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.

June 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:

GhostedGhosted by Rosie Walsh (Length: 347 pages).   I saw this book was recommended on Bookstagram, and since I was in the mood for a lighter romance, I checked it out.  Set in England, this is a fun novel that is also well-written, with a few different plot twists that occur in the middle of the book.  The author divides the book into two different perspectives, of the two main characters, which makes for an interesting take on the standard romance novel.  There are deeper subject matters here, such as mental health, and the death of a young sibling, which elevate this book to be more than “chick lit” which I appreciate.  I would definitely recommend this one, namely because this was a book that I thought about between the times I picked it up to continue reading.  

From the publisher:

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

Book #2:

The ChoiceThe Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Length: 305 pages).   This memoir was given to me by my best friend who urged me to read it, telling me it would change my life.  She was right.  I first let my 14-year old daughter read it (for a “free” read for her freshman English class) and she adored it as well.  The first half of the memoir covers Dr. Eger’s account of the Holocaust as she experienced it as a 16 year old.  The scenes are graphic, as they should be, but what’s so interesting is reading about how Dr. Eger continually tried to find the positives in her situation, and tried to remain optimistic at all turns.  The second half of the book is about how Dr. Eger learned to process what happened to her.  She became a licensed psychologist at the age of 55 (!) and then uses her life lessons to help her patients, accounts she also shares here.  I will absolutely use her advice in my own life, and I won’t ever forget this book.  Simply put, it’s an amazing book that everyone should read!

From the publisher:

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award and Christopher Award

At the age of sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Hours after her parents were killed, Nazi officer Dr. Josef Mengele, forced Edie to dance for his amusement and her survival. Edie was pulled from a pile of corpses when the American troops liberated the camps in 1945.

Edie spent decades struggling with flashbacks and survivor’s guilt, determined to stay silent and hide from the past. Thirty-five years after the war ended, she returned to Auschwitz and was finally able to fully heal and forgive the one person she’d been unable to forgive—herself.

Edie weaves her remarkable personal journey with the moving stories of those she has helped heal. She explores how we can be imprisoned in our own minds and shows us how to find the key to freedom. The Choice is a life-changing book that will provide hope and comfort to generations of readers.

Book #3:

VerityVerity by Colleen Hoover (Length: 333 pages).   I have heard of this psychological thriller for several months, as well as this author (who is more known for her romance novels).  I knew going into it that there would be some disturbing plot points, but wow–I wasn’t prepared for what I actually read.  I had to put the novel down at a few places to take a break.  There are several vivid accounts of infant and child abuse, and as a mother of two daughters, these were tough for me to get through.  I will say that the writing is decent overall, as is the character development. But be forewarned, you won’t care for the main characters (nor are you supposed to).  I will say you should keep an open mind while reading, as the plot resolution is interesting and the final “twist” does turn the entire novel on its head.  In my opinion this is worth a library check out if you want to see what all of the fuss is about.  Having said this, I will be checking out a few of Hoover’s romance novels as that’s the genre that has made her such a popular author.  

From the publisher:

An Amazon top 100 bestseller of 2020
Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of the night their family was forever altered.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Due to graphic scenes and mature content, this book is recommended for readers 18+.

 

June 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:

Such a fun ageSuch a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Length: 320 pages).   This was my book club’s choice this month.  I’d call it chick lit with a meaningful edge.  This was written by a very young, up and coming author, and I’m excited to see what she writes next.   In this debut novel she deals with race, female relationships and the relationship between nanny/caretaker and employer with a very realistic viewpoint.  I enjoyed the snappy dialogue, especially between the nanny and her girlfriends.  And I ADORED the 2-3 year old Briar, such an interesting toddler.  I didn’t like the nanny’s employer Alex/Alix AT ALL, but I don’t think I was supposed to.  This was an excellent book club pick because this book jump started a lot of discussions about important timely topics such as race and police brutality.  

From the publisher:

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times.

Book #2:

The Heart's Invisible FuriesThe Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Length: 567 pages).  Wow!!  This is SO good!  I will say that it’s very LONG, and I almost gave up about 25% of the way through because it’s slow to start, but I’m so glad I didn’t.  This is a family saga set in Ireland from 1945 to present day.  The author is a masterful storyteller, the dialogue is snappy and there are lines that are just laugh-out-loud funny.  There is a lot of focus on bigotry, homosexuality and later, the AIDS crisis, all topics which I think need to be discussed a lot more, so I appreciated the author’s inclusion of them in this novel. This is an award-winning novel that I think has earned its honors, and it’s a must-read!  

From the publisher:

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, a sweeping, heartfelt saga about the course of one man’s life, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

Book #3:

The Beach HouseThe Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe (Length: 477 pages).  I have had this novel on my Kindle for years, and needed to read something a bit more light-hearted, so I took a chance on this romance.  Set on a barrier island in South Carolina, this light novel has a delightful focus on the rescue and assistance of loggerhead turtles and their nests, and this recurring theme affects all of the major characters, which is so fun.  This novel is well-written, the characters have sufficient depth to make you care about what happens to them.  I found the setting to be so interesting (reminiscent of Where the Crawdads Sing), and the romance aspect is very tame.  I found myself invested enough in the characters to want to read the sequel (apparently there are 6 books in this series).   I will say the ending is not surprising at all (maybe I’ve been reading way too many psychological thrillers) but the resolution of the major plot points is very believable here. This is, obviously, an excellent vacation read!

From the publisher:

Known for her moving characters and emotional honesty, Mary Alice Monroe brings readers a beautifully rendered story that explores the fragile yet enduring bond between mothers and daughters

Caretta Rutledge thought she’d left her Southern roots and troubled family far behind. But an unusual request from her mother—coming just as her own life is spinning out of control—has Cara heading back to the scenic Lowcountry of her childhood summers. Before long, the rhythms of the island open her heart in wonderful ways as she repairs the family beach house, becomes a bona fide “turtle lady” and renews old acquaintances long thought lost. But it is in reconnecting with her mother that she will learn life’s most precious lessons—true love involves sacrifice, family is forever and the mistakes of the past can be forgiven.

Book #4:

The Diary of a BooksellerThe Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (Length: 312 pages).  I learned about this book from Anne Bogel’s wonderful podcast, and I really enjoyed it.  The author owns a used bookstore in Wigtown, a charming town in Scotland, and this is essentially his shop diary over the course of a year.  This is a fascinating account of what it’s really like to own and operate a used bookstore, especially in the age of Amazon and other global online giants.  I adored the author’s witty comments and anecdotes, mostly because he’s a self-described curmudgeon and grouch.  One funny moment occurs when in a moment of extreme frustration with a bookstore customer, he heads to his parents’ nearby farm and blasts apart a used Kindle with a shotgun, and then we later learn he mounts it in his shop, for all customers to see.   This isn’t a novel with a gripping plot, but it’s excellent for what it is . . . an insider’s account of what a bookstore owner’s life is, good and bad.  

From the publisher:

The Diary of a Bookseller is Shaun Bythell’s funny and fascinating memoir of a year in the life at the helm of The Bookshop, in the small village of Wigtown, Scotland—and of the delightfully odd locals, unusual staff, eccentric customers, and surreal buying trips that make up his life there as he struggles to build his business . . . and be polite . . .

When Bythell first thought of taking over the store, it seemed like a great idea: The Bookshop is Scotland’s largest second-hand store, with over one hundred thousand books in a glorious old house with twisting corridors and roaring fireplaces, set in a tiny, beautiful town by the sea. It seemed like a book-lover’s paradise . . .

Until Bythell did indeed buy the store.

In this wry and hilarious diary, he tells us what happened next—the trials and tribulations of being a small businessman; of learning that customers can be, um, eccentric; and of wrangling with his own staff of oddballs (such as ski-suit-wearing, dumpster-diving Nicky). And perhaps none are quirkier than the charmingly cantankerous bookseller Bythell himself turns out to be.

But then too there are the buying trips to old estates and auctions, with the thrill of discovery, as well as the satisfaction of pressing upon people the books that you love . . .

Slowly, with a mordant wit and keen eye, Bythell is seduced by the growing charm of small-town life, despite —or maybe because of—all the peculiar characters there.

Book #5:

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (Length: 264 pages).  I’m late to the party with this one, but I’m a huge fan of The Daily Show, and when this memoir was mentioned as a good way to learn about systemic racism, I grabbed it.  This is EXCELLENT!   Noah’s memoir is so well-written, he’s obviously very witty and insightful, and his empathy for others shines through each page.  Because he’s an outsider (in so many respects), his take on racism and politics in this country is so much easier to hear.  I learn something new from him every time I hear or read his words.  Even already knowing many of his anecdotes from his comedy specials, this book was hard to put down.  The way he describes his mother and how she raised him brought tears to my eyes; it’s truly a love letter to his mother.  This is a must-read!  

From the publisher:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

May 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 HoldoutThe Holdout by Graham Moore (Length: 336 pages).   My mom told me about this courtroom drama, knowing I’d enjoy reading it, and she was right.  This is a fun, fast-paced novel, a la 12 Angry Men.  This is so well-written, which isn’t surprising as the author won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the movie The Imitation Game.  In this novel, the characters have depth, the plot is very well-crafted and it keeps you reading until the end (which I love!).  The mystery at the center of this legal drama is a bit predictable, but there is enough of a twist to be interesting.  And, as a lawyer, I was happy to discover that most of the courtroom activities are actually legally accurate, which is pretty rare.  This is absolutely a great summer beach/poolside read!  

From the publisher:

It’s the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school, and her teacher, Bobby Nock, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, is the prime suspect. The subsequent trial taps straight into America’s most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It’s an open-and-shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed—until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock’s innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all their lives forever.

Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jury, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence—by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.

As the present-day murder investigation weaves together with the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out—with drastic consequences for all involved.

Book #2:

Us Against YouUs Against You by Fredrik Backman (Length: 449 pages).  I adore this author, and I adore this book!  This is the sequel to the amazing Beartown, and yes, you should read that novel first to really understand and appreciate this one.  I was surprised to find this sequel to be just as good, if not better, than the first.  The plot, the characters AND the setting are all very well-drawn (a trifecta!).  The setting is very dark and gloomy, appropriate for the forest setting in which Beartown resides.  The conflict between two small towns in Sweden: Beartown and Hed, is central to the plot and gives structure and a central theme to the various subplots within this novel.  Some new characters are introduced (I adore the new female A Team coach in Beartown) and existing characters are more fully drawn out with interesting arcs.  While it is a bit slow to start, this is a MUST READ.  Backman’s writing is exquisite–he has so much empathy for his characters (good and bad) and for society in general.  I think this would be an excellent choice for a book club, IF the members have already read and discussed the first novel.  Let me know if you adore this book as much as I do!

Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did.
Have you ever seen a town rise? Ours did that, too.

A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that Beartown ice hockey might soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives who gives Beartown hockey a surprising new coach and a chance at a comeback.

Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.

Here is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that give form and color to our communities. With immense compassion and insight, Fredrik Backman—“the Dickens of our age” (Green Valley News)—reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.

Book #3:

The PassengerThe Passenger by Lisa Lutz (Length: 321 pages).  This is a psychological thriller that is a super-fast read.  I picked it up on a super Kindle sale, not knowing what to expect.  I will say that if you need to like the characters in a novel, this is NOT the novel for you.  The narrator is both unreliable AND unlikeable.  I think it’s human nature to want to try to find the good in everyone, and boy, I had a difficult time with the main character in this novel.  She is running from her past, and is literally on the run during the entire novel, with many changes of identity throughout.  Having said that, the writing here is really strong.  The character development is not very deep, but I think this was purposeful on the author’s part to preserve the mystery at the center of the plot (ie, WHY the narrator is running from whatever happened when she was 18.)  There is quite a bit of violence, even some committed by the narrator, but if you remember that you as a reader are not supposed to like the narrator, the violence doesn’t feel too exploitative.  The plot is like a freight train, however, so it’s difficult to put this one down.  It is a fun read, and I would recommend it for sure!

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid in the twenty-first century, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret. From heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, we are left to wonder…can she possibly outrun her past?

Book #4:

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (Length: 316 pages).  This is another psychological thriller centered around the plot of a baby being kidnapped while its parents are next door at a dinner party hosted by their neighbors.  (A la Madeleine McCann–the child who disappeared in Portugal while her parents were nearby in the resort).  There are lots of twists and turns in this novel.  Good writing, but this novel is very plot and not character driven.  This is another fast read that you won’t want to put down.  I didn’t see the mystery resolve the way it did, which I appreciated.  However, I found the ending to be very abrupt and a bit out of the blue based on what the author reveals about the characters.  (My question–who called the police at the very end?)  Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read this one!

It all started at a dinner party. . .

A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately lands on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Book #5:

On the IslandOn the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves (Length: 334 pages). First things first, the premise of this novel is pretty cheesy: a tutor and her pupil are stranded on a deserted island somewhere in the Maldives after their chartered plane crashes into the ocean thanks to the pilot having a heart attack.  This is compulsively readable thanks to the plot (I adore reading about how people survive on deserted island!).  The writing, however, is very basic, from the dialogue, the scenery descriptions, to the character development.  But given this is the author’s first novel and she self-published it, ultimately landing on the NY Times Bestseller, overall, I’m pretty impressed.  It’s a cute, quick beach or vacation read but don’t expect a literary masterpiece.  

Sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. With his cancer in remission, all he wants is to get back to his normal life. But his parents insist that he spend the summer catching up on the school he missed while he was sick.

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher who has been worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere. To break up the monotony of everyday life, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring T.J.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahans’ summer home, but as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens: their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, and as birthdays pass, the castaways must brave violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the worst threat of all—the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. With only each other for love and support, these two lost souls must come to terms with their situation and find compaionship in one another in the moments they need it most.

Book #6:

The Last days of nightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Length: 370 pages).  Since I really enjoyed The Holdout (reviewed above), I was excited to pick up this historical fiction novel based on actual people and events.  This is a part legal thriller, and part suspense, both genres that I enjoy reading.  This is SO well done!  Moore’s writing is excellent, which helps to make this historical account of who really invented the light bulb even more interesting to read.  While all of this novel is based on fact, the author did compress the timeline and manufactured a few scenarios (as well as much of the dialogue) to make the narrative work well.   I didn’t know this before reading, but it didn’t matter.  This is a must read for anyone who enjoys history and historical fiction.  

From Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, comes a thrilling novel—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

May 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:

Escape from Mr Lemocellos libraryEscape from Mr. Lemocello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Length: 306 pages).   Yes this is a children’s book (recommended for ages 8-12) but it was on super-sale for the Kindle and I needed something fun, fast and light to read, in the midst of this pandemic.  This did the trick!  I was smiling the entire time I was reading it, thanks to the author’s fun plot which reminds me of a Willy Wonka/public library mash-up.  Lots of witty literary puzzles and references abound.  The author is a regular co-writer with James Patterson, so he’s got some writing chops.  I enjoyed the mystery central to the plot (how to escape from a magical library during a “library lock-in”) and I think it’s a fun read for kids AND adults!  When I finished I told my teen daughters about it and they had both already read and loved it.  So there you have it!

From the publisher:

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, he’s determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Book #2:

The lager queen of minnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Length: 362 pages).  I loved this book!!  This is a generational tale about a family growing up in the Midwest (Minnesota specifically), in the brewing industry.  I found the details regarding brewing (and craft beer) riveting and interesting, even as someone who doesn’t like beer.  The chapters alternate between 3 family members (a pair of sisters and one of their granddaughters) which I found a bit confusing to follow in the beginning.  However, they all come together magically in the end which is a testament to this author’s writing talent.  (I tried to read the author’s Great Kitchens of the Midwest earlier but I ended up not finishing for some reason.  I may have to give it another try after reading this one).  The writing here is so good, with beautifully-drawn characters.  This would be a fantastic book club pick (lots to discuss about family dynamics) and of course, with a selection of craft beers to try.  

Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can’t help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.

With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.

Meanwhile, Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up–will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that’s often stacked against them. In this deeply affecting family saga, resolution can take generations, but when it finally comes, we’re surprised, moved, and delighted.

Book #3:

Hidden Valley RoadHidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Length: 370 pages).  Saw this was May’s book club pick for Oprah’s Book Club so was lucky enough to grab it from the library.  Such an interesting read of a family of 12 children (10 boys, 2 girls) with 6 of the boys living with schizophrenia.  The author weaves the history and treatment of schizophrenia (and related mental illnesses) with the story of this family in Colorado, up until the point researchers and medical professionals were able to study the genetic components of the disease thanks to DNA samples from some of the (now-adult) men in the family.  The author does a fantastic job painting a portrait of this troubled family and what the boys and their siblings and parents went through because of schizophrenia.  There are some troubling scenes of sexual abuse, but they’re not exploitative.  The author is very compassionate and empathetic in his portrayal of the family and their dynamic.  I will say some of the portions of the book that delve into the history of the treatment of the disease were a bit dry for me, but I can see how someone who is interested in the field of psychology/psychiatry would find them riveting.  I skimmed those parts.  😉  A good book club book for sure!

From the publisher:

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.
With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

April 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:

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Length: 417 pages).   This is one of the best historical accounts of a sport and a sporting event that I’ve ever read.  This cues up all of the emotions with the author’s vivid descriptions of the action, the men who rowed in the boat as well as their coaches, and even the setting (which is a literature trifecta, in my opinion: plot, characters and setting are all perfect here).   I loved the details about the sport of rowing (something I do very poorly in my CrossFit gym), and I learned so much about the mechanics as well as the history of the sport.  The characters are drawn with such care and depth, especially Joe Rantz, the author’s primary focus, as he was able to meet him and interview him shortly before his death.  This is an excellent travel read, and I’m also recommending that my CrossFit book club read it because of the focus on rowing.  This is a must read!   

From the publisher:

For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

Book #2:

The FiveThe Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (Length: 359 pages).  This was my book club’s pick for April, and I found it to be so interesting!  This is a non-fiction historical account of each of the five known victims of Jack the Ripper in Victorian-era London.  The author’s premise is that the victims were not all prostitutes, contrary to what the newspapers salaciously crowed to their readers.  In fact, all of the women were very poor, down on their luck and semi-homeless women in poverty-stricken London.  I found the author’s research about life in the Victorian era to be fascinating.  She goes into great detail about how families were structured, how they lived, their occupation and about London in general.  This book, although it’s a history book, is not dry or boring in the slightest.  However, if you are looking to read about Jack the Ripper and the murders themselves, this isn’t the book for you as there are zero details about the killings.  The author’s sole focus on the victims (and their families) is purposeful, and I really appreciate it, and her book.  

From the publisher:

Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffeehouses, lived on country estates; they breathed ink dust from printing presses and escaped human traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that “the Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, but it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness, and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born women.