POPSUGAR 2016 Reading Challenge

I do not have much spare time, but with the time I do have, I like to read. I would consider myself a fairly voracious reader – I typically have a couple of books going at any different time. But like most people, I go through ebbs and flows, and before I realize it I will find myself out of the habit of reading and months may go by without a single page being turned (or Kindle page swiped rather). And then slowly but surely, I’ll get back in the swing of things and find myself tearing through books.

We spend most weekends traveling, so the days are rare when I get the chance to curl up on the couch and fully absorb myself in a good book. I hope this year to carve out more time. More time for myself. More time to enjoy the pleasures in life, how little or how small they may be. And so, when I stumbled across POPSUGAR’s 2106 Reading Challenge just before the new year, I decided to give it a go. And because things are more fun when you do them together, I roped my little sister, Caitlin, in to the challenge as well.

The purpose of the challenge is to not only encourage you to read more, but also to challenge you to break out of your preferred genres. A short book. A long book. A political memoir. A science fiction novel. It pushes you to get out of your comfort zone as it relates to your reading and seek out something new. And so Caitlin and I will be documenting our reads here. We informed the other of our selection for the first category, but otherwise we will only be revealing our picks to each other after we’ve completed them (for no real reason other than I’m curious to see if we’ll be drawn to the same books).

If you’re interested in doing the POPSUGAR 2106 Reading Challenge for yourself then check it out here. I hope you’ll follow along with us!  And if you are, let us know what you’re reading too!


The Digital Bookshelf | Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania | Erik Larson

I’ve been on a history kick of late. The first book of Larson’s I read was The Devil in the White City, which was about the World’s Fair in Chicago and how a serial killer used the fair to lure his victims. If you haven’t read it yet, I would highly recommend.  The second book of his I read was In the Garden of Beasts, which will be getting it’s own post so we will come back to that at another time.

Dead Wake is Larson’s most recent book:

“On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. 

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.”

I would guess most people are aware of the Lusitania (or recognize the name at least) and the significance of it’s sinking. Me, I thought I remembered that it was the reason the U.S. joined World War I – an immediate rise by the US to help defeat the Germans. Turns out that it took the US two additional years after the sinking to actually join the war.

The above description hooked me in, and yet I was still surprised at how engaging this book was. A lot of history books can be dry – the kind of book you would read before you head to bed to help make the eyes a bit sleepier. This book, however, was not one of those. Using excerpts from letters, diaries, logs, and other source documents, Larson skillfully weaves several different story lines to give life to all sides of that fateful voyage, the events leading up to it, and the aftermath.

You’ll read about the Lusitania, its captain and the passengers (the whole time wondering whether this passenger or that one would be one of the lucky ones or if their fate was doomed), the atmosphere on the ship crossing, and why they thought this ship was unsinkable (and were sorely mistaken).

You’ll get a glimpse into the pressures faced by Woodrow Wilson, President of a country determined to avoid going to war (the US was an isolationist country that issued one threat after another to Germany to cease all attacks on neutral ships and yet would not deliver on those threats – and with good reason as the country was ill-prepared to enter a war).

You’ll see what it was like on the other side deep down in the sea – what it was actually like to live on a U boat (spoiler – horrible), the dangers those men faced (death by all sorts of manners), and the incentives for sinking Lusitania.

And, you’ll get a peek into the British intelligence (intelligence that high level officials weren’t even aware existed) and their tracking of the German U boats. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not you think that the British let the Lusitania be attacked to ignite the US to join the war.

For those interested in history, and even those who aren’t, I highly recommend this book.

The Digital Bookshelf | In a Dark, Dark Wood

in a dark dark woodIn a Dark, Dark Wood | Ruth Ware

“What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.”

I first saw this book on a book list somewhere and passed it over. Then I saw it on Reese Witherspoon’s instagram feed and decided to give it a shot. I know, I know – I’m not normally in the habit of reading books just because celebs are but I’m glad I gave this one a shot. My 30 minutes to an hour of reading at bedtime quickly became an hour and a half and then two as I got pulled deeper into the story. I do think that the past she’d rather be left behind was a bit underwhelming in my opinion but the suspense of the story definitely kept me entertained and engaged. It’s a quick read – you could probably knock this one out in a weekend no problem.

The Digital Bookshelf | Now I See You

First day back after the weekend, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. There never seems to be enough time in the week or weekend for me to do all the things I want to do. Instead they just rollover into a never-ending to-do list that grows exponentially, with me adding three new items for every one I cross off.

That inexhaustible list also extends to my Kindle.

The only thing I may love more than traveling is curling up with a blanket, a mug of tea, and getting lost in a new book. In San Diego, the sunny days made me feel guilty for staying inside, and so the one upside with the oft rainy Brussels weather is that days spent inside reading are fairly guilt-free.

Now, I will not pretend to be the most critical of readers – I read almost anything and everything, and I can count on one hand (without all fingers) the number of books I have started and stopped. And so, despite my ever-growing book list, I’m always on the hunt for something new and love getting recommendations from others. I share these books first and foremost as record of my reading – my digital bookshelf of sorts – and secondly, in hopes that someone out there is looking for something to read and decides to pick one of these books up, because the joy of reading is something to be shared.

And so, without further ado…

Now I See YouNow I See You | Nicole C. Kear

At nineteen years old, Nicole C. Kear’s biggest concern is choosing a major–until she walks into a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan and gets a life-changing diagnosis. She is going blind, courtesy of an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and has only a decade or so before Lights Out. Instead of making preparations as the doctor suggests, Kear decides to carpe diem and make the most of the vision she has left. She joins circus school, tears through boyfriends, travels the world, and through all these hi-jinks, she keeps her vision loss a secret.

When Kear becomes a mother, just a few years shy of her vision’s expiration date, she amends her carpe diem strategy, giving up recklessness in order to relish every moment with her kids. Her secret, though, is harder to surrender – and as her vision deteriorates, harder to keep hidden. As her world grows blurred, one thing becomes clear: no matter how hard she fights, she won’t win the battle against blindness. But if she comes clean with her secret, and comes to terms with the loss, she can still win her happy ending.

I read this book from to back in the matter of a few days. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Imagine being told at 19 that you have about a decade before you go blind. That’s just what happened to Nicole Kear, and she relates the experience in a fun and witty memoir. If bad language isn’t your thing, I would probably put this one back on the bookshelf. For all the rest of you, pick it up and give it a read. It is a glimpse into the reality of a life that most people – luckily – will have never have to experience themselves. Eye disease or not, it is a reminder to all that life is meant to be lived.

For those of you that have read it, what were your thoughts?