove down the road.

Unprepared for such inquiry, I laughed aloud at the absurdity of the question. Stapled into the Midwestern Heartland states, no, I have never been to Russia. I’ve never even been to the infinitely more accessible Europe. Or Canada, for that matter.

“No,” I choked out through my laughter.

My son still asks this question if he’s trying to get my attention or make me laugh. “So Mom, still never been to Russia?” he’ll ask, grinning.

Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow is the closest I’ve come to Russia, and I must say it does not disappoint. I was thinking Russian thoughts! Learning Russian phrases! Mentally planning to put bread and salt on my table for guests as a symbol of hospitality! I even had one terrifically awkward Russian dream!

Some may be hesitant to fall into the Russian mindset, but Towles walks readers into the formality, the civility—dare I say it?—the grace of Russia circa 1920-1950s, flawed though it may be. With a harrowing 462 pages, and a 4.4/5 star standing on Goodreads, this is certainly a book all will want to read.

For more on A Gentleman in Moscow, published by Viking Press in 2016, continue. 

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Review: What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

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Image from Sacred Source

My babysitter used to religiously watch Oprah’s afternoon talk show. When she still had kids at her house, she would record it so that she could watch the VHS tape later in the evening.

She’d learn recipes, fads, fashions, and everything in between. Celebrities, gossip, health trends. But as it turns out, Oprah also knows about many other aspects of life for which I hadn’t given her due credit.

While many might think that Oprah leads a life of privilege (and they’d certainly be right), she also comes from a background not many know. She’s worked very hard for what she has, and this book offers insight into not only where she’s been but what she now knows for sure.

Born after her parents had a one-time tryst, raised in various locations, suffering abuse and a pregnancy at age 14—among all of the other ravages that life has to offer—Oprah actually knows some very relevant and relatable aspects of life for all audiences, both on TV and world-wide.

For more on Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure, published by Flatiron Books in 2014, please continue. 

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