Book Reviews–June 2019 Part One

Welcome!  I have large stacks of books TBR (To Be Read) on my nightstand, plus electronic stacks of books lined up in my Kindle, as well as books on hold at the library.  As I read these books, I love to share my thoughts and opinions of what I’ve read here in this space, because I enjoy sharing my passion for books with others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  Finally, the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1: 

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (Length: 368 pages).  This is an excellent read!  The writing is top-notch, the characters are well-developed and I wanted to keep reading.  This novel is told from the perspective of the youngest sibling of 4 (Fiona), and is primarily about the familial/sibling bonds of this group.  While it’s broad in scope and of time, the pace is quick enough to hold a reader’s interest (which I was very pleased about).  Book clubs would enjoy this book as there are opportunities to discuss your own bonds with your siblings.  (Note:  climate-change deniers, whoever you are, may want to skip this book because there is a somewhat intense and VERY realistic peek into our planet’s near future in the flash-forward scenes.)

From the publisher:

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.

It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.

Book #2: 

Packing for MarsPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (Length: 335 pages).   I’m not sure where I heard about this non-fiction pick, but I’m SO glad I read this book.  I’ve read the author’s “Stiff” and “Gulp” previously, so I knew I’d find this exhaustive account of the preparation that must occur before spacewalks and our eventual travel to Mars to be worth my time.  This book, as with her previous books, showcases the author’s wit.  (For example, the line, “‘They didn’t want the hot water cooking the skin flakes'”, he said, speaking four words together that have no business being so.”)  The author does get bogged down into the minutiae (as is her style) . . . for example, what is it like to go without washing for two weeks in space, what it’s like going to the bathroom, etc but the minutiae IS so very interesting, in my opinion.  I will say, this book is difficult to read in one go, but by chapter it’s fine.  Definitely do NOT skip the footnotes!  (If you’re reading this on a Kindle, just click on the asterisks within the text itself).  These often contain the most interesting (and funny) factoids!

From the publisher:

“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) explores the irresistibly strange universe of life without gravity in this New York Times bestseller.

The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Mary Roach takes us on the surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

Book #3: 

Fierce KingdomFierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (Length: 278 pages).  Whoa.  This book is INTENSE.  If you’re looking for a lightning-fast, thrill-ride of a read that you’ll finish in one sitting, this is it.   This novel is very well-paced, and the author is all about moving the plot (about some gunmen in a zoo at closing time) forward, but what characters there are, you absolutely understand them and their motivations along the way.  The main narrator, Joan, is a mom at the zoo with her young son.  She’s heroic at times, and shockingly not at others.  She’s very believable and makes you think about what you’d do in that same situation.  There is a secondary character of a retired third-grade teacher (who’s seen at least a dozen of her former students on the news in some capacity after they reach adulthood), and having been a substitute teacher for third-grade, I absolutely related to her character.  The novel’s ending is very sudden, and you can read what you want into it.  Love those types of endings–definitely worth a read.  This would be a fantastic book to read on a long airplane flight or car ride as the time will fly by!

From the publisher:

One of the New York Times Book Review’s Best Crime Novels of 2017

“Warning: you’ll finish this in one sitting.” —TheSkimm

“Expertly made thriller . . . clever and irresistible.” —The New York Times

An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.

Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.

A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power—Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?

Book #4: 

Chasing FirefliesChasing Fireflies by Charles Martin (Length: 351 pages). I LOVE me some Charles Martin.  This is yet another great novel of his.  He does touch upon (briefly) some tough subjects such as child abuse (both physical and sexual) as well as HIV, but he’s never too graphic and it’s never gratuitous.  The narrator is a younger male (30 years old) who is a journalist.  He’s adopted and lives with an older couple he calls Uncle Willie and Aunt Lorna, and we learn about Uncle Willie’s very storied past.  As always, Martin does a fantastic job of painting a sense of place, in this case, the marshes of Georgia, with his always-beautiful writing style and a fantastically-paced plot.  You HAVE to keep reading to find out how it ends.  There’s a mystery within the plot, per usual, but Martin definitely doesn’t spoon feed it to you.  I LOVE this book!  

From the publisher:

On a stifling summer day, an old Chevy Impala ignored the warning signals and was annihilated by the oncoming train. What no one realized until much later was that the driver had paused just before entering the tracks and kicked a small boy out of the car. A small boy with broken glasses who is clutching a notebook with all his might . . . but who never speaks.

Chase Walker was one of the lucky ones. He was in foster care as a child, but he finally ended up with a family who loved him and cared for him. Now, as a journalist for the local paper, he’s moved on and put the past behind him.

But when he’s assigned the story of this young boy, painful, haunting questions about his own childhood begin to rise to the surface.

And as Chase Walker discovers, learning the truth about who you are can be as elusive—and as magical—as chasing fireflies on a summer night.

Book #5: 

Good Morning MidnightGood Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Length: 274 pages).   This book is based on SUCH an interesting premise, even for a dystopian novel.  The main characters (in alternating chapters) are:  An elderly scientist who stays put after an evacuation of a research station near the North Pole, and a female member of a crew of 6 en route back to Earth from a study/exploration of Jupiter.  The female crew member, Sully, is estranged from her daughter, much like August, the research scientist on Earth.  The author creates a fantastic sense of place in both locales–and since I really enjoy reading about space AND the Arctic, this novel is really my jam.  While this is more about “the journey” and the meaning of life than the arc of the plot, it’s definitely worth a read.  Just a warning that the last two chapters are definitely a bit of a surprise (that I suspected but really didn’t see coming).  I’m okay with the (rather abrupt) ending but some readers may not be.   I absolutely will read whatever else this author publishes!

From the publisher: NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SHELF AWARENESS AND THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS • COLSON WHITEHEAD’S FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016 (Esquire)

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.


As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

Book #6: 

Becoming OdyssaBecoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis (Length: 322 pages).  Fun fact:  I’m OBSESSED with the Appalachian Trail, and have read more than half a dozen books about this trail, and thru-hikers in particular.  This particular memoir is now in my top 3 primarily because the author’s writing is very good, and descriptive, and for a 22 year-old woman (at the time she hiked the trail), she isn’t whiny, but instead is very positive and empathetic to others.  She definitely encounters some difficult people and dangerous situation and endures physical trials, but she handles all of them with admirable strengthe and grace.  Her writing (and viewpoint) is a bit too religious for my taste in part, but not enough to put me off reading (and recommending) this book.  

From the publisher:

After graduating from college, Jennifer isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life. She is drawn to the Appalachian Trail, a 2175-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Though her friends and family think she’s crazy, she sets out alone to hike the trail, hoping it will give her time to think about what she wants to do next. The next four months are the most physically and emotionally challenging of her life. She quickly discovers that thru-hiking is harder than she had imagined: coping with blisters and aching shoulders from the 30-pound pack she carries; sleeping on the hard wooden floors of trail shelters; hiking through endless torrents of rain and even a blizzard. With every step she takes, Jennifer transitions from an over-confident college graduate to a student of the trail, braving situations she never imagined before her thru-hike. The trail is full of unexpected kindness, generosity, and humor. And when tragedy strikes, she learns that she can depend on other people to help her in times of need.

November 2020–Part Two


Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett (Length: 315 pages).   This is an absolutely incredible book that every American should read, especially those still in high school or college. The author is an attorney who grew up in a small town in Texas, and she discusses the inequities in our justice system, specifically the federal sentencing guidelines that a 100:1 ratio of powder cocaine to crack cocaine. Not all sentencing reforms of the old, racially unjust laws are retroactive, resulting in over 30,000 inmates (80% of whom are people of color) who are serving life sentences for minimal drug possession crimes. This is infuriating and needs to be changed (likely via an act of Congress as the only current remedy is clemency). The writing here is excellent and the author paints a vivid story, humanizing all of the inmates she helps. This would be an excellent book club choice!

Book #2:

Replay by Ken Grimwood (Length: 322 paperback pages).  I thought this science fiction novel was really interesting a la the movie Groundhog Day, but over the span of 25 years. The protagonist relives a 25 year section of his life over and over again. The premise is novel, but the writing is a bit graphic in parts, so if you’re sensitive, beware. The writing is excellent, and the character development is fantastic (but how could it not be, with the narrator being re-invented repeatedly?). The plot obviously makes this one a hard one to put down, as you have to find out how it ends, and throughout, you’re going to be thinking of your own mortality. I would recommend this for sure.

Book #3:

The Lazy Genius by Kendra Adachi (Length: 228 pages).  I have listened to this author’s podcast and have enjoyed it, so I checked out her book from the library. There isn’t much new information here that the author hasn’t already published on IG or on her podcast, but I do enjoy her philosophy (focus on and put energy into only the things that matter, and use hacks or shortcuts for everything else). This book delineates all of the author’s suggested shortcuts as wells as how you can implement this philosophy in all areas of your life, so for those reasons this is absolutely worth a (quick) read.

Book #4:

Under a Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake (Length: 409 pages).   I purchased this for my Kindle upon reading a review that called this historical novel Downton Abbey meets Crawdads. While I wouldn’t quite go that far, I really enjoyed this read. This novel is set in the time period of 1895-96, at the newly-completed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. There is a murder mystery at the center of the novel, and that aspect reminds me of Agatha Christie a bit. The setting is very scenic, the writing is beautiful, and the character development is relatively strong (without being too deep as this is primarily plot-driven). I did find the plot drags a bit in the middle, but the resolution of the mystery is very satisfying overall. There is an interesting character arc of a man named Madison Grant, who was based on a real-life land and wildlife conservationist (and the founder of the best zoo in American–the Bronx Zoo) who was also a eugenicist. I absolutely would recommend this book, and it would be another fantastic book club pick.

November 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin (Length: 320 pages).   This is a well-written thriller set on a fictional Caribbean island called Saint X. The plot is very remiscent of the Natalie Hollway case but where the body is found ASAP. The rest of the novel recounts how the victim’s family members, fellow tourists and a few islanders deal with the aftermath of the death. The focus is mainly on the victim’s sister, with a plot twist at the end that is a bit unusual but makes sense in retrospect. The writing here is VERY good, but there was a bit too much navel-gazing for me when it comes to the sister, and the novel drags a bit too much in the middle, for my liking. You will not like all of the characters, but you aren’t supposed to like them. Race and privilege are a bit part of this novel, which would make it a great book club choice.

Book #2:

Eat to Beat Disease by Dr William W. Li (Length: 414 pages).  This is another very specific book choice which (hopefully) doesn’t apply to you.  However, unlike the last book on colon cancer that I reviewed last month, this book should apply to anyone who is looking to stay healthy, and wants information on how to heal their body through diet. The author is very well-qualified to educate on which foods help to heal which diseases, specifically via antigenesis (blood vessel growth). His writing is straightforward, scientifically-based and he provides all of the resources for you to verify the information provided, if you wish. He has a Ted Talk that is worth Googling as well. This is worth a purchase to keep in your personal library as it’s a fantastic reference.

Book #3:

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Length: 352 pages).  I have tried to read this twice before, and gave up. This time I couldn’t put it down! The writing is lyrical, and the author conveys a gorgeous sense of place (Manhattan in the late 1930s), snappy dialogue and I adored the protagonist (Kate Kontent). This is a polarizing novel with reviewers (some call it pretentious, others call it amazing), and I’m decidedly in the second camp. The resolution of the “love story’ is excellent here, with a twist that I just didn’t see coming. I’m looking forward to reading this author’s novel, A Gentleman in Moscow next.

Book #4:

The Two Lila Bennetts by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (Length: 315 pages).   This was a freebie Amazon Prime read that I downloaded this summer, and I was pleasantly surprised with this well-written thriller! The format is interesting here–a la the movie Sliding Doors, where the protagonist (criminal defense attorney) comes to a fork in the road and the alternating chapters reveal each of the two paths. I thought the plot here is excellent–very fast-paced and believable. The character development is sufficiently deep to understand the mindset of the protagonist, so the reader is able to at least understand why she makes the choices she does. I didn’t figure out the underlying mystery until the end, which is always makes for a satisfying read. I highly recommend this fun thriller, and I plan to check out the authors’ other novels (namely, Girls’ Night Out and The Good Widow).

October 2020–Part Three

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

All the Devils Are HereAll the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (Length: 443 pages).   If I had to choose only one author to read for the rest of my life (God forbid!), it would be Louise Penny.  I adore all of her work, and her as a person (her Facebook page is a delight).  This novel is #16 in her Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series, and be still my heart, it’s set in Paris!!  Having had the good fortune to visit Paris for 2 weeks over 20 years ago, this novel’s depictions of the beautiful sights in Paris made it seem like I was there yesterday.  The setting is the best part of this novel, as the mystery and the plot aren’t the strongest in Penny’s canon, in my opinion.  There are some technical and continuity issues in this mystery centered around corporate espionage.  (For example, what happened to the second security guard in the apartment in the final standoff??)  There are many plot holes which require the reader to suspend disbelief, and given Penny’s typically intelligent narratives, this is a bit disappointing.  In terms of character development, the reader is finally able to learn why Armand and his son Daniel have been estranged for so long, and quite simply, the reason is LAME.  However, given all of the above, I LOVED the fast pacing of the plot (ridiculous as it is), the incredible setting and the quality of Penny’s writing.  I am still a fan, and will always be a fan of her work.   

Book #2:

Chris Beat CancerChris Beat Cancer by Chris Wark (Length: 296 pages).  This is a very specific book choice which (hopefully) doesn’t apply to you.  The author is a stage 3 colon cancer survivor of 15 years, who advocates against adjuvant (clean up) chemotherapy to prevent a recurrence of cancer, and instead promotes a diet and lifestyle change. While his tips are obviously specific to cancer prevention, I found this to contain excellent information for anyone who wishes to lead a healthier lifestyle.  Main point:  animal products are one of the biggest drivers of disease in our bodies.  The author does include a ton of scientific studies to back up his main points (which is great on the Kindle because you can just click on the link immediately).  I am not a fan of the more radical alternative therapies as I believe science plays a huge role in medicine, and we can’t discount all that scientists have discovered.  However, given how much we are brainwashed by the meat and dairy industries, I think the author has some excellent points here that would benefit even the average reader who isn’t fighting or seeking to prevent cancer or other diseases.  

Book #3:

Too lateToo Late by Colleen Hoover (Length: 395 pages).  Ugh.  Just NO.  This is awful.  This is the third novel by this author that I’ve read, and picked it up because it was recommended as a “read next” choice.  The plot here is trite, centered around a college student who lives with an extremely abusive boyfriend who is also a drug dealer.  Yet she falls in love with an undercover cop who inexplicably falls in love with her as well.  The protagonist is clearly brainwashed, which typically would be understandable given that she’s an abuse victim, however her actions don’t make sense even within this emotional framework.  The abuse scenes (sexual and physical) are very exploitative and don’t advance the plot in a way that the reader can forgive the exploitation.  There’s enough forward momentum that I wanted to keep reading to see how it ends, but I felt gross the whole time.  Only true Colleen Hoover fans will enjoy this book, and after this one, I’m not ever going to be one of them.  

October 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:    

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister (Length: 316 pages).   This was my book club’s selection for October, and I really enjoyed (most of) it. I was reminded quite a bit of the book Where the Crawdads Sing in terms of the (island) setting. I thought the author here nailed the trifecta–setting, plot and character development. But here the setting is the most effective, especially for the first 2/3 of the book. My least favorite parts of the book occur on the mainland, or in the “city”. I found the subplot on scents and how they affect us to be fascination. The plot or central mystery is good here, and the character development is excellent (whether or not you love the main characters is another thing). Definitely would recommend this book. 

Book #2:

A Happy Catastrophe by Maddie Dawson (Length: 378 pages).  This is the sequel to the author’s novel Matchmaking for Beginners (which I reviewed in January of this year), and follows up on the characters of Marnie and Patrick. I enjoyed the first novel much more than this continuation, mainly because the middle, or the meat of the novel dragged on for way too long, thanks to Patrick’s depression. As a reader, I was initially sympathetic to his plight, but once the point is made, do we need to belabor it at the expense of the plot? This was not what I was looking for in a novel in this genre. Having said that, I still believe that Matchmaking is one of the best “romance” novels I’ve ever read. Read that one instead.

Book #3:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Length: 272 pages).   I have had this book on my TBR list for ages, and when I was loaned a copy of it by a good friend, I was excited to finally read it, given all of its hype (that it’s a very polarizing read). Written by the award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, this is a short novel initially set in an English boarding school. The central mystery is alluded to immediately, but it takes almost the entire novel to be entirely fleshed out. This is very well-written, with a plot that is a tad bit too drawn out. The character development is excellent (but don’t expect likeable people), and the plot will give you a LOT of food for thought. This is a fantastic book club pick because it will generate interesting and very thought-provoking discussions on medical ethics and morals in our society.

October 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:    

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (Length: 358 pages).   This was my second Katherine Center novel, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. This is an easy, light-hearted, quick read. A romance with a bit more substance, and it focuses on a female firefighter who is a total badass (one-armed pull-ups?!). The central romance is cute, but the dark backstory of the protagonist is a bit too drawn-out. I found this to be a very interesting and enlightening take on sexism in the firefighting world. I would absolutely recommend, perhaps even for a book club that is looking for a romance novel.

Book #2:

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon (Length: 736 pages!).  I LOVED this book! I’ve owned this first novel in a series (of 14) for ages, but hadn’t been drawn to pick it up until now. This is a charming novel about small town life in the (fictional) town of Mitford, North Carolina. The protagonist is Father Timothy, the 60 year-old rector of the Episcopalian Church, with a fantastically different dog named Barnabas. This is very witty, extremely well-written, uplifting and has lots of depth. There are a lot of Biblical quotes throughout, but I found this novel to be more spiritual rather than religious, and they actually add to the plot. There are several different plot lines that run through the novel, with each chapter building upon the next, yet each chapter seems to have its own mini-plot. This is a fantastic beach or travel read given it’s length (twice as long as my average Kindle read). I found I was always thinking about it even when I wasn’t reading it, which is high praise, indeed.