January 2022

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:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Length: 385 pages).  What a story! This is a fantasy/mystery that’s beautifully written. It’s about a girl named January Scaller who is an almost-orphan as her father Yule Ian (Julian) travels the world obtaining treasures for his boss, the ultra-wealthy Cornelius Locke. January lives with Mr. Locke in his sprawling Vermont estate. This book contains tales within the main story about magical doors to magical worlds. The novel lags a bit in the middle but overall, it’s a fantastic read with lots of twists and turns, that will transport you to magical places. Absolutely worth a read!

Book #2:

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (Length: 525 pages).  This is my book club’s January pick, and boy, am I disappointed! This is a fictionalized account based on the true story of an Italian boy, Pino Lella, who becomes a spy for the Italian Resistance during World War II, and personally helped several Jewish citizens escape over the border to Switzerland, and then as a personal driver for General Lerner (a Nazi), passed on German secrets to the Allies. The story is very captivating, and the plot of this book is an absolute page-turner. But the writing . . . ugh. The writing is very stilted and juvenile, as if a high schooler wrote this, which is odd because the author is award-winning and is very prolific (at least 18 novels). Moreover, this novel had a bit of a Forrest Gump feel for me as the coincidences are entirely unbelievable at times (which I won’t enumerate here as they’d spoil the plot). Overall, it’s worth a read for the story, but perhaps lower your expectations regarding the quality of writing. A movie based on this book and Pino’s story is currently in development, and I’ll absolutely watch that.

Book #3:

Applied Electro-Magnetism by Susannah Nix (Length: 256 pages). This is a romance and is the perfect palate-cleanser between heavier books. It’s one of six books in a series entitled Chemistry Lessons which features women in science as the protagonists, which I love. Nix is a good writer, with better-than-usual character development for romance novels, and she definitely can write a strong female lead with nerdy tendencies (my favorite type as I’m the same). This particular novel features a business road trip with two co-workers who don’t care for each other, so it’s the enemies to lovers trope. The author writes about their travelling from buying snacks at the airport, to stopping at the famous Buccee’s convenience store in Texas, and I always enjoy reading those types of real-life details. Again, the author’s writing is strong enough that I’ll definitely continue to read more of this series. (The books seem to end up in the daily Kindle deals too, so watch out for those if you can’t find these at your library.)

My Top 12 Favorite Books of 2021

In no particular order, here are my top favorite books (out of 114 total) that I read in 2021. (The hyperlinks will take you to my reviews).

Book #1:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Book #2:

House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Book #3:

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Book #4:

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

Book #5:

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Book #6:

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Book #7:

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Book #8:

What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins

Book #9:

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Book #10:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Book #11:

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

Book #12:

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

December 2021

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:

Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi (Length: 280 pages).   I listened to this book and I definitely recommend it as an audibook, as it’s read by the author himself. This is a memoir written by one of the first black fine dining chefs in America, who also happened to be on Top Chef. I’m a fan of chef memoirs anyway, but this particular book showcases a very engaging writing style, and I found Kwame’s journey from the Bronx, to Nigeria, to drug dealing at a private school, to the Culinary Institute of America, then to Top Chef and opening a high-end restaurant in Washington DC to be truly captivating. This book held my interest every minute, and for an audibook and my particular sensibilities, that’s tough to do.

Book #2:

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny (Length: 440 pages).  This is Book 17 in the Inspector Gamache series (my favorite mystery series of all time!), and I really enjoyed this one. This novel is about a controversial doctor who preaches eugenics/mandatory euthanasia of the elderly and those with genetic defects as a means of controlling disease in a pandemic. So, the author’s focus here is a bit heavier than usual, but it’s still set in charming Three Pines, Canada, with all of our favorite characters. And Penny’s writing is as gorgeous as usual, with gems like these: “It’s about what happens when gullibility and fear meet greed and power . . . People will believe anything. Doesn’t make them stupid, just desperate.” This is another winner for Louise Penny, and I hope you check out this series if you haven’t already.

Book #3:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Length: 231 pages).  I LOVED this book. This was another audiobook that I listened to on my super-fun (!) commute, and it’s absolutely incredible. Written by a neuroscientist/surgeon who is finishing up his 7-year residency when he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. The author writes about his life and his journey so lyrically which must be due to his also earning a Master’s degree in English literature . . . he’s talented in both his right and left brain spheres. Don’t miss the foreword by Dr Abraham Verghese (another talented dr/author who wrote the beautiful Cutting for Stone), as well as the epilogue by the author’s wife Lucy. Yes, this book will make you cry but it’s so beautifully written that it’s a must-read.

Book #4:

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (Length: 397 pages).   This book was rejected by my book club as it has some heavier topics, but I went ahead and read it anyway, and I’m so glad I did. This is a sweeping, well-written family drama about Eleanor who is still in love with her husband Peter, but starts having an affair with Jonas, her childhood best friend. The book alternates between a few days in the present immediately after the affair begins at the family lakehouse, to Eleanor’s childhood and Eleanor’s mother’s childhood and adult life. There are some tough parts (sexual assault and incest) but none of it is gratuitous, and the novel is so beautifully written while also being a total page turner. The ending is a bit ambiguous, so definitely Google it like I did and you’ll hopefully read the author’s hints as to what really happens at the end.

Book #5:

Rabbit by Patricia Williams (Length: 243 pages).  This memoir came highly recommended by several Bookstagrammers so I listened to it on audio. It’s insanely good! Miss Pat is a comedian, who tells stories about her colorful childhood growing up poorer than poor in Atlanta, Georgia. She had her first child at age 13, sold crack to support her little family, and tried to separate from her own devastating childhood. This is incredibly eye-opening as to what’s happening in America, and I couldn’t stop listening to a minute of this memoir. I give it two thumbs up!

Book #6::

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler (Length: 210 pages).  This is another audiobook I listened to and it’s written by (and narrated by) a Christian prosperity gospel scholar who is diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She chronicles her journey (both medical and spiritual) while analyzing gems from her faith such as “Misfortune is a mark of God’s disapproval” and what that means for cancer patients. The author doesn’t ever tell us how she reconciles the prosperity gospel with her own journey, ultimately, which I found interesting (and a bit frustrating). While the content is definitely interesting and worth a read, I will say that the audiobook is NOT the way to go, in my opinion, as the narration is annoying and super-whiny in parts. I do appreciate the author’s dry humor, but probably would’ve enjoyed it more if read in my own voice. 😉

Book #7:

Love at First by Kate Clayborn (Length: 322 pages).  A light and fluffy, yet well-written romance by the author of the wonderful Love Lettering novel. An ER doctor renovates his late uncle’s condo in a small Chicago building full of long-time elderly residents, with the intention to run it as an AirB&B, and sparks fly between him and Nora, the granddaughter of one such resident who has been living in the condo for a few years. Nora wants to keep everything the same, in memory of her grandmother, so this inherent conflict sets the stage for their inevitable romance. The conflict is a bit silly but since the writing is engaging and the character development is sufficiently deep, I allowed it. This is a good choice for anyone wanting a lighter, closed door romance.

November 2021–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:

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle (Length: 385 pages).   Kaytee Cobb of the Currently Reading podcast raved about this book, saying it was very similar to A Man Called Ove, which is one of my all-time favorite novels, so of course I had to pick this one up as I love a grouchy elderly protagonist. In this book the main character Hubert Bird is a Jamaican immigrant who is navigating racism and everyday life in London in the late 1950s and 1960s. This novel is extremely well-written, and Hubert has incredible depth as a protagonist. The novel flip-flops between the past and present in mostly alternating chapters (but very smoothly), and Hubert’s interactions with various neighbors and friends are so heartwarming and real. This book is definitely in the top 3 of this year for me, and I hope everyone is able to read and enjoy this gem of a novel.

Book #2:

Don’t Make Me Turn This Life Around by Camille Pagan (Length: 251 pages).  This light novel is about a woman in mid-life crisis (due to her job at a non-profit being not as fulfilling as it has been previously, a husband who is emotionally distant for unknown reasons, one twin daughter who is navigating a recent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, her father who recently died and her own twin brother divorcing his husband). With all of that happening, one would think this would be a novel with some depth, but it really isn’t. The writing quality is decent here, but the protagonist is entirely too whiny for me. Also, again, if the characters would just TALK to one another when they are bothered by something, the conflict would be resolved much more quickly. There has to be a better way to create drama in novels methinks. I finished this one because it’s a fast read, but I’d pass on it if I were you.

Book #3:

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni (Length: 449 pages).  I LOVED this book and literally read it in one day. This is a very moving novel about a boy with ocular albinism (red eyes) growing up in northern California in the 1970s. The story covers his birth to about 40 years old, and is about him growing up in a very Catholic household (thanks to his very devoted mother), and attending a Catholic school with an abusive nun and schoolyard bullies. His friendships with the school’s sole Black student and a girl named Mickie form the heart of the novel, as well as his relationship with his mother. I will say I found the tone to be a touch manipulative and the religious imagery can be a bit much but I really liked this overall and the story will be one I remember for a long time.

November 2021–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:

The Water Keeper by Charles Martin (Length: 352 pages).   I believe this is the tenth book by Charles Martin that I’ve read, and I picked this one up thanks to a friend who recommended it. He said it made him cry, and I always appreciate a good cry. Spoiler alert: I didn’t cry. This novel (the first in a two book series featuring the character Murphy Shepherd) is probably my least favorite of Martin’s, mostly because of several unbelievable coincidences that occur, and the book’s central premise is way too out there. Murphy Shepherd is a priest/federal agent or special ops solider who rescues victims of sex trafficking in the Florida Keys, and then has them transported to a secret village in Colorado to recover. There are some continuity issues in the plot that bothered me (for example, in one scene a boat mechanic is sleeping but then is standing up holding a box cutter). The writing itself is strong (Martin can write!) but I felt emotionally manipulated, and therefore, too annoyed to cry when the author was pulling at my heartstrings. I will say the plot was propulsive enough to keep me reading to see how it ends. It remains to be seen whether I’ll pick up book two. (Given that my TBR is currently over 400 books I’m going to say probably not.)

Book #2:

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (Length: 284 pages).  This book is amazing and is a must-read for those who would never even think of picking it up, unfortunately. It’s incredibly well-written, but not preachy. The author intersperses his personal experiences with several “truth bombs” about this country’s racist past and present. You do need an open mind and heart to read this, but I believe it’s worth it. I found myself tabbing several passages that made me think, and ended up filling a few pages of a Word document with these passages. Such as, “Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act.  Segregationist ideas cast people of color as “animals” to use Trump’s descriptor for Latinx immigrants—unteachable after a point.  Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different.” And, “White racists do not want to define racial hierarchy or policies that yield racial inequities as racist.  To do so would be to define their ideas and policies as racist.  Instead they define policies not rigged for White people as racist. . .  Beleaguered White racists who can’t imagine their lives not being the focus of any movement respond to “Black Lives Matter” with All Lives Matter.  Embattled police officers who can’t imagine losing their right to racially profile and brutalize respond with “Blue Lives Matter.” Finally, “White supremacists blame non-White people for the struggles of White people when any objective analysis of their plight primarily implicates the rich White Trumps they support.” (My note: If any of these phrases bother you, you’re the intended audience who SHOULD read this book.)

Book #3:

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Length: 328 pages).  My sweet daughter bought me this psychological thriller as a gift for me going back to work as a criminal prosecutor. 🙂 Alicia Berenson shoots her husband five times in the face, killing him. Then she stops talking for years, through the trial and subsequent confinement in a state mental facility. The majority of the novel is told from the point of view of Dr Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist who tries to figure out how to get her to speak again. There is a huge twist, per usual, that is ultimately very counterintuitive factually speaking. That bothered the intellectual part of my brain, but the strong writing and the fast-paced plot kept the fun-seeking part of my brain happy so I think it’s ultimately worth a read.

Book #4:

Wake up Happy by Michael Strahan (audiobook: 5 hours 38 minutes).   This is the first audiobook I’ve “read” in years. But thanks to a daily commute and the fact that I’ve been running out of podcasts to listen to, I decided to try this memoir/inspirational read that I heard on a book podcast is a good one for those readers who don’t care for self help books but who prefer motivational reads. I agree that it’s not a typical self help book which I appreciated but it is fairly superficial in tone. This would be a good pick for someone who is a true fan of Michael Strahan (I don’t care for football and I’ve never watched GMA or Live With Kelly and Michael). I’m not but it was an easy and enjoyable audiobook to listen to. (It is narrated by Michael which makes it more meaningful in my opinion).

Book #5:

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Length: 276 pages).  This memoir by a woman in science first came on my radar when President Obama mentioned in a few years ago as a book on his book list, and then I heard Anne Bogel recommend it on her podcast What Should I Read Next? With alternating chapters about trees/leaves/botany (perfect for my nerdy heart) and chapters about the author’s life, this reminded me of Moby Dick with the whaling history chapters bookending the dramatic tale of Ahab chasing the white whale. And drama it is with the female scientist who has navigated her professional career while suffering from manic depression. Her chapters about the constant struggle to get funding as well as support her interesting lab partner Bill (who happily lives in his van or in an office) are stressful, but absolutely humanize her life as a scientist. Her anecdotes about Bill are often laugh out loud funny, which lessen the stressful accounts of her sometimes-difficult personal life. This is definitely a more esoteric and niche read, but if you’re at all scientifically-inclined, this is a worthy read.