In the Book Bag

Need a good book recommendation? A great read aloud for your family, homeschool, or classroom? Take a look at what we’re reading right now.

I’m very late to the Ann Patchett party, but I’m glad I finally got there. This is a literary novel that reads like a thriller, combining a lost scientist in the Amazon - plus some really wild interpersonal dynamics - with a crash course in botany and pharmacology. If Heart of Darkness still occupies part of your brain, try State of Wonder for a contemporary counterpoint. Definitely not an escapist read, but still enough of a mental break from the news cycle for me to feel a little more clarity when I finished. 🍄 ...

Finding balance this week by taking in a lot less social media commentary and a lot more excellent writing, starting with @mitaliperkins ‘ latest! The first two pages of the introduction will make your life a little brighter. (I’m on the launch team for this book, so you’ll be hearing more about it.) ...

Just a little escapist summer reading. Fun fact: @loislowrywriter ‘s Anastasia Krupnik books are the reason I know about Mary Roberts Rinehart. ...

Wordless books aren’t always my thing, but this one is delightful. Nathan (5) picked it out at the library, and I was surprised to find out that I didn’t dread “reading” it with him. A young child and dad get up early in the morning, go for a long hike, and head home. Sounds dull, but is actually just the right mix of relatable (we go hiking, too!) and inspiring (can you REALLY climb a rock on a rope?). For our more cautious readers, Hike is great for talking through an adventure from the safety of the couch. 🏔 🌲 🥾 📕 ...

Continued departure-from-the-norm reading, which is, after all, why I get @bookofthemonth . Luster is hard to read, to be blunt. Edie, the narrator, lives a hard life decimated by past trauma. (I’m just going to insert a blanket trigger warning here.) Her decision to enter into a relationship with a married man decades older than she is catapults her into an alternate suburban reality that seems unreal despite being completely mundane. The characters drive the plot, and the actual writing - from vocabulary to sentence structure to voice - just plain shines. As uncomfortable as the story made me, and trust that I was visibly cringing, it was well worth reading for the writing. ...

Took a little detour from the usual with my May @bookofthemonth choice. I picked this one partially for the author (Will Leitch created Deadspin, which I loved because I have an odd affinity for good sportswriting) and partially because it’s set in Athens, GA. How Lucky combines a deep dive into the main character’s inner and outer life with a thriller-ish kidnapping plot, and adds a bit of identity and immigration commentary, as well. Leitch is a talented writer, and I was sucked into this quickly and thoroughly, though I have to admit I couldn’t read it at night because I am an enormous scaredy-cat. 😸 I’m actually sending this on to my brother, because it’s rare that our tastes in novels match, and I think this might be a joint winner. ...

May is over, but who cares?!? We can still celebrate #aapiheritagemonth here. I don’t think I’ve read a picture book that celebrates a character’s Pakistani heritage before, and this one does it SO well. Leila loves going to her grandmother’s house, where she gets to eat all her favorite foods, admire her grandmother’s treasures, read books in Arabic, and try on her grandmother’s scarves. The saffron scarf stands out, and Leila and her grandmother share a touching moment admiring how Leila looks in it. As a bonus, the book also includes a small glossary of Arabic words used by Leila and her family. My five year old ate this one up, and we were sad to send it back to the library. ...

@kadirnelson , one of America’s greatest artists, never misses on a New Yorker cover. ...

Up next from April’s @bookofthemonth box - Arsenic and Adobo, by @mpmthewriter . This is (apparently) a ‘cozy’ mystery, in that there is death and grief, but no graphic violence or sleep-ruining suspense. The story revolves around the main character’s family’s restaurant and neighboring businesses, which is a pleasant change from the butlers and gardeners of my normal mystery reading. If you like Philippine food, you won’t be disappointed, since all of the restaurants meals are gloriously described, and there are recipes at the end. If you enjoy an infusion of contemporary issues into your lighter reading, you also won’t be disappointed, as Manansala does not shy away from addressing her characters’ feelings about their identities as Americans, as immigrants, and as independent women. I felt like this gave me a bit of a window into a world very different from my own, as my awareness of the Philippine-American experience is basically nil. This is definitely a situation where you don’t want to judge the book by its genre - there is a lot more packed in than meets the eye! Arsenic and Adobo is the first in a series, and I look forward to the next! ...

This is going to have to be a long blog post at some point, but for now - I cannot recommend The Hare with the Amber Eyes strongly enough. @edmunddewaal weaves his family’s story with the events of the 20th century AND a whole lot of art history in a way that left me breathless. Ostensibly about understanding the journey that an inherited collection of netsuke underwent, this book is really about identity and belonging, and I think it would resonate with anyone. ...

Happy Monday! I haven’t been posting, but I have been reading. First update is a very overdue share of Subversive, by Crystal Downing. The lovely people at @erbooks let me write a review of this fascinating look at Dorothy Sayers. You might know Sayers a mystery writer, or as a Christian apologist, or as the woman who wrote a radio play of the life of Christ that created a national uproar in the UK. I’ve linked the review in my bio if you want to know more. ...

My @bookofthemonth books match! That was a fun surprise when I opened the box. I branched out a little this month and got a mystery. ...

One last post for the day! This quiet little book shares the experience of a dad who works nights and his son who goes along for the (literal) ride. It’s a different experience from the lives of most kids, and provides a great opportunity for considering just how some jobs get done. Karen Hesse strikes just the right tone with her text, and the illustrations match it. ...