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.

May 2022–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Matrix by Lauren Groff (Length: 268 pages).  This interesting novel is set in 1153 in an abbey of all places, and it’s a fantastic read! A gem of a novel based on the true life of Marie, a half-sister of Eleanor of Aquitaine who is banished to an abbey, and who transforms and later leads that abbey from a group of starving nuns at the mercy of nature the surrounding community to the wealthiest abbey in all of England. The writing is lyrical and is hard to put down. It reminds me of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth but with a cast of solely female characters. It’s a delight to read what a group of only women can achieve. I love this book and will always remember the plot and characters.

Book #2:

The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Length: 329 pages).  Psychological thrillers are one of my favorite genres but they’re often a disappointment lately. This is a good one! The premise is that Avery, a discredited therapist with unorthodox methods meets with a couple, Matthew and Marissa Bishop who come to her because the wife has cheated with an unknown man. The character development is good (and surprising as I ended up liking a character I initially disliked), there a few red herrings (which are realistic) so I didn’t see the twist coming, which I prefer. Good beach/travel read because you don’t have to think too hard but you won’t get too annoyed with how the characters behave here.

Book #3:

Dear Bob and Sue Season 2 by Matt and Karen Smith (Length: 374 pages).  Yay! Another installment of this wonderful travelogue series. I listened to this one and it’s a perfect audiobook for a commute as you can easily pick up the thread of the narration each time you pick up the book. This book covers more visits to national and state parks and monuments. I especially enjoyed hearing about the visits to Zion, Alaska and to Glacier National Park. Matt’s crankiness is a bit annoying in the audio-version, I think because you are hearing a narrator “perform” the crankiness but the substance is great as usual. Again, if you enjoy the nitty-gritty details of where they stayed, ate, and what they packed, you’ll enjoy this too. On to book #4, and the last one they’ve written thus far . . . I’m holding off because I know I’ll want to savor it.

Book #4:

The Innocents by Michael Crummey (Length: 293 pages).  Well, this is an interesting novel. It is written by a Canadian author and was given to me by my Canadian bestie so I have some questions for her as to why she gave it to me. 😉 It’s best explained (in my opinion) as Into the Wild crossed with Flowers in the Attic if that gives you a clue. Set in Newfoundland in the 19th century, a pair of brother and sister orphans are left to survive brutal weather, constant work of fishing, hunting and subsistence farming to stay barely alive. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are memorable and the plot is absolutely propulsive but boy, is the whole thing a bit strange. Check it out if you dare.

May 2022–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

This Will be Funny Later by Jenny Pentland (Length: 351 pages).  This is a rollercoaster of a memoir penned by one of the daughters of Roseanne Barr and her first husband. Jenny talks about spending her childhood in 9 different facilities for “difficult” teens from fat camps to psychiatric wards to wilderness survival schools. Funny, poignant and a wild ride throughout, this book makes me feel very grateful for a normal childhood with non-celebrity parents. This is absolutely worth the read–I read it but I wish I would’ve listened to it on audiobook as I suspect it would translate even better in that format.

Book #2:

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan (Length: 413 pages).  I always enjoy Jenny Colgan’s writing style and her books, and while this isn’t my favorite of hers, it’s worth a library checkout for sure. Set on a small Scottish island for the majority of the book, you follow the story of a female paralegal who has an unrequited crush on her boss at the firm in London, and who is sent back home to the island of Mure for work. You learn about what life is like living so far north in the world, including farming, small-town life and the fairy tales of “selkies”, half human/half seals. Per Jenny Colgan, the character development is fairly deep, but a fun plot and great dialogue round out the novel and you can’t wait to see what happens next.

Book #3:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Length: 299 pages).  I was thrilled to find out this novel is my book club’s pick for May, as it’s been on my TBR since the beginning of the pandemic. I already knew it was fairly polarizing and I was curious to see which side I’d end up on . . . well, I LOVE it! Essentially this novel explores the concept of parallel universes and all of the lives we are currently living in those universes based on small decisions. Like a choose your own adventure but with higher stakes. The parallel lives are symbolized by books in a “magical” library where Nora Seed visits while dying from a suicide (which happens very early on). The writing is excellent, and the character development is obviously very deep (as the author explores the psyche and decisions of Nora in each of the many lives); there are lots of lines that I notated and can’t wait to discuss with my book club. For example: “But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness forever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.” See? Great stuff! Definitely worth a read.

Book #4:

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee (Length: 386 pages).  I have seen this romance novel in the top 5 of so many Bookstagrammers’ best of lists that when I saw in on the library shelf, I had to grab it. I read it in less than 5 hours because I couldn’t put it down. This isn’t a true romance novel, in my opinion, but it’s very romantic. A 39 year-old single mom and upper-crust art gallery owner Solene takes her 12 year old daughter to see the “it” boy band in Las Vegas, and courtesy of backstage passes meets the very handsome (and 20 year old!) Hayes Campbell. Sparks fly and a whirlwind, secret romance is on. Both are very wealthy so it’s fun to read about travel to beautiful hotels and places, the writing is excellent here (the author is a successful actress too), the character development is surprisingly strong for a romance novel, and there’s, of course, lots of open-door romance happening. I thought this was a very realistic, open-eyed portrayal of how society doesn’t accept this type of May-December romance with the roles reversed by gender. I will always remember (and recommend) this fun read. There’s a movie being cast already, and I’m not surprised.

April 2022–Part Three

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Length: 277 pages).  This novel has been on my TBR for ages as I keep hearing rave reviews. Spoiler–they’re correct! About a young woman who becomes a governess of sorts for her high school former best friend’s new stepchildren who self-combust when they become emotional. Since her friend is married to a U.S. Senator, Lillian’s friend Madison is very concerned about keeping the children, Bessie and Roland, a secret because her husband is being considered for Secretary of State. This novel is funny, quirky, sad, extremely well-written and a beautiful read, overall. This is such a sweetly odd book that you will always remember, and it’s lived up to its hype, in my opinion. (Apparently the audiobook is fantastic too, but my brain can’t absorb fiction books this way unfortunately). This is a great airplane/travel/beach read.

Book #2:

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen (Length: 256 pages).  Set primarily on an old plantation later turned tourist attraction/wedding venue, this thriller is about the antebellum South, past and modern-day. This novel features a propulsive plot, and while the writing is decent overall, there are a few continuity issues that bugged me–for example, the main character is called on the office landline because her cellphone number is private but then her cellphone rings from someone she hasn’t heard from in over a decade, and the author refers to actions that the character in question wouldn’t be seeing because they’ve already walked away. Anyway, the supernatural element makes this novel a fun ride, and while the modern-day parts aren’t scary, the references to slavery practices are gruesome (which is on purpose because we all should be horrified). I’d recommend if you’re looking for a quick reading thriller with a context that we haven’t really seen before in this genre. Two thumbs up, overall.

Book #3:

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (Length: 228 pages).  I’m still square in the middle of my celebrity memoir audiobook phase as they are perfect for the commute–easy to pick up wherever I left off, and if it’s good writing, I enjoy learning about the author. This one is no exception as it’s fantastic! The audiobook is read by Steve Martin, and I adore his vibe–clever, quirky, humble and kind. I appreciated all of his insights, including his first job working at Disneyland (when it first opened!), his forays into stand-up comedy, Saturday Night Live and then working in movies in Hollywood. I absolutely recommend this memoir, in audiobook if that’s your jam.

Book #4:

Cazadora by Romina Garber (Length: 416 pages). This is the sequel to the YA fantasy book Lobizona that reviewed a few weeks ago here. I think it’s even better than the first one because it’s situated solely in the fantasy realm instead of starting in the real world of Miami. It’s very similar to Harry Potter again, with an Argentinian flavor. I love the message of acceptance regardless of who we are and who we love (which is ironically the opposite of what J.K. Rowling is preaching these days). The writing is strong, the character development is top-notch, and I really hope this author is working on book 3 as we speak, as I’ll definitely be reading it. Again, this is a perfect book for 7th graders up through adults. Please let me know if you check it out!

April 2022–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Taste by Stanley Tucci (Length: 304 pages).  I listened to this audiobook (read by the author), and it’s fantastic! It’s his memoir based around his love of food. I enjoyed his details about various movie sets and his life in London (even during the pandemic!). The audio is a bit weird when he reads the recipes at the end of each chapter out loud, but they’re great recipes so I didn’t really mind. This is an absolutely charming memoir, and a must read and/or listen!

Book #2:

The Abominable by Dan Simmons (Length: 673 pages).  This is a thriller/mystery based on one of the earliest known ascents of Mount Everest. There is some type of monster (a yeti?) that’s killed several men and Sherpas, and what actually happens is truly abominable. This is VERY detailed (over 600 pages long) and could’ve used some serious editing, but if you enjoy reading about climbing techniques and equipment (I was fascinated by felt hiking boots!) you’ll be in heaven. You can also skim a lot of those sections without losing the thread of the central mystery. There are trigger warnings needed too if you’re a parent of small children. I will absolutely read this author’s other thrill novel set in Antartica (“The Terror”) because he is a strong writer and the plot is very propulsive once he focuses on that.

Book #3:

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten (Length: 184 pages).  This is an absolutely delightful collection of short stories translated from the original Swedish, written by a popular author of crime fiction. These stories all feature the same 88-year-old serial killer named Maud, who deals with annoyances in a very straightforward (and deadly) way. The murders aren’t gory, and it’s a lot of fun seeing the world through the eyes of this cantankerous, straightforward long-time resident of an apartment building in a city in Sweden. It’s a must read!

Book #4:

Lobizona by Romina Garber (Length: 416 pages). This is a YA fantasy that I heard about on a podcast. Geared toward 7th-12th graders, it’s also perfect for adults because I adore this book! Based on Argentinian folklore about witches and werewolves, think Harry Potter Hogwarts set in the Everglades. It touches on cultural topics such as immigration, gay rights, and in a beautiful way. Gorgeous imagery, strong writing, and a propulsive plot make this a book any fantasy-loving teen (and adult) will truly enjoy. I’ve already downloaded the sequel.

April 2022–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica (Length: 319 pages).  I’ve had this psychological thriller on my Kindle forever and finally picked it up. It’s set in Chicago and begins when a young woman wakes up and discovers her roommate Esther is missing. She begins to realize she didn’t really know her roommate that well, and things go from there. This is a pretty good thriller as they go, but none of the characters are at all likable. The writing is strong, the plot is propulsive and the central mystery is relatively easy to figure out. I won’t remember the plot (or resolution) of this in a few months, but it was a fast read that I kept wanting to pick back up, so I consider that a win.

Book #2:

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan (Length: 301 pages).  This is a character-driven novel set in the near future (2027) in a Long Island neighborhood. A sinkhole develops in the park across the street, thanks to global warming, and a child disappears in it . . . this book is about the aftermath. This is very dark, disturbing and no character is truly worth rooting for, and I loved it. Excellent writing, and I couldn’t put it down (I read it in a single afternoon). Readers are very polarized about this book in online reviews, and I can see that you’ll either love it or hate it. But I obviously vote yes, this is absolutely worth a read (if you don’t need to care about the characters).

Book #3:

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (Length: 331 pages).  This is a book of autobiographical essays that I listened to on audio (because it was recommended that way). The author narrates and I really enjoyed her voice, as well as the essays. If you enjoy her writing (and I do), you’ll also love this collection. She writes about her family, friendships, writing novels and operating her Parnassus Books bookstore in Nashville (which I someday hope to visit). My favorite essay(s) are the ones involving her friendship with Tom Hanks’ personal assistant Sooki. This is a don’t miss–whether you read it or listen to it.

Book #4:

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth (Length: 344 pages).  I am a huge Sally Hepworth fan. She’s not the most talented writer ever, but I adore following her on IG and she does know her way around a psychological thriller. My favorite of hers thus far is The Mother-in-Law (which I’ve reviewed here previously) and while this one doesn’t quite measure up to that one, it’s very well-done. It’s not as scary or as twisted as most psychological thrillers so it’s a safer bet for those who don’t enjoy getting freaked out by their literature. Set in a suburban neighborhood in Melbourne, Australia, it revolves around five households on one street, essentially. Sally does an excellent job of capturing motherhood (especially the early days) and of marriage. This is a fun, gentle read that’s not a nail-biter because the central mystery is quite easy to figure out. I did keep picking it up so I thought it was an enjoyable novel. (The Kindle version has some errors which is a bit distracting–not sure who is editing her books?).