Memoirs to Read

Books a Million: Memoirs, Espionage and Tales of Restless Nomads

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Summer is nearly over, and as usual, I didn’t get anywhere close to whittling down my reading list. But I did read some really stellar memoirs and novels in the past month, and I wanted to share for those of you looking for a quick, riveting read.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Give me a tale about World War II, lace it with espionage, and I’m bound to fall in love. This is my first book of Atkinson’s to read, and I was an instant fan. The gripping tale of a young WWII-era transcriptionist in London plucked from the typing pool by the government to spy on Nazis had me on the edge of my seat, and as a journalist, it makes me wonder if I would have fallen into a similar line of work had I lived during that time. I love Atkinson’s writing style, and I plan to read more by the Scotland-based novelist.

Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matt Kepnes

My long-time blog friend Nomadic Matt penned a lovely memoir about his decade of being nomadic, starting with the trip that launched it all—a group tour to Costa Rica—and journeying through quitting his corporate healthcare job, telling his parents and friends (not always to the warmest reception), then hitting the road full-time. The stories that followed him around the globe, Europe in particular, were nostalgic for me, as someone who spent her early 20s living in hostels abroad and making what Matt calls “one-city friendships” everywhere she went. This is a must-read for aimless twenty-somethings looking for purpose, or really anyone who needs the inspiration to just go.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

I’m going to be upfront here: I did not finish this book. Not because it wasn’t incredibly detailed and well-written, because it was, but because it was perhaps too detailed for what I need in my reading these days (quick fictional reads before bed or on planes, “fictional” being the operative word; there were simply too many players, too many names, too many subplots to follow for a bedtime read). We all know the outcome of Elizabeth Holmes’ health technology company Theranos, the scandalous story of which was initially broken by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou who authored this book. Those who, like me, don’t gravitate toward this heavy of a tome before bed might consider the audiobook on your commute instead, which is how I intend to eventually get through this indisputably impressive piece of journalism.

Since I’m a big consumer of podcasts, I’m signing up for Audible’s trial membership this month to see if I can check off some of the books that have been long on my list with all the driving on my schedule! Anyone big on audiobooks and have any favorites?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen

You’re living under a rock (or rather, off the Internet) if you haven’t heard of this read about a “swamp rat” who essentially grew up an orphan on the coast of North Carolina in the 1950s and managed to evade CPS and various other officials and live life on her own terms. I’ve seen many people call this tale of survival their “favorite book ever,” and while I wouldn’t go that far, it’s definitely one of the best I’ve read all year (though I still think I like Before We Were Yours, which it reminded me of, even more). This book follows two timelines: Kya Clark as she raises herself in the swamp from age six to teenage years, and about 20 years later when a crime is committed and no trace left behind. I definitely read the majority of the book assuming Kya lived in the Louisiana bayou, since no location was specifically named until the end, so it completely changed my outlook of her upbringing when I learned the setting was actually the Outer Banks. It took me a good 50 pages or more to really get into this book—especially with the heavy dialect in the beginning—but I’m glad I stuck with it. A nature writer by trade, Owen has a beautifully poignant way with words, particularly when describing the region’s various flora and fauna, and it was shocking to learn this was her first novel. I can’t wait to read more fiction from her. I’m also really excited that Reese Witherspoon optioned the book to adapt it into a movie, and I look forward to see who is cast as Tate and Kya!

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

I believe this was a recommendation from Entertainment Weekly, one that I put on my library waitlist awhile back and unexpectedly popped up in my queue. Spinster Frances Jellico, who is characterized as an old maid and yet is just 39 at the start of the book, goes to live in a dilapidated, old English country house in 1969 as she is hired to survey the gardens for the absent owner. She moves into the attic of the old house, whose ground floor is occupied by a mysterious yet enchanting couple, for a summer, and her life is forever changed by what transpires there. The 323 pages chronicle how deep Frances falls into love—both with the place and the couple—and just how naive she turns out to be. Crimes are committed, and that’s all I can say without spoiling anything that takes place in this absorbing book.

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Confession of a first-time Hilderbrand reader-turned-insta-fan. As often happens, this book populated my Kindle feed thanks to sharing an account with my mom, a voracious reader who tears through at least 100 books a year. I downloaded it while waiting for library books, having no clue what it was about. The book launches with the death of Deacon Thorpe, a celebrity chef Bourdain kind of character, who suffers a heart attack and leaves three former wives and a collection of kids behind to divvy up the estate and figure out what’s to become of the beloved Nantucket home. They all arrive on the island and inhabit the home together as secrets of drug habits, affairs and financial woes are revealed and Deacon’s many lifetimes unravel on the pages. Think of it as a book version of This Is Us or Parenthood.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen’s A Royal Spyness series has been one of my favorite since my mom introduced me to it about seven years ago. Following the misadventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line for the throne who trouble seems to follow, the A Royal Spyness series is equal part mystery and whimsy. In the 11th installment, Georgie travels from Ireland to Italy to help her best friend Belinda, who is living in hiding, with a baby born out of wedlock. But anywhere Lady Georgie goes, trouble follows—this time in the form of a dinner party the Queen assigns her to attend as her spy. In truth, these books tend to follow a pattern, one that I know all too well 11 in, and yet I still find them indulgent and a necessary pick-me-up after long days in front of the computer. Somehow I fell a couple books behind, as I haven’t read the 12th book Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding yet either, and Love and Death Among the Cheetahs just came out last month, through which I’m excited to follow Georgie to Africa, a first for the series.


I tried to read Amor Townes’ A Gentleman in Moscow and I just couldn’t get through it, y’all. I absolutely loved Rules of Civility, but this one just dragged on. Anyone else have the same problem? Currently, I’m on the library waitlist for Educated, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoThe Alice Network, The Huntress and My Friend Anna.

What’s the best book you read this summer?

  • September 3, 2019

    Definitely, definitely read Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (they’re companion books). I just re-read Life After Life and it was so good. Also set in before and during WW2, just a really interesting concept that had me thinking about it enough to re-read it a year later.

  • September 3, 2019

    I had the exact same experience with A Gentleman in Moscow! I just couldn’t get through it, but I devoured Rules of Civility.

  • September 3, 2019

    My absolutely favorites on Audible (and just to read, honestly) are all the books in the Three Pines series by Louise Penny. She is an extraordinary writer and if you haven’t read her books yet, they need to be added to the top of your list. Seriously. So good.

  • September 3, 2019

    I listen to Audible quite a bit – Loved hearing Michelle Obama “read” her book to me. “A Gentleman in Moscow” was a good one to listen to. I have Educated if you’d like to borrow it.

  • September 3, 2019

    You KNOW I’m on the waiting list for Bowen’s Cheetahs! Can’t wait until it comes in. 🙂

    The first Kate Atkinson book I read was Case Histories, the first in her Jackson Brody series, which I liked WAY better than Life After Life (I admired the way Life After Life is written though–very clever way of plotting out a book.) I read Transcription and really enjoyed it, but remind me sometime to tell you about how I totally missed the ending. (Sigh.)

    Also read Where the Crawdads Sing, and agree–it took me a bit to get into it, but I did enjoy it.

    So as not to write a tome in the comment section, I’ll restrain my recommendations to two books: Daisy Jones and The Six, and The Great Believers. I devoured both!

  • September 5, 2019
    Allisson Nadler

    I will definitely read this one, because as soon as I saw it it captured my attention completely “On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service” sounds like the perfect book to read on the plane while you wait for the eternal flight of 7 to 16 hours to finish.

  • September 8, 2019

    Let’s talk audiobooks for a minute. You *must* get on board! I “read” so much more since I welcomed audiobooks into my life. I know you love podcasts, so they have competition in your life, but I listen to them while I run errands, do dishes, clean the house, etc. There are so many books, and so little time. Audiobooks is part of the answer for me.

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