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.

February 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:

The SparkThe Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius and Autism by Kristine Barnett (Length: 281 pages).  This is an incredible account of how a boy who is severely autistic was able to “wake up” and become one of the world’s leading astrophysicists at a very young age, thanks to “play” therapy designed by his mom.  I heard about this book from Anne Bogel on What Should I Read Next, and because I work with children in my current job (a substitute teacher at an elementary school) my interest was piqued.  Jacob’s mom ran a daycare and discovered  that autistic children began to develop social skills when they were permitted to deep-dive into whatever their passion happened to be (dinosaurs, cooking, how light moves in space, in the case of Jacob).  This book is very well-written and very readable.  (However, I will say DO NOT Google this author until after you’ve read this book.  Let this sweet story stay with you awhile first.  You’re welcome!)

From the publisher:

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
 
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.

Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could?  This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.

The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.

Book #2: 

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Length: 280 pages).  I have had the physical copy of this book for awhile, and picked it up because this won the author the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  I knew going into it that it’s a polarizing book–people either love it or they don’t.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  Set in a small town in Maine, these short stories feature (at times just tangentially) Olive a middle-school math teacher.  Olive is not a likeable character, by any stretch of the imagination, but by the end of the book, the reader will at least empathize with her.  The writing here is absolutely excellent, and I enjoyed the author’s in-depth character portrayals as well as how the stories interconnect in small ways . . . for example, two characters who appear well in the background in one story are later mentioned in a more fleshed-out way a few chapters later.  The stories are mostly depressing and sad, but I do think the writing style and quality make this book a worthy read.  

From the publisher:

In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Book #3:  

The Man who walked through timeThe Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin  (Length: 258 pages).  In preparation for an upcoming Grand Canyon hike, I picked up this “must read” first-hand account of the first person to walk the length of Grand Canyon National Park, in 1965.  The author’s writing is beautiful, and his narration is very descriptive and give the reader the sense of actually being there in the Canyon.  He describes the geology, flora and fauna of the Canyon in great detail, but the writing is not dry at all.  He made me appreciate the length of time that it took the Grand Canyon to evolve (Creationists may disagree with the half a billion years that geologists have determined the Canyon took to form).  I will say this book will not be relevant reading to you unless you’re also planning on hiking the Canyon.  

From the publisher:

The remarkable classic of nature writing by the first man ever to have walked the entire length of the Grand Canyon.

Book #4:  

Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah (Length: 396 pages).  This apparently is a “must read” according to fans of Kristin Hannah.  I enjoyed The Great Alone so I picked this one up with great anticipation.  I was disappointed that I figured out the plot “twist” immediately, and I was not a fan of the main characters (Lexi and Jude).  I especially was not keen on how they both reacted to the major plot development.  The second half of the book (after the plot change) dragged to me, and to add insult to injury, the ending was entirely too pat and way too abrupt.  I will say that I enjoy Hannah’s writing style, so that was the redeeming factor in this altogether disappointing read to me.  I do see how this could be a good choice for book clubs, however, as there is plenty to discuss here.  

From the publisher:

For eighteen years, Jude Farraday has put her children’s needs above her own, and it shows—her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill moves into their small, close-knit community, no one is more welcoming than Jude. Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable.

Jude does everything to keep her kids out of harm’s way. But senior year of high school tests them all. It’s a dangerous, explosive season of drinking, driving, parties, and kids who want to let loose. And then on a hot summer’s night, one bad decision is made. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.

Vivid, universal, and emotionally complex, Night Road raises profound questions about motherhood, identity, love, and forgiveness. It is a luminous, heartbreaking novel that captures both the exquisite pain of loss and the stunning power of hope. This is Kristin Hannah at her very best, telling an unforgettable story about the longing for family, the resilience of the human heart, and the courage it takes to forgive the people we love.

 

 

January 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.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1:

Daisy Jones and the SixDaisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Length: 369 pages).  I’m VERY late to the party on this one, but I’m really glad I finally picked it up.  This is such a FUN book to read as it’s about the formation and evolution of a band in the 1960s and 1970s, including all of the details about the rock and roll lifestyle and drug use (but it’s not gratuitous which I appreciate).  The format is a bit unique . . .it’s in interview form, but I found I actually enjoyed how it kept the various characters’ storylines separate.  The plot is a bit predictable but there is a little bit of a twist at the end (which I always like).  I’d say this is much more about the characters and less about the plot.  Having said that, this novel is totally movie-ready, complete with all of the song lyrics at the end.  Not deep enough to permit discussion as a book club book, in my opinion, but a poolside, weekend read for sure.   

From the publisher:

Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Book #2: 

What happens in paradiseWhat Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Length: 337 pages).  Ugh.  I gave in and I hate myself for falling for this author’s little game.  😉  Part 2 of the trilogy (I reviewed Part 1 earlier this month), and the main plot point in the central “mystery” is STILL not resolved.  I’m a total sucker.  I still dislike the main characters as they are still self-absorbed and shallow, if not even MORE so.  The best part of this book is the scenery and setting of St John, but I’d rather read a travel guide than this book.  Let it be known that I will NOT read the final book of the trilogy when it’s released.  

From the publisher:

A year ago, Irene Steele had the shock of her life: her loving husband, father to their grown sons and successful businessman, was killed in a helicopter crash. But that wasn’t Irene’s only shattering news: he’d also been leading a double life on the island of St. John, where another woman loved him, too.

Now Irene and her sons are back on St. John, determined to learn the truth about the mysterious life — and death — of a man they thought they knew. Along the way, they’re about to learn some surprising truths about their own lives, and their futures.

Lush with the tropical details, romance, and drama that made Winter in Paradise a national bestseller, What Happens in Paradise is another immensely satisfying page-turner from one of America’s most beloved and engaging storytellers.

Book #3: 

The Dutch HouseThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett (Length: 352 pages).  I’m not sure why but I haven’t yet read anything by Ann Patchett.  (Bel Canto has been on my TBR list forever, and I have it lined up to read later this year).  I adore a sweeping family saga, and this one fits the bill.  The writing is excellent, and the setting is an old, beautiful house in Pennsylvania, built by a Dutch family.  The focus is on a modern-day family who lived in the house, specifically the brother and sister of the new owners.  The author explores the relationship of the siblings, specifically how the pair navigate their mother leaving them (and their father) as young children.  The mother has a “saint” personality and feels called to care for other people.  This book is VERY long and very detailed, but it’s worth the journey if you enjoy character-based novels as I do.  This one is too long for a typical book club read (members may revolt!) but this is a fantastic vacation read.  I’d love to read it en route to Europe.  

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, comes Ann Patchett’s most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

Book #4: 

Matchmaking for BeginnersMatchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson (Length: 378 pages).  I freaking ADORE this book!!  This is a “chick lit” book that’s incredibly well-written, with fantastic characters who are deeply-drawn.  The plot is compulsively readable, making this a very fast read.  I enjoyed the magic and spells/witchcraft angle and how the author explores the idea that energy connects all of us.  The main character Blix (who is totally Kathy Bates in our minds as we read, per my mother) has a mantra which I love:  “Whatever happens, love that.”  This is probably the best romance novel I’ve ever read.  Please read this and let me know if you agree.  

From the publisher:

“A delightful, light-as-air romance that successfully straddles the line between sweet and smart without ever being silly…The novel is simply captivating from beginning to end.” —Associated Press

Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancé’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would.

When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps.

And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.

Book #5: 

Little FortressLittle Fortress by Laisha Rosnau (Length: 322 written pages).  This is an interesting Canadian novel (making it difficult to locate locally) based on a true story of an Italian “duchess”, her personal secretary/companion and her daughter who lived in total seclusion in a home in British Columbia for 25 years.  Think Canadian Grey Gardens.  The novel focuses mostly on Miss Juul, the personal secretary, and her life, which jumps around a lot in her service from Denmark, Italy, Egypt then Canada.  The writing is excellent, and the backstory is fascinating, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read this.  I’m much more interested in reading the diaries of the daughter which were just opened (as she forbade anyone from opening them until 25 years after her death).  

From the publisher:

In this captivating and intricate novel Laisha Rosnau introduces us to three women, each of whom is storied enough to have their own novel and who, together, make for an unforgettable tale. Based on the true story of the Caetanis, Italian nobility driven out of their home by the rise in fascism who chose exile in Vernon, BC, Rosnau brings to life Ofelia Caetani, her daughter Sveva Caetani and their personal secretary, Miss Juul. Miss Juul is the voice of the novel, a diminutive Danish woman who enters into employment with the Caetani family in Italy before the birth of Sveva, stays with them through twenty-five years of seclusion at their home in Vernon, and past the death of Ofelia. Little Fortress is a story of a shifting world, with the death of its age-old nobility, and of the intricacies of the lives of women caught up in these grand changes. It is a story of friendship, class, betrayal and love.

January 2020–Part One

Welcome!  It’s a brand-new decade.  My reading resolution for 2020 is to read 84 books (7 per month).  Fingers crossed it happens!,  Thank you for joining me here.    (Reminder: 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: 

BearTownBeartown by Fredrik Bachman (Length: 433 pages).  This novel is the best book I’ve read in YEARS.  Set in a small hockey-obsessed town in northern Sweden, this book features absolutely gorgeous language and writing, fully-developed characters and a very descriptive sense of place (reminding me of Louise Penny’s town of Three Pines in a way).  The book is a bit slow to start, with the first quarter dragging  a bit, but don’t give up . . . keep reading!  The hockey theme is overarching but isn’t too detailed for those who don’t follow sports.  There is also one violent scene but there’s an excellent resolution of the plot that I found to be very realistic.  I enjoy seeing the redemption of characters too–so well done here.  A MUST READ!  

From the publisher:

The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Book #2: 

Winter in ParadiseWinter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Length: 321 pages).  I was in the mood for a beach type read, and grabbed this at the library without reading any reviews beforehand.  A bit of a mistake as this isn’t my favorite Hilderbrand novel.  The best part of this book is the descriptive setting (the island of St. John instead of Hilderbrand’s standard Nantucket setting).  I adore how detailed the author is with the real-life names of the beaches, roads and even restaurants on this gorgeous island.  The plot is interesting enough, with the husband dying and the wife discovering he led a double life.  However, this book is the first of a series, and is NOT a standalone as it ends with a total cliffhanger and the mystery is STILL not resolved at the last page.  I found this to be a bit annoying, as the author is essentially forcing the reader to buy/borrow the next few books in the series to find out what really happened.   I did dislike a few of the characters very deeply (the adult sons are very shallow), and I found it odd how Hilderbrand mentions SO many other books by other authors throughout.  These book mentions aren’t really organic within the plot, so I’m not sure what her end game is here?  I’m totally going to have to read the next one in the series to find out what really happened, but I’m going to be annoyed about it the whole time.  😉

From the publisher:

A husband’s secret life, a wife’s new beginning: escape to the Caribbean with #1 New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand.

Irene Steele shares her idyllic life in a beautiful Iowa City Victorian house with a husband who loves her to sky-writing, sentimental extremes. But as she rings in the new year one cold and snowy night, everything she thought she knew falls to pieces with a shocking phone call: her beloved husband, away on business, has been killed in a helicopter crash. Before Irene can even process the news, she must first confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death on the distant Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive at this faraway paradise, they make yet another shocking discovery: her husband had been living a secret life. As Irene untangles a web of intrigue and deceit, and as she and her sons find themselves drawn into the vibrant island culture, they have to face the truth about their family, and about their own futures.

Rich with the lush beauty of the tropics and the drama, romance, and intrigue only Elin Hilderbrand can deliver, Winter in Paradise is a truly transporting novel, and the exciting start to a new series.

Book #3: 

City of Girls (2019) Author: Elizabeth GilbertCity of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (Length: 480 pages).  Just to start, I am NOT a fan of Gilbert’s more famous book, Eat Pray Love.  However, I had heard this fiction book was really good and I took a chance on it.  I heard correctly–this is such a good read!  This is a sweeping, character-based novel set in New York City, with the majority of the plot occurring in the 1940s and 1950s. The entertainment/theatre world is the main focus here, with a costume and sewing angle, and I found all of this fascinating.  I will say this is a bit racier than I expected as the narrator is very promiscuous, but I didn’t find these scenes to be gratuitous as all so I was fine with them.  I adore any novel set in New York City (I found this to be a bit similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in a weird way), and I could not put this one down.  This would be a fantastic airplane/vacation read as it’s total escapist fiction.  

From the publisher:

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

 

Book Reviews–December 2019 Part Two

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 #4: 

Reading with oprahReading with Oprah: the Book Club that Changed America by Kathleen Rooney (Length: 230 hardcover pages).  I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but any books about books always appeal to me.  This, with the exception of a few juicier sections, was entirely too dry and academic for me to really enjoy.  (Speed-reading is a useful skill to get through this book ;).  The author does cover a fascinating topic, however.  In the past, critics have taken exception to Oprah’s book choices, and this author explores the high brow/low brow literature distinction here, before concluding (with the exception of 5 truly awful book choices) that the Oprah Book Club book choices actually do have some redeeming literary value.  The chapter on the Jonathan Franzen (the author of “Corrections”) controversy is very interesting here.  As a lifelong reader of many of the OBC selections, I found this book to be an interesting (albeit too dry) analysis of the impact of the club on America.  

From the publisher:

Adored by its fans, deplored by its critics, the Oprah Book Club has been at the center of arguments about cultural authority and literary taste since its inception in 1996. Virtually everyone seems to have an opinion about this monumental institution with its revolutionary and controversial fusion of the literary, the televisual, and the commercial. Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney is the first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is the OBC.

Rooney combines extensive research with a lively personal voice and engaging narrative style to untangle the myths and presuppositions surrounding the club, to reveal its complex and far-reaching cultural influence, confronting head-on how the club became a crucible for the heated clash between “high” and “low” literary taste. Comprehensive and up-to-date, the book features a wide survey of recent commentary, and describes why the club closed in 2002, as well as why it resumed almost a year later in 2003, with a new focus on “great books.” Rooney also provides the most extensive analysis yet of the Oprah Winfrey–Jonathan Franzen contretemps.

Book #5: 

How to find love in a bookshopHow to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry (Length: 348 pages).  Yet another book about books that I ADORE!  Set in a bookstore in England, at first this seems like way too many random characters are introduced.  But then, the author somehow fleshes all of them out sufficiently for the reader to see how their relationships with one another have meaning.  I love the setting of the book (mostly in the bookshop) and how the store is fixed up (every book lover’s dream).  The plot is very cute, and the ending is satisfying.  This would make a very cute Netflix movie . . . I’d watch it.  

 

From the publisher:

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers—a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage—she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future—and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

Book #6: 

A Quiet Life in the CountryA Quiet Life in the Country by TE Kinsey (Length: 257 pages).  If you are on the hunt for a fun, easy-to-read mystery series, look no further!  This is the first novel in a series featuring Lady Hardcastle and her lady’s maid Florence Armstrong.  Set in 1908, in a small village outside of London, the ladies both have a mysterious (and exciting!) past, which is revealed bit by bit.  Flo is the narrator, and she’s very quirky and smart, with snarky quips.  The relationship between the two protagonists is a lot of fun–teasing, but loving, and with a constant witty banter.  The mystery here is not violent, but is intelligent and not easy to solve.  Excellent writing, fantastic character development, and I absolutely want to read more (there are at least 6 books in this series thus far).  

From the publisher:

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.

Book #7: 

The war that saved my lifeThe War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker-Bradley (Length: 322 pages).  This Newbery Honor middle-grade (4-7th grade) book has been on my radar for ages, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up!  This is such a sweet story of redemption by a disabled girl (Ada) who has a clubfoot in London at the beginning of World War 2.  Ada is abused (neglect and some physical abuse–not too graphic but is mentioned) by her mother because of her “deformity”, but when she and her younger brother are shipped out of the city due to the war (along with all of the other city children), she learns what it is to live.  The writing is excellent here, and the characters are very well-developed.  The plot pacing is perfect, as you’ll want to keep reading to see what happens next.  My one (small) complaint is that the transitions between the chapters are a bit odd, and are jarring at times–would love to edit this book.  Any child (9 years old and up), teen or adult will love this book!  Would be a cute parent/child book club pick as well as there’s a lot to discuss.  

From the publisher:

New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing 

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War II, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Book #8: 

Catch and KillCatch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (Length: 414 pages).  Whoa!  This book is amazing and is a MUST READ.  The author (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan) is a very skilled journalist and writer who essentially was the journalist who exposed the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the scandal which prompted the reintroduction of the #metoo movement (by Alyssa Milano in response to the NY Times article regarding Weinstein).  This book is a detailed, step-by-step account of how Farrow gathered the evidence from just a small fraction of the (more than 100) women who were victimized by this studio head.  Farrow skillfully, unemotionally and professionally describes how the culture of powerful men who victimize and silence their female victims has been perpetuated for decades, even as he, himself, is being followed by investigators paid by the powerful elite.  (He does touch on the Trump and Matt Lauer rapes, but the primary focus is on Weinstein here.)  The book is very detailed and a bit lengthy, but is a very fast read–it’s incredibly well-written, and is a must read.  

From the publisher:

In this instant New York Times bestselling account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.
In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.
All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain — until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.
This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Book Reviews–December 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 Floating FeldmansThe Floating Feldmans by Elyssa Friedland (Length: 366 pages).  I ADORED this book!  This is such a fun, easy, FAST read that is set on a mega-cruise ship.  The unusual setting is a unique twist, but the author’s writing is excellent and I was impressed with her strong character development given how many characters she is juggling here.  All of the family members involved are developed sufficiently for the reader to care about what happens.  The plot IS predictable, as you know exactly how all of the issues will be resolved, but the journey to get there is very enjoyable!  This would be a fantastic vacation/travel read.  

From the publisher:

Sink or swim. Or at least that’s what Annette Feldman tells herself when she books a cruise for her entire family. It’s been over a decade since the Feldman clan has spent more than twenty-four hours under the same roof, but Annette is determined to celebrate her seventieth birthday the right way. Just this once, they are going to behave like an actual family.

Too bad her kids didn’t get the memo.

Between the troublesome family secrets, old sibling rivalries, and her two teenage grandkids, Annette’s birthday vacation is looking more and more like the perfect storm. Adrift together on the open seas, the Feldmans will each face the truths they’ve been ignoring—and learn that the people they once thought most likely to sink them are actually the ones who help them stay afloat.

Book #2: 

The Storied Life of AJ FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Length: 290 pages).  This is a very quick, sweet read, and reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I reviewed here in March of 2018).  The protagonist is a bookstore owner on an island off the East Coast,  He’s a grouchy middle-aged man who is changed (just a little) by some dramatic events in his life. The book covers a lot of his life, but my only (minor) complaint is that it seems to go slowly building up to the events, and then speeds by in the second half, much too quickly in my opinion.  However, this is a books-focused novel, which I adore!  It’s not too deep, but it’s deep enough not to feel like a junk-food read.  Definitely recommend!  

From the publisher:

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.

Book #3 : 

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (Length: 546 pages). This book has been on my Kindle for ages, and is one I could’ve sworn I had read but forgot to read (ironically, given the subject matter here).  I think it’s because I’ve already read a few of Moriarty’s other books.  I absolutely loved reading this book!  The plot is propelled along by the premise of a woman suffering temporary amnesia after a fall.  The past ten years of her life disappear and she finds herself not knowing her children, in the midst of a separation from her husband, and suffering strained relationships with friends and family.  The characters here are very multi-dimensional and complex (yet still likeable if that’s important to you), and I’m excited to see the motion picture that’s being developed for this.   This would be a really good book club book as there is so much to explore here. . . marriage, infertility, familial relationships.   Read this now if you haven’t yet–you won’t regret it! 

From the publisher:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over—she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over…

Book Reviews–November 2019 Part Two

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: 

Career of EvilCareer of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Length: 609 pages).  This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.   It’s a WHOPPER of a long book, so beware of this before starting, as once you start, you’ll want to finish it to find out whodunit.  There are some very violent scenes in this novel, about a serial killer.  But I will say that these scenes aren’t gratuitous and absolutely are necessary to the plot.  I have read that this book gave JK Rowling nightmares while she was writing it, and I get it.  The central mystery in this novel is VERY well-executed.  I never put the clues together while reading it, and in fact, had to go back and re-read certain passages after the killer was revealed to see what I missed.  I really enjoyed how the dynamic between Cormoran and Robin continues to change and grow.  I absolutely will continue reading more of this series–JK Rowling is a masterful writer in my humble opinion!

From the publisher:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible–and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…
Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

Book #2: 

Do You Mind if I CancelDo You Mind if I Cancel? by Gary Janetti (Length: 155 pages).  I am a HUGE fan of Gary Janetti’s Instagram account, where he pokes fun at the Royal Family via snarky captions on photos of Prince George.  This book is NOT that.  I found this memoir/book of essays to be self-serving, and the author comes across as arrogant and whiny.  He is a writer of several successful TV shows (Family Guy, Will & Grace among others) but this didn’t read as very funny.  (Or very well-written as I found a few syntax and grammatical errors throughout).  There are a few funny parts, and I do appreciate the author’s perspective as a gay man coming out in a tough era (70s/80s) but this, unfortunately, is not a book I’d recommend.  

From the publisher:

Fans of David Sedaris, Jenny Lawson, and Tina Fey… meet your new friend Gary Janetti.

Gary Janetti, the writer and producer for some of the most popular television comedies of all time, and creator of one of the most wickedly funny Instagram accounts there is, now turns his skills to the page in a hilarious, and poignant book chronicling the pains and indignities of everyday life.

Gary spends his twenties in New York, dreaming of starring on soap operas while in reality working at a hotel where he lusts after an unattainable colleague and battles a bellman who despises it when people actually use a bell to call him. He chronicles the torture of finding a job before the internet when you had to talk on the phone all the time, and fantasizes, as we all do, about who to tell off when he finally wins an Oscar. As Gary himself says, “These are essays from my childhood and young adulthood about things that still annoy me.”

Original, brazen, and laugh out loud funny, Do You Mind If I Cancel? is something not to be missed.

Book #3: 

Atomic HabitsAtomic Habits by James Clear (Length: 319 pages).  I LOVE this book!  The author discusses how to create good habits, using concrete tips (such as the “Two Minute Rule””), conveyed with an engaging and straightforward writing style.  This is a book I’m actually considering buying to add to my library, because I can see myself going back to re-read it again and again, as needed.   Here are some of the top tips that stood out to me: 

1)  Improving something  incrementally over time–just getting 1% better each day–will translate into huge changes in your life.   In other words, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” SO true! 

2)  Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits . . . for example, your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits.  Little changes add up. 

3) This one is so key–change your identity to stick with a habit.  For example, “The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.”  So if you believe in what you want to identify as, you’re more likely to act in accordance with that belief.  And sharing this identity with others is key to success–which is one of the many reasons I love the CrossFit community! 

4)  He also discusses how “the costs of your good habits are in the present.  The cost of your bad habits are in the future.”  An example of this is how it can be hard to get to gym and actually exercise because you’re not going to see results right away, and conversely, it’s easy to be sedentary when you won’t see the results of that lifestyle right away.  

There are so many different habits/lifestyle changes these apply to–I’m just using fitness as an example.  Definitely check out this amazing book!

From the publisher:

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

Book #4: 

Let Your Mind Run

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton (Length: 298 pages).    This was another motivational read for me!  It’s a VERY inspiring memoir by Olympic medal holder and American record holder of the marathon, Deena Kastor.  What I appreciated about this book is its very concrete tips about how positive thinking can really affect your running (and every day) life.  She also discusses how to banish negative self-talk during your runs, which is something I deal with during my CrossFit workouts.  I’ve implemented some of her little tips already and I’ve noticed they really work.  I also appreciate that she used a co-writer, which doesn’t always happen, but this translated into a very well-written book.  Definitely recommend to anyone who participates in any kind of athletic activity.  (This would make a fantastic holiday gift for any high school/college athlete as well!) 

From the publisher:

Deena Kastor was a star youth runner with tremendous promise, yet her career almost ended after college, when her competitive method—run as hard as possible, for fear of losing—fostered a frustration and negativity and brought her to the brink of burnout. On the verge of quitting, she took a chance and moved to the high altitudes of Alamosa, Colorado, where legendary coach Joe Vigil had started the first professional distance-running team. There she encountered the idea that would transform her running career: the notion that changing her thinking—shaping her mind to be more encouraging, kind, and resilient—could make her faster than she’d ever imagined possible. Building a mind so strong would take years of effort and discipline, but it would propel Kastor to the pinnacle of running—to American records in every distance from the 5K to the marathon—and to the accomplishment of earning America’s first Olympic medal in the marathon in twenty years.

Book #5: 

The NeedThe Need by Helen Phillips (Length: 273 pages). Wow.  I am not sure what to say about this one.  Let me start with the positives:  this novel is the epitome of the unreliable narrator, which can be fun as it keeps the reader on his or her toes.  The writing is excellent, it’s fairly fast-paced, and the beginning of the book absolutely will have you hooked.  The author seems to be exploring motherhood, especially how it can emotionally impact mothers of very young children.  After the first few chapters, however,  you may wonder what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into.  The author seems to have a real obsession with lactation/nursing, which is odd and a bit off-putting in the context of the story.  The plot line is very strange, and if it’s not sci-fi, it’s a treatise on mental health, but the ambiguity is very annoying here because the reader can’t really empathize with the protagonist unless they know what’s really happening.  The surprise “twist” at the end is very ambiguous too.  I’d say this is a hard pass, but I can see how some readers (perhaps smarter than I?) would appreciate the themes of this novel.  Let me know in the comments what you think if you’ve read this one.  

From the publisher:

When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. Helen Phillips has been anointed as one of the most exciting fiction writers working today, and The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives.

 

Book Reviews–November 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: 

Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and CafeThe Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses (Length: 354 pages).  This was a cute little palate cleanser of a book that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for quite a while.  As palate cleansers go, it’s better written than most.  I found the plot to be VERY predictable, as most romance type books are, and there wasn’t sufficient depth to the characters and their backstories.  Specifically, I wanted to learn more about the protagonist’s grandmother’s story (which presumably forms the mystery at the center of this book).  However, I adore the Maine setting of this book. While I was reading I was picturing this as a cute little Hallmark Channel movie, and lo and behold, there is one based on this book (called “The Irresistible Blueberry Farm.”) 

From the publisher:

A high-powered Manhattan attorney finds love, purpose, and the promise of a simpler life in her grandmother’s hometown.
Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish–to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough. THE IRRESISTIBLE BLUEBERRY BAKESHOP & CAFE is a warm and delicious debut about the power of a simpler life.

Book #2: 

UnwrittenUnwritten by Charles Martin (Length: 331 pages).  I do love this author, and his books, even though they’re categorized as “Christian fiction”.  I don’t find them to be overly religious at all, instead they are non-offensive in terms of cursing and sex.  I find the plots to be satisfying in resolution, and I always learn something new when I read these novels (whether it’s about the setting or something intrinsic to the characters’ ways of life).  Here, the reader will receive an in-depth education about fishing and the 10,000 Islands off the coast of Florida.  The author’s skill is how he develops his characters enough to make you care about what happens to them, which propels you forward in your reading.  That absolutely occurs here as I couldn’t put this one down.  I will say that one issue I tend to have with Martin’s novels is that one character will have an unlimited source of TONS of money so they really don’t have to deal with the vagaries of real life.  That’s a bit annoying but again, it IS escapist fiction.  Definitely recommend this as a vacation book, or even a book to waste a Saturday afternoon reading.  

From the publisher:

An actress running from her past finds escape with a man hiding from his future.  When someone wants to be lost, a home tucked among the Ten Thousand Islands off the Florida coast is a good place to live. A couple decent boats, and a deep knowledge of fishing and a man can get by without ever having to talk to another soul. It’s a nice enough existence, until the one person who ties him to the world of the living, the reason he’s still among them even if only on the fringes, asks him for help.
Father Steady Capri knows quite a bit about helping others. But he is afraid Katie Quinn’s problems may be beyond his abilities. Katie is a world-famous actress with an all too familiar story. Fame seems to have driven her to self-destruct. Steady knows the true cause of her desire to end her life is buried too deeply for him to reach. But there is one person who still may be able to save her from herself.
He will show her an alternate escape, a way to write a new life. But Katie still must confront her past before she can find peace. Ultimately, he will need to leave his secluded home and sacrifice the serenity he’s found to help her. From the Florida coast, they will travel to the French countryside where they will discover the unwritten story of both their pasts and their future.

Book #3: 

The Girl Who Reads on the Metro.jpgThe Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Feret-Fleury (Length: 168 pages).  This is a short little novel, translated from the original French, which I picked up because of the blurb about how it’s appealing to those who love the movie Amelie, which I do.  Very cute book about “passeurs” who match books to readers on the street or the Metro.  I adore the Paris setting, and found it’s a very quick read and beautifully written.  (I have a feeling it reads even better in its original language).  I wouldn’t go out of my way to read this, but it’s a fun little novel about books and the people who love them.  

From the publisher:

Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her métro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.

One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman’s name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette’s daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.

Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.

Book #4: 

The Dead Don't DanceThe Dead Don’t Dance by Charles Martin (Length: 321 pages).  This blog is starting to read as a Charles Martin fan page, and it really isn’t, I promise!  This author happens to be pretty prolific, and my type-A personality doesn’t let many booklists go unread if I enjoy a particular author’s writing style.  Anyway, I wanted to read this particular selection as it is Martin’s first published novel.  Wonderful storytelling here, as usual.  There are a few difficult themes here, but mentioning what they are will give away the plot.  I will say that I am not a fan of how the African-American characters are portrayed here as I found they are too stereotypical in terms of their speech and their athletic talent, etc.  (However, I will say I find this author has grown quite a bit given his later novels.)  This is not my favorite novel of Martin’s (my favorite that I’ve read so far has to be Intercepted), but it is a satisfying, and fast read overall.  

From the publisher:

Experience Charles Martin’s debut novel, a story of loss and undying love written in his signature emotive and heartrending style. 

A sleepy rural town in South Carolina. The end of summer and a baby about to be born. But in the midst of hope and celebration comes unexpected tragedy, and Dylan Styles must come to terms with how much he’s lost. Will the music of his heart be stilled forever—or will he choose to dance with life once more, in spite of sorrow and heartbreak?

The Dead Don’t Dance is a bittersweet yet triumphant love story—a tale of one man’s journey through the darkness of despair and into the light of hope.

Book #5: 

MaggieMaggie by Charles Martin (Length: 321 pages).  This is a sequel of sorts to Martin’s The Dead Don’t Dance.  I didn’t think that book really needed a sequel while reading the first quarter of this book, because the major plot point of the previous book had been totally resolved.  But then, a new plot point started and the plot as well as the pace of the book picked up.  This was a really fun read and would recommend it for sure . . . but be aware of some potential triggers (violence, and violence against women).  I did appreciate how the ending of this novel wasn’t pat and perfect.  

From the publisher:

“When Maggie opened her eyes that New Year’s Day some seventeen months ago, I felt like I could see again. The fog lifted off my soul, and for the first time since our son had died and she had gone to sleep—some four months, sixteen days, eighteen hours, and nineteen minutes earlier—I took a breath deep enough to fill both my lungs.”

Life began again for Dylan Styles when his beloved wife Maggie awoke from a coma. A coma brought on by the intense two-day labor that resulted in heartbreaking loss. In this poignant love story that is redolent with Southern atmosphere, Dylan and Maggie must come to terms with their past before they can embrace their future.