Book Banter March 2018




I was able to get a lot of reading done in March. Half of the books on this list were audiobooks I listened to while weeding my garden and doing household chores. If you are interested in any of the books I read this month click the title and you can purchase them using my affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission from each purchase.  Here is what I read this month.

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding 

IMG_E5589I have never read this classic so I decided to pick it up for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge my friend and I are participating in. This book was definitely interesting to read but my teacher brain kept taking over. I have a lot of friends that read this book when they were in school. As I was reading it I was imagining the class discussions and I think it made me enjoy the book less. I just could not figure out why people would want to spend time discussing this book (especially with kids) when there are other classics out there that are more interesting (in my opinion). If you have had an awesome discussion about this book I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

2.  A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy 

IMG_E5588This is a light read about a woman who leaves the secrets of her past behind to come home to Ireland and start an inn. I loved the Irish setting; it made me want to book a vacation to Ireland ASAP. Once the inn is open the point of view changes with each chapter and lets the reader in on the  circumstances that bring the first round of guests to the inn. I have become a sucker for a good short story collection and while this is definitely a novel, these little glimpses into the characters’ lives gave it just the right short story feel for me. It also added charm and intrigue. I listened to this on audio and I would say it is not required but fun to hear the accents. If you would like a lighthearted feel good read I recommend this book.

3. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini 

IMG_E5587I love memoirs because the human experience is what stories are all about and I love reading a person’s story from their point of view. I try not to bog myself down with too many celebrity memoirs because I could read one right after the other but this Leah Remini memoir has been on my “to-read” list for awhile. I was able to snag this on audio on my Overdrive library app and I am so glad I did because Remini reads it herself. Her story is so interesting and crazy! I blew through it and kept finding reasons to keep listening. If you are interested in Scientology or celebrity memoirs at all definitely put this on your list.

4. People to be Loved: Why Homsexuality is Not Just an Issue by Preston Sprinkle 

IMG_E5586I picked this book up after I found out that Sprinkle would be visiting my church to talk about this book and answer questions about his point of view on this topic with our youth group. Since I lead a small group of high school girls and I like to have my research done before I open my big mouth I thought reading this book would be the best way to be prepared. I am so glad I read it. The first part Sprinkle digs deep into scripture and gives the reader an inside scoop on Hebrew and Greek phrases that most modern Bible readers would not know. Then he relates stories of Christian friends he has made that identify as LGBTQ. Good stuff. The talk Sprinkle led at my church was great as well. Listen to it here

5. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan 

IMG_E5584I have had this book on my shelf for awhile. I am not sure where it came from but the cover is gorgeous and it is based on the real life girl who inspired a Degas sculpture so it is right up my historical fiction loving alley. I powered through this book taking turns listening to it on audio and reading my hard copy. I loved the story of the Parisian ballerinas and Degas interest in them. The author also added in a story about a murderer of the same time period (based on true events). It felt a little bit like a fictional Erik Larson book. There are some graphic scenes so be warned.

6. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

IMG_E5585I absolutely loved this collection of short stories. I loved the peek into Indian culture and the characters in each story were captivating. It is so hard for me to pick a favorite story because so many of them stuck with me and had be rereading bits or thinking about them long after I had finished reading them. If you do not have much time for reading but love a good story I highly recommend this collection. The stories are poignant, sweet, and sometimes heartbreaking.



7. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

IMG_E5583I read this book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club this month and got to listen to the author talk about the book during our exclusive book club chat.  It is set in Nigeria and covers so many difficult topics, polygamy, marriage problems with a twist, infidelity, and the loss of children. So obviously this book comes with many warnings attached. If those topics are not for you skip this one. This was not a particularly fun read but it was very well written. There was a lot to talk about in our book club discussion so if you have a book club this may be a good pick.


8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

IMG_E5582I loved this book. It was another audiobook and I would highly recommend listening to it because there are so many African names and it is so good to hear them pronounced correctly. Plus the dialogue is so much fun when you get to hear tone and inflection. This story follows a Nigerian girl from childhood in Nigeria to adulthood in the United States. I loved the way immigration and race were discussed. It was a fresh perspective on many hot topics in our world today. The characters are so endearing and their personal journeys are very well written. There are some hard to read scenes but this book was tame compared to  Stay with Me.

9. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport 

IMG_E5581I started this book in January and finally finished it this month. I took this book slow because there was a lot for me to think about with each chapter. This book has a ton of good productivity ideas for people whose jobs require them to come up with a finished product, think creatives, academics, programmers, designers, etc. There were also little tidbits that related to my job as a teacher. My favorite parts were the stories about successful people and their work habits. If you like reading books about productivity then pick this one up!


10. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden 

IMG_E5580This book is set in the Russian wilderness, includes Russian folktales, and has a bit of magical realism which makes for a great read for me. I listened to this on audio and think  I would have preferred it in a hard copy. I think it would have seemed more magical if I had read it for myself. The story follows a young girl who can see the creatures that inhabit Russian folktales and how her gift both helps her and puts her in harm’s way. It is a story of family, friendship, and love. I liked it, but it felt like the author was trying to do a lot. It is the first book in a trilogy and I would consider trying the second but if it doesn’t grab me right away I will abandon it.

11. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

IMG_E5579This book centers around a bookseller and her journey to find out the story of her friend who committed suicide and left clues to his past that intersects with her own. I loved the sense of adventure and mystery this book had. It reminded me a bit of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore but it was a bit darker. The main character witnessed a murder when she was younger and was the only person in the house left alive. She has been running from her past her whole life and does not speak with anyone from it, including her father. When her friend commits suicide she can’t avoid the past any longer. I listened to this on audio but think it would be fun as a hard copy too. If you like murder mysteries and books definitely check this book out.

12. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis 

IMG_E5578I have seen the movie this book is based on and didn’t remember much about it but decided to pick it up for the “banned book” on the above mentioned reading challenge. I totally understand why this book was banned. It is very graphic. Some scenes I had to skip over because they were a little too much for me. This book is interesting because most of it is spent describing all of the high end fashion people are wearing and making reservations for fancy restaurants. Then all of the sudden there are graphic sexual scenes and brutal violence. I appreciated the writing but thought the first half of the book was boring.

That is what I read in March. I was very surprised when I counted up twelve books at the end of the month. It didn’t feel like I did that much reading but those audiobooks allowed for some extra reading time. What did you read in March? Have you read any of these? Are any of these books going on your “to be read” list? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

I love you more than bookstore mysteries and African histories,



Book Banter February 2018

My reading game has been pretty on point for 2018. Audiobooks are helping me get to a ton of books on my “To Be Read,” or TBR list, and thanks to the Overdrive app they are free from the library. In February I listened to 3 audiobooks. Two of them were excellent and one of them had me wondering if I would have like the book better if I had read it in print.

If you find that the books I read this month need to be added to your TBR list then go ahead a click my affiliate links throughout the post to snatch them up. Each purchase you make gives me a tiny commission, so thank you!

Here is what I read in February:

1. Collected Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Milay


I must admit I have not picked up much poetry since college but my friend suggested we read this collection for a reading challenge we are doing together. I really enjoyed this collection and found myself very impressed with Millay’s knack for putting unusual words at the end of the lines. I really loved the sonnet on p. 153 about chaos. I have revisited it a few times since finishing the collection. If you want to try picking up a collection of poems I recommend taking it slow. I think I would have been able to enjoy the poems more if I had read 1 poem a few times before moving on to the next.

2. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare


I got this middle grade book for Christmas and could not wait to read it. I love Speare’s other work and had somehow managed to have never read this book. This is historical fiction set during the Roman Empire and Jesus’s life. While Jesus does appear as a character in the story most of the things he does and says are in the Bible and inform the choices of the main character who is struggling under the Roman rule. Since I work at a Christian school I read this book through the eyes of a teacher and determined this would be a great book for our 5th-6th graders to read and discuss. It really captures what it may have been like for the Jewish people waiting for the Messiah while paying taxes to a foreign government.

3. Dead Wake: The: The Lost Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson


Since reading The Devil in the White City, also by Larson, I have had all of his other books in my TBR. I figured I better start with the one about WWI since I am pretty obsessed with that time period. I knew a little about the sinking of this ship by a German U-boat from my WWI history classes in college but I had never given a thought to who was on the Lusitania or U-20 the sub that sank her. Larson does such a good job of memorializing the people aboard both vessels. I was riveted by this book and spent a great deal of the last part crying, especially over the captain on the Lusitania who survived the sinking because -yikes- I would not want to be him. Also, I was saddened to learn their were some very special Dickens and Thackery works lost in the sea. This is a great nonfiction read if you like WWI.   I listened to this on audio and really enjoyed it.

4. This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell


I read this book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and thought it was interesting. It tells the story of how a reclusive actress and a college professor found each other and what has happened to lead them to where they are now. It is told from many different points of view and while I did not listen to it on audio I bet it would be good. I wasn’t sold on all of the characters (particularly the main ones) but did enjoy a few of the side characters.

5. Joyland by Stephen King


I have a readerly confession to make; my comfort reads often contain a murder. When I am looking to jump-start my reading or to just want that feeling you get when you can’t turn the pages fast enough I often pick up thrillers or mysteries. This King book has been sitting on my kindle for quite awhile and we had been getting random little snow flurries  here in the Pacific Northwest so I thought it seemed like the perfect time to curl up with a creepy book. I enjoyed the pace and the characters a good deal. The book is set in an amusement park which makes it creepy and nostalgic at the same time (of course King can pull that off). There was one scene I could have done without so if you are sensitive to “love making” scenes sit this one out, or just skip that part.

6. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


This was my favorite book in February. I came across it when looking for a new audiobook to listen to after Dead Wake and the description caught my eye. The main character dies in the first scene and then in the next scene she is born again on the same snowy night over and over again.  Each time her life gets a little longer and her feeling that she knows what might happen next grows stronger. She is born right before the start of WWI so her time as a young adult happens during WWII. I loved the historical backdrop (of course) but I also loved how Atkinson successfully kept me interested in the same story with minor details that change the outcomes drastically. I can’t stop thinking about this book. I think it would make an excellent book club pick.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


I own four copies of this book but had never read it, until now. I really enjoyed the beginning as Jane describes her childhood. It was very vivid and melancholy. I’m not going to lie, I was a little underwhelmed with Mr. Rochester and was kind of glad when she peaced-out of that situation. I listened to this book on audio and think I would have liked to better if I had read a physical copy instead. I loved the style and the tone and was pretty upset about some of the happenings, but there was just something about hearing the story that made it seem juvenille…I think. I am still processing my feelings on this one and definitely think it is worth a reread and a discussion.

What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of these books. Let’s banter about books in the comments.

Until next time,

I love you more than reincarnation and U-boat devastation,


Book Banter January 2018

I am pretty excited about the reading in store for me this year. My friend and I are trying to read 12 books for the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge.  We love talking books, so it will be fun to have specific books to discuss all year long. We picked up a collection of poetry for January and I am not quite finished with it yet. This year I am also planning on reading as many books as I can that I already own. It is crazy how unread books can pile up (or queue up on my kindle). I mean how many copies of Jane Eyre can one own without having ever read it (apparently 4)?

Here are the books I read this month. If you want to check them out for yourself click the titles and you will be redirected to Amazon through my affiliate links.

1. Love Anthony by Lisa Genova


This book gives some insight into what it might be like to parent an autistic child. I really appreciated the real emotion the author captured in this book but I did not like the story within a story (one of the characters is a budding author and we get to read excerpts of her work). Warning: this story includes infidelity and the death of a child

2. School-wide Discipline Plan Without Loopholes by Jim Fay


This was the perfect book to read at the end of my break from school. The more I work with middle school kids (hello, detention supervising) the more I recognize that they love to look for loopholes and like you a bit better if you don’t give them any. There were some important observations in this book that I will be passing on to my colleagues.

3. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


I was expecting to really love this book because middle grade fiction is my jam. Wishtree just didn’t make my heart sing. Even though this book was not my favorite it helped me realize what kind of middle grade fiction I love. I love middle grade books that are timeless and this book felt a little too specific to modern day issues. I think that many kids would enjoy it, but it wasn’t for me.

4. The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig


I have been reading Willig’s books for a decade. She writes what I like to call “Girly Historical Fiction.” Her books are about strong female characters (who are usually English) and she can really paint a picture. Since I am a sucker for setting, her books are always easy for me to pick up. I enjoyed this one.

5. J’s Everyday Fashion and Faith by Jeanette Johnson


If you have read my blog before you know I enjoy fashion. I have often wondered if writing about fashion is shallow and where it fits into my Christian faith. I did not need this book to tell me liking fashion is ok, but I did appreciate reading about the author’s experiences and her perspective. She has an excellent blog you can check out too.

6. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo


Another guilty pleasure read, this Russian fantasy world is right up my alley. This is the second book in a series and while it was not as enjoyable as the first book I still read it pretty darn quickly.


7. The Radium Girls by Kate Moore


I would highly recommend The Radium Girls. It was such an interesting and heartbreaking story about real life strong women. I cried a lot while reading it. It is hard not to appreciate the true stories of the women who painted watch dials with radium in order to aid in the war effort and paid for it with their lives. It was very, very good and thought provoking.

What have you been reading? What is the best book you have read in the last month? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

I love you more than  fantasy and history,


Top 10 Reads of 2017: Part 1

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Hello my friends, it has been awhile! I took a break from blogging because my computer was not working properly and my brain was on overload. I have a new computer and my routine down, so hopefully you will be reading more from me in 2018.

This year I read a little over 30,000 pages and 98 books. I did not read many long books, although my longest book was 960 pages (Winter of the World by Ken Follett)! I love to look back on my year of reading and pick the books that stuck with me the most. This year that was HARD! Since I read so many books narrowing it down to my top ten favorites was painful. I managed to do it and today I will count down from 10 to 6. Check back tomorrow for the other half of my list.

10. Call the Nurse by Mary J. MacLeod 

16284892As a reader setting is very important to me. I love to feel like I understand a place and its people a little better after reading a book. I was completely transported when reading this memoir about a nurse who goes to live and work on a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides. Her stories of the people she met, cared for, and learned to love ranged from funny to heartbreaking. It was very similar to James Herriot’s work, which I love. The descriptions of her job and the traditional way of life for the people of the island were fascinating. I must admit, that after reading this I really wanted to move to Scotland and start gathering peat for my fireplace. I highly recommend the audiobook because Scottish names are hard and their accents are fun to listen to.


9. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

1232This is a fun, adventurous read for book lovers. The story follows a boy in Barcelona and his quest to discover more about the mysterious author of a book he found in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (cool right?). The search to unearth the secrets of the author become dangerous and there is suspense around every corner. My favorite part of this book was the characters. They were well written and for the most part, very likable and believable. The language is beautiful and I found myself rereading passages often, not because they were difficult, but because they were beautiful.  I listened to this book on audio and loved it because hearing the Spanish accents and names pronounced correctly really helped me stay present in the story. This book is the first in a series and I will definitely keep reading.

8. Emma by Jane Austen

157421I did not read as many classics as I wanted to in 2017, but finally got around to reading this Jane Austen book for the first time. While I found Emma, the character, to be rather frustrating at times I learned to really love her and see the growth in her character as a shining example of Austen’s talent with words. I think that watching someone grow up and mature can be frustrating when you are safely on the other side of young adulthood. Had I read this 10 years ago I have a sneaking suspicion I would have identified with Emma a lot more.  The other characters in this book were delightful. I could not get enough of Mr. Woodhouse (so funny) and Mr. Knightley is downright swoon-worthy. Reader confession: I reread Pride and Prejudice this year too, and I think I like Emma more!


7. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

227571Through reading this story I have learned that I am a sucker for magical realism. Anything that seems like real life, but has a bit of magic or miracle mixed in is my up of tea (The Green Mile anyone?).   This story is told from the point of view of an 11 year old boy, Reuben, whose family is searching for his brother after he becomes a 1960’s version of an old west outlaw. It is set in North Dakota during the winter and the cast of characters is fantastic. There is quite a bit of religious symbolism that adds depth to the characters and causes you to really think deeply about the story. But don’t worry, if you just want to read a good story and not be bogged down in the symbolism, this story is excellent without taking an intellectual deep dive while reading it. Plus the characters are so lovable, there is a story within the story, and the language had me highlighting for days.

6. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

21996I love narrative nonfiction. When an author can tell a story about something that happened in real life, but make it seem like the stuff of fiction, and keep me turning pages at a rapid rate, I am in my reading happy place. Larson does just that with this book as he weaves together the story of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, and the Chicago’s World’s Fair. The bits about the serial killer are fascinating (I like serial killer books, lets not think about what that says about me) and disturbing on their own, but when juxtaposed with the hard work and magic of the World’s Fair and what that symbolizes about the American spirit of the time, it makes the charm and evil of Holmes more skin-crawling and despicable. I loved how Larson could  make me completely creeped-out in one section, and utterly nostalgic and weepy for the Gilded Age of America in the next.


There you have it, the first half of my top ten reads of 2017.  Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my top 5!


I love you more than miracles and maniacs,


Book Banter June 2017

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It has been a couple months since I have written a Book Banter post but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! If you want to see what I read in April and May search #bookbanter2017 on instagram and you will find pictures of all the books I have read (or listened to) since January. Tag what you are reading with #bookbanter 2017 too!

I have been on summer break for two weeks and while my schedule has slowed down, my reading life has picked up! I managed to read 12 books in June. Here is the breakdown: 5 were hardbacks/paperbacks, 1 was on my kindle, and 6 were on audio! I have found that audiobooks really suit my summer lifestyle. I can listen while driving. I can listen while picking berries. I can listen while cooking, baking, and cleaning. I can listen while exercising. You guys, this means I can read and do so many other things at the same time! I love it. Be warned, if you are giggling while listening to Emma people might give you funny looks.

Reading (listening) to a ton of audiobooks can get expensive very quickly. That is why I am loving the free app OverDrive. You just need to download the app, add your library card and start putting holds on the audiobooks you want. They also have eBooks , so I get books on my kinlde too. It is the best.

So here is what I read in June:



The Kitchen House by Kathleen GrissomThis is a heart-wrenching story about finding  hope in family even in the darkest of times. Historical fiction lovers should totally pick this up, but be warned there is some graphic language and violence.


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame : This delightful tale of friendship has been on my to- read list for twenty years. I read it aloud to my class and the beautiful language had us enchanted.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham: This is a YA book set in Tulsa, Oklahoma and has two narrators: one from the 1920’s and one in the here and now. This book deals with issues of race and describes the events of a race riot in Tulsa in the twenties. I read it for a book club and it was a quick read that tackled tough topics. Beware of graphic language and violence.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles: I had never given much thought to how people living on the frontier in America after the Civil War would get their news. The main character in this book travels around to read the news and make his living. One day he finds himself with a new mission, delivering a young girl, who had been stolen by a native tribe and then “rescued” years later, to her aunt and uncle. Their adventures and relationship are thought provoking. I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but it keeps creeping into my thoughts long after I put it down.

When Dimple met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: This is light and fluffy summer reading at its finest. Boy + girl + an app creation contest =love. The twist? These two youngsters were arranged to be married by their parents, and only one of them knows that!

Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This is more than a story about Hockey. It is the story of a small town that depends on its hockey team to keep it going. So what happens when the hockey team’s star commits a crime? Backman does a great job exploring this, and many other tough to tackle topics in this book. I grew up in a small town where sports were an important part of the culture so this book really hit home. Warning: sensitive topics are all over this book.


Emma by Jane Austen: I had never read this Austen classic and I am so glad I finally did. You guys, I think I like Mr. Knightley more than Mr. Darcy.  Hoe can that be? This book is funny and witty. I love listening to Austen books on audio because you get all the British accents. So worth it.

What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan: I realized recently that mysteries are what made me a reader. I was hooked on Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children and the Cat Who series when I was younger and my love for mysteries/thrillers continues today. I added this book to my OverDrive list and enjoyed its quick pace. The characters are not the most likable but I think it makes the story better.

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith: You might be thinking, “Do I really need to read an adventure story where the main characters are rabbits?” The answer is yes. This is a children’s book but I love me some kid lit so it was perfect for me. The audiobook is great and I actually sat in my garage to keep listening until my husband came out and see what I was doing. So. Good. When I posted that I had read it on my Instagram (@whitksmith) the author commented on my post and I kind of geeked out. I am totally reading it to my class in the future.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen:  If you like Gruen’s work and you are going to read this, definitely get the audiobook, Scottish accents ya’ll!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: I love this book and movie, even though they are different. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Anne Hathaway and she does an excellent job. I highly recommend it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:  After I read Emma and kind of fell for Mr. Knightley I had to go back and make sure I hadn’t just forgotten my love for Mr. Darcy since it had been awhile since I had read P&P. Final verdict: I love them both, but Knightley is winning. Also, in between the contemporary and whimsical reads this summer it has been nice to really settle in with some classics.

I am pretty happy with the books I read in June. My to be read this never gets any shorter so I am always happy when I choose books that are worthwhile for me. I even abandoned two books that just weren’t right for me at this time. I rarely do that because quitting is hard, but I think it worked out for the better.

What have you been reading? Have you read any of the books on my June list? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

I love you more than Knightley and Darcy,



Book Banter March 2017

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I finally broke out of my reading rut. After reading Brave New World last month I could not get into another book. The end of that book wrecked me. But I decided I would ease back into reading with a good young adult mystery and then it was off to the reading races!

I have recently started a facebook group for the blog called Golden Retrievers and Stars  (of course) and you should definitely check it out. I share fashion and books deals and live un-boxings of my recent purchases.  I am also toying around with the idea of doing an online book club, so let me know if that is something you would be interested in doing!  So seriously, go check out the faceook group, you won’t regret it.

Back to the books. Here is what I read this month:

1. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)The main characters in this new series are Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (yes, they are descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of literary fame) and they find themselves thrown together at a boarding school in Connecticut when one of their fellow students was murdered. Of course they are the prime suspects. I love a good mystery and when the characters are interesting it is even better. Jamie is very easy to like and I am so glad the story is told from his perspective. Charlotte is complex and not altogether easy to love, but is really honest. I liked the banter. I liked that there wasn’t too much ooey-gooey teenage emotion.  The second book in the series recently came out and I have a feeling I am going to start buying these books because the covers are GORGEOUS. Disclaimer: there are some scenes with adult content and drug use.

2. Devil in thee White City by Erik Larson 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaI am a sucker for excellent narrative nonfiction. I love to read, and learn new things, so nonfiction that reads like a novel makes my heart happy! That being said, I do not know why I have not read Erik Larson sooner. This book follows the lives of H.H, Holmes (Chicago serial killer) and Daniel H. Burnham (Chicago World’s Fair Architect) as the Chicago World’s Far comes together. Both the drama surrounding the World’s Fair and the murders committed by H.H. Holmes were very interesting. I cannot believe how far police investigation has come since the late 1800’s. H.H. Holmes was not only murdering but committing fraud all over the place!  My favorite bit of architecture and engineering history was the invention, building and operation of the first Ferris Wheel! This book was slow in spots, but I really loved it. If you have an interest in serial killers (sounds bad, but we all know it is a thing) or the history of U.S. architecture you should totally check this book out. If not, still check it out, it is fascinating!

3. Grave of Hummingbirds by Jennifer Skutelsky

Grave of HummingbirdsI am a sucker for a good setting and the setting of this book was perfect. Picture a small South American village, condors flying overhead and weird murders all around. Our cast of characters finds themselves in the middle of these strange murders as a local festival draws nearer.  An American anthropologist and her son visit the village for the festival and locals begin to notice the anthropologist resembles a recent murder victim. Not long after they arrive and notice that something strange is going on she goes missing. The local doctor (whose wife has recently died and also looks like the murder victim) gets involved and things just keep getting weirder. Throw in some corrupt politicians and police and you have yourself an excellent, exciting story.  I saw that is free on kindle unlimited so if you subscribe to that, then definitely download this book!

4. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder 

There isn’t much to say about this book other than it is one of my all time favorite books. I have read this book too many times to count. The most recent read was with my students. The joy that they got from hearing Laura’s stories amplifies my own joy. They learned a lot and asked me so many great questions. After we finished reading we made Johnny cake, butter and maple sugar candy, just like Laura did in the book. This made this read extra special. If you have not read this please do it now! I have heard the audiobook is awesome because there is real fiddle music when Pa plays!





5. The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport 

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and AlexandraEver since I was a young girl I have been interested in Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Their story is so tragic I have always thought it was weird I was so drawn to it.  But it wasn’t until I read this book that the reason for my curiosity became clear. The Romanov family suffered well. Their world was crumbling around them and their deaths were imminent. Yet, they took joy in the world around them. They were happy to be able to chop wood, or walk around a garden. They enjoyed their time together and they never lost faith. Their biggest regret about being in captivity was that they could no longer help at their hospitals. What a powerful example they were. Nicholas was not a good ruler, but he was a good man and father. He put his family before his country until he took his last breath. His daughters and son were never allowed to grow up, but their story is inspiring. I cried my way through this one, and it didn’t help when Anthony said, “well its not going to get any better” but this story is one I will keep revisiting.

6. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #4)I have been slowly reading my way through the Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series. This is book number 4 and was by far the best. The strength of this series is the characters and while they take time to develop it is worth it. This book is set in the wilderness of Canada at an old inn. One of the guests is crushed by a statue of her father that was just erected. The only suspects are the family members themselves and the staff of the inn, oh and the Chief Inspector himself, who happened to be staying at the inn with his wife at the time. We get to see a glimpse into the Inspector’s past and learned a little about his father, and why he chose the path he did. I am going to keep plugging away at this mystery series, because I hear it only gets better!

7. Edge of eternity by Ken Follett

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy, #3)This is the third book in Follett’s Century Trilogy and it covers post WWII to the falling on the Berlin Wall. That is some serious ground, and I think that is why this turned out to be my least favorite of the three. I felt like I didn’t really get to know the characters as well as in the other books. Don’t get me wrong there were very touching moments in this book, but most of them included characters from the previous stories. The best part about this book was how much I learned. I knew the least about the subject matter in this book and was horrified and fascinated by all that I learned. One thing that really bothered me about this book was that Follett’s characters seemed less morally ambiguous than in his previous books. All of the characters were still flawed, human beings, but it was clear Follett was trying to make certain characters out as the “bad guys” because of their political views. In the previous books the reader was allowed to make their own judgments about a person based on the glimpses of humanity that Follett provided for all characters. I much preferred that to the over-generalization of characters based on their political leanings. I would highly recommend this series to historical fiction lovers. The audiobooks are fantastic and well worth the $15 audible credit price because they are about 37 hours each. Disclaimer: there is tons of adult content in the series.

8. Golden Son by Pierce Brown 

Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)This book is the second in Brown’s Red Rising Saga. It follows Darrow, a young man who has left his family behind in order to free them from the life of slavery they live. This is a post-apocalyptic type series, set in our solar system after earth’s destruction.  In this book Darrow further infiltrates the Golden society that has kept his people underground for hundreds of years. This series is similar to The Hunger Games (yes it has lots of violence), but the political system of the society is very interesting. What I love about these books is that I found myself writing down quotes and nuggets of wisdom. Every once in awhile Brown slips in a keen observation on human nature and I am a sucker for that. I am excited to get the next book from the library!


I managed to read 8 books during March! What have you been reading? Have you read any of these books? If so, tell me your thoughts in the comments. You can follow me on twitter and instagram @whitksmith and search #bookbanter2017 to keep up with what I am reading. Don’t forget to join my facebook group to get great deals on books!

Until next time,

I love you more than Russian Tsars and Ferris Wheel Cars,





Book Banter: February 2017


Welcome to post 100 on Golden Retrievers and Stars! Whether this is your first time reading, or your hundredth (hi mom!), thank you! When I started this blog I never imagined I would reach thousands or readers. So, thank you.

Ok, enough with the mushy stuff, let’s get to why you are really here, BOOKS.

This month I was in a reading slump. I did not get nearly as much reading done as I had anticipated. Especially since a bunch of my library holds came in this month. I will cut myself some slack since February is a short month, and I was out of town over a long weekend. But seriously, can I have my reading  groove back?

All titles are linked to Amazon for your convenient buying pleasure. These links are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from your purchases at no extra charge to you.

1. Call the Nurse by Mary J. MacLeod

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish IsleReader Confession: I have not read Call the Midwife or seen the show-Don’t worry, it is on my to-do list- So I am assuming that this book follows a similar style as the one its name echoes.  I have heard both compared to James Herriot’s writings, which I have read and love. This book is the memoir of MacLeod, a nurse, who decided to move with her family to a remote Scottish Isle and become the island nurse. It really made me want to visit Scotland and maybe turn into a hermit and live there. I am not sure about peat smoke, but I bet I could get used to it. The people in the stories are so vibrant. MacLeod does not shy away from tough stories, but had her share of funny stories as well. I loved the passion with which MacLeod described her time on the island. I HIGHLY recommend this on audio because 1. Scottish accents 2. name pronunciation.

2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 

Charlotte's WebI think I have read this book more times than any other, even *gasp* Harry Potter. It is a masterpiece. The language is so rich. The story heartfelt, and the characters are complex and humorous (Templeton) Every time I get to read this with my students I cannot imagine a greater privilege. Seriously. The looks on their faces and their belly laughs are worth 10,00 words. I still get choked up at the end, even though I give myself a pep talk before reading it. If you have never read this book I will try not to judge you, but seriously, now is the time. If you haven’t read this book in the last ten years I recommend you revisit it. You will be glad you did. It is a tale of friendship and trust. Love and loyalty. Plus, if you get the opportunity to read it aloud, your kiddos will love the voices you get make for the different barnyard animals. I love this book so much I currently own 5 copies of it. Some will be going home with students are year end gifts, but still. So good.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

17262158This book might have started my reading slump. I finished it and was shocked. I was not anticipating it to be so sexual. I was not anticipating the ending. I was also not anticipating Shakespeare (that part I really liked). I read this as part of a series on Totalitarianism I am following along with. I also read Darkness at Noon and 1984.  Huxley was obviously very well educated and very afraid of where the world was headed. His imagined totalitarian government was not as outright scary as the others I have been reading about. But, that made it even scarier. There were not too many people who were disgruntled or asking questions. They filled their days with work and nights with government promoted entertainment. They took a literal happy pill whenever they had bad feelings. That is scary. It sounds like something people might actually do. Yikes. I am glad I read this, bu I  am not sure I enjoyed it and I don’t think I was supposed to.

Well that is it for February Book  Banter! Don’t forget to follow along with my reading adventures on instagram and twitter! Juts follow me @whitksmith and tag your books with #bookbanter2017

Also, join my facebook group for book deals, fashion finds and more! Right now I am having a $20 Stitch Fix Giveaway to celebrate their launch of more sizes! They now carry sizes 0-24W and XS-3X. Check out my last Stitch Fix post for more details or just head on over to the facebook group to enter now!

What have you been reading lately? Any ideas to get me back on the reading train? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

I love you more than Scottish isles and kiddo smiles,