The Best Books You’ve Read (Lately)

Some books you really enjoy, and some books stay with you — as ones you’d recommend to others. The last novel I read was one of those, a story I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

So I looked back at my Goodreads account, and, while there are many books I’ve enjoyed lately, I wondered which ones stuck with me. Here are the last three that got meright here. (You know what I mean.) And they’re all very different in tone.

Love & Other Variables coverLove and Other Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander. From the book jacket:

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop — until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

By the time he learns she’s ill — and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness — Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

This one’s a beautifully emotional ride, with lyrical yet authentic prose. It’s not a typical happily-ever-after, but a hopeful ending nonetheless. If you like novels that tug — or yank — at your heartstrings, you won’t be sorry you picked this one up. (You know, I think I liked it a bit more than The Fault in Our Stars.)

Don't Lick the Minivan coverDon’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe. From the book jacket:

As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia’s sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.

In Don’t Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:

  • The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
  • The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan’s paint with rocks.
  • The funeral she officiated for “Stripper Barbie.”
  • The horror of glitter.
    And much more!

A delayed encounter with postpartum depression helps Shirtliffe to realize that even if she can’t teach her kids how to tie their shoelaces, she’s a good enough mom. At least good enough to start saving for her twins’ college, eh, therapy fund. And possibly her own. Crisply written, Don’t Lick the Minivan will have parents laughing out loud and nodding in agreement. Shirtliffe’s memoir might not replace a therapist, but it is a lot cheaper.

I related entirely to the challenges of motherhood, attempts at humor to relieve tension, strange things you find yourself saying, not to mention the intense aversion to crafts. And I laughed out loud many times. Yes, there are close-to-your-heart mommy moments, but just as many close-to-the-wine-bottle moments as well. Which just about sums up motherhood these days!

Aces Up coverAces Up by Lauren Barnholdt. From the book jacket:

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She’s been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon’s dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler’s lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn’t made even half the money she’d hoped.

When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn’t react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.

Soon Shannon’s caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money’s this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?

It takes a while to figure out what kind of novels you enjoy writing, but I recently concluded that my own voice is a lot like this: Take an outrageous concept, add interesting, real-life characters, and produce a whimsical, yet heartfelt story.

That’s Aces Up. It’s a fun romp of a novel, with a serious heart underneath.

As you can see, my tastes run the gamut here. I cried in the first novel, laughed a lot with the memoir, and let my heart skip happily in the third book. All of these books, however, had a strong voice. They left me feeling like I really knew these people.

Now it’s your turn to share! What are the best books you’ve read lately, and why?

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2 thoughts on “The Best Books You’ve Read (Lately)

  1. Leanne’s book is on my list too. Hoping to get to it this year. The book that is sticking with me is The Lovely Bones. I’d never read it before and just recently finished it. Wow. Couldn’t put that one down. And then a newer YA read, All the Bright Places. I loved the characters of Finch and Violet and have been watching the author on Instagram travel all over for her book tour. She recently hit up her home town and spots that Finch and Violet visit in the book.

    1. Why have I not read Lovely Bones?! I keep meaning to. Okay, I’m moving it up. Thanks! And I’ve also had my eye on All the Bright Places. Thanks for the recommendations!

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