Monthly Archives: January 2018

Beth’s Books

Piggy backing on my wildly popular annual book review my sister forced  politely asked me to please publish her 2017 book list and since I’m a selfless giver with little going on after 9:00pm I said “of course!”. Also, I felt like I owed her something for all nagging about The Goldfinch.

Below are all of her books from the past year, she broke them into categories instead of going chronologically (it’ a crazy world my friends!). Here you go:

The Top Three

Magpie Murders  by Anthony Horowitz

The popular description for this book is a “mystery within a mystery” which doesn’t quite do this book justice.  This was a delicious bundle of cleverness that thoroughly entertained me with inventive puzzles.  Horowitz also writes for the British TV Midsomer murders and you will find some of that flavor here.  Overall, this was my favorite book of 2017.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

An engaging coming-of-middle-age novel that cleverly incorporated numerous contemporary issues.  I would highly recommend this charming book (assuming you don’t mind the exploration of sexuality).  This was a close second on my favorite books of 2017.

A Single Spy by William Christie

I read a lot of genre fiction – I am picky about my genre books because I have been reading long enough that I get bored if they are too formulaic, will reject them if they are too far-fetched, etc.  This is one of the best spy novels I have read in a long time.  Set primarily In Russia and Germany just before and during WWII, the protagonist has one of the most well-developed senses of self-preservation I have ever encountered.  This was number three for 2017.

Uncategorized Books

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones was a literary gem that I would highly recommend.  It is set in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and told from the viewpoint of an African American teenage girl whose family lives in poverty.  One of the first books I read in 2017 – put this in your TBR pile.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A graphic novel that recounts the events of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran/Iraq war from the perspective of a teenage Iranian girl.  It is a quick but utterly captivating read.  I read this because I had to read a graphic novel for Book Bingo but I am really glad I was introduced to this book.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel.  

Among the Russians by Colin Thubron

I suffer from wanderlust.  When I am not traveling, I like to read travel books.  Sometimes, as with this book, I read travel books while traveling.  If you are old enough to remember the Cold War, pick up this book about the author’s solo car trip through Soviet-era Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

I like reading about books – reviews, blogs, lists, challenges, you name it — almost as much as I like reading the books themselves.  This is a book that attempts to survey books about, and set in, various locales – I found it in the travel section but it isn’t really a travel book.  Overall, I liked this book and have identified a number of books to add to my TBR pile.  However, any list is usually incomplete, and this is no exception.  I could go on at length about the books she missed.  My main issues with this book though were 1) inconsistency (why include Michael Connelly in the LA section but not James Lee Burke in the NOLA section or why include Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series in Rome but leave The Thornbirds out of Australia ?!?); 2) personal bias, Pearl is clearly a mystery lover and never missed a chance to flog her favorite mystery series, in doing this though, she left out a lot of actual travel books;  3) questionable organization – for example, she has three separate sections on boat travel – and separate sections on walking and hiking.  Things like this made me shake my head.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This book was a recommendation from both my sister and a friend about four years ago.  I subsequently borrowed the book from my sister and it languished in my TBR pile because it is really long.  It might have languished indefinitely but my sister placed an embargo on all future book lending until I read this book.  I am glad I finally read it – it was very good – but still a bit fatiguing.  My main quibble was with the end. The author takes you on this all-consuming journey with the characters and then it feels like she, herself, got tired of writing and dashed of an ending that was on par with the crappy way I would wrap up college and law school essays.  I stuck with this for 775 pages – I deserved a better ending.  

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

I usually read at least a couple of YA novels every year.  This one was fun – two girls, disguised as boys, traveling west.  Don’t give up on YA once you become an adult.  There are a lot of good entries in this category.  

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Reilly

WWII historical fictions novels have become a prolific genre in the past couple of years.  I think there are better entries in this category (All the Light You Cannot See, Code Name Verity (an exceptionally good YA novel) but I liked this one because it was based on a true story.  If you like this genre or want to try it out, read it, if not give it a pass.  

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Another female spies of WWII novel.  This one alternates between after and during the war.  It was ok, not great – it felt derivative of other works and not particularly authentic.  The end annoyed me.  Read it only if you love the genre.

Mystery Novels


Camino Island by John Grisham

I am not a huge Grisham fan.  I can tolerate his legal novels but I don’t love them.  I generally try not to read novels with lawyers, they annoy me (see Lincoln Lawyer exception below).  This being a non-legal novel, and one that involved a mystery about books, I decided to give it a chance.  Overall, not a bad beach or commuting on the train read but not one I would rave about.  As usual, I didn’t like Grisham’s characters much but he does write an entertaining mystery.  

In This Grave Hour (A Maisie Dobbs novel) Jacquelyn Winspear

I have enjoyed this series since the first book and never wavered.  Masie is an excellent protagonist.  If you haven’t read this series, it is set in and around London beginning pre-WWI and this latest installment brings us up to the outbreak of WWII. Winspear has done a nice job of developing and growing Maisie over the years.  You can read these books independently, but I would recommend starting at the beginning.  

Knife Creek by Paul Doiron

This is a series that follows Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch.  Doiron is the former Editor of Down East magazine.  He is an excellent writer but the first book in this series was clearly a first-effort for him as a novelist.  Doiron’s novel writing has become more polished and this latest installment was very good.  Read these novels if you like books about Maine and/or game wardens.  Start at the beginning but don’t give up after the first book – they get better.  

Deep Freeze by John Sanford.  

Sanford is prolific – he writes the Prey series with Davenport, which I don’t read, and has also spun off another series with Virgil Flowers.  Virgil is one of my literary boyfriends.  Sanford could write anything about Virgil and I would read it.  (Yes, I know that Virgil shows up in a minor way in the Prey books but that is just too much commitment :).  This latest was as entertaining as always.

IQ and Righteous by Joe Ide

Joe Ide was a delightful discovery this year.  He is a fresh voice in mystery writing and has created a great new character in Isiah Quintabe aka IQ.  If you are looking for a breath of fresh air in your mystery reading, rush out and get these two books.  I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Murderous Mistral by Cay Rademacher

Written originally in German and set in the south of France, this book had a distinctly Eurpoean flavor.  The plotting was weak, but I enjoyed the characters and the foreign feel of this book.  I will definitely read his next book when it comes out.  

The Late Show Michael Connelly

This was my first Michael Connelly – I know I am late to this party – he has been recommended to me numerous times, but I just didn’t want to take the time to get into the Harry Bosch or Lincoln Lawyer series.  When I saw that he was coming out with a new series I decided to start here.  Renee Ballard is a strong female character and I will enjoy following her career.

The Brass Verdict and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (Lincoln Lawyer series)

By happenstance, these two books were handed to me near the end of the year.  I had received some sad news and was in need of a diversion so I cracked open The Brass Verdict.  It was just what I needed to get my mind off things.  I read it in a day.  Then I read The Fifth Witness the next day.  Despite my aversion to lawyer books, I like these novels, the characters are well drawn and the procedure is well-done.  If anything, Connelly sometimes gets a bit too specific and bogged down in legal procedure.  My only quibble is with time.  I know how much work it takes to prep a case.  The timelines in these books aren’t believable but it is a small quibble with an otherwise diverting series.

Romance

Irresistable by Mary Balogh

Once upon a time, I had an insatiable appetite for romance novels.  I could read them like I eat doughnuts.  In the past couple of years, my interest has waned.  It may just be a phase, I am not sure.  I read this for Book Bingo – one of the squares was “A Book you Read in a Day.”  I spent a weekend day reading this.  It was diverting but ultimately forgettable.

A Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas is one of the best.  Her Wallflowers series is classic.  I even like her contemporary stuff and I normally only read historic romances.  This was a nice start to a new historic series but like I said, I am not hot for romance right now.  If you like romance, I would recommend it.  

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans

UGH.  I read this for Book Bingo because I needed a book with a holiday setting.  It was treacly and gave me a mental toothache.  It reminded me why I don’t like contemporary romances or holiday books.

Audio Books

According to my librarian, audio books count!  My son and I make a lot of long-distance car trips.  Audiobooks are a great way to pass the time and we enjoy listening to books together.  

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

A wonderful middle-grade novel with a strong female protagonist and an art mystery.  This got two thumbs up form both me and Sean.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I probably should have put this at the top with my favorite books of 2017.  A tremendous novel about child-evacuees during WWII.  This novel is less about the war and more about personal salvation.  It is multilayered and appealing to both young and old.  

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

This book actually came up in The War That Saved my Life and I remembered being absolutely charmed by it when I read it as a kid.  Listening to this as an adult, I was struck by 1) the 19th century propensity to shoot every animal they saw (or tame it – man must conquer nature!).  2) The impossibility of elephants coexisting with duck billed platypus, penguins, lions and numerous other animals from all five continents in a place that appeared to be near the equator in the Indian Ocean.  3) The wife was referred to by her first name one or two times and for the rest of the book was either “The Wife” or “The Mother.”  I should have left his one in childhood.  

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I LOVE the James Herriott books.  They are my book version of comfort food.  I have read and listened to them multiple times.  They are delightfully narrated.  I enjoyed sharing this first installment with Sean.  If you have never read them, don’t be put off by the titles.  They are delightful stories about a vet in Yorkshire England and full of dry British humor.

Books I only read Part of

You may quibble with my sharing thoughts on books that I didn’t finish.  However, life is too short to read bad books.  I will give any book 100 pages.  If I don’t like it, I will give up on it.  A couple of these were long and I just wasn’t engaged enough to finish them.  If anyone has read them and can convince me to finish, I am open to doing so.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Oh, Louise, I hate to say this, but it is time for us to break up.  I was a loyal reader for many years.  I stuck with you even when I got angry about what you did to Jean Guy in The Beautiful Mystery.  I was upset but I persevered – the next installment was excellent.  Then you write a drippy book in which nothing happened but one of the main characters was killed at the end.  The next was also a pale reflection of your earlier strong novels in this series.  I started this book but you spent so much time beating us over the head with the dark and evil imagery that I just couldn’t take it.  Maybe it is time for you to leave Three Pines and start something new.  

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

I listened to this as an audiobook.  If the trip had been longer, I probably would have finished it.  I really liked the first half of the book.  It was a riveting story about a man in North Korea.  However, the trip ended at the beginning of the second part of the book.  I was very upset by the plot turn and the second part was a time flip where the narrator changed, and the story worked backwards.  I don’t really like time flips.  There wasn’t enough here to make me finish this book without being trapped in a car with it.  If anyone has a persuasive argument in this book’s favor, I am open to revisiting it.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Another audiobook that lasted only as long as the car trip.  I enjoy Follett.  I really liked Pillars of the Earth.  This books just fatigued me.  There were too many points of view and it was just too damn long.  I listened to this for nine hours, checked the hard copy when I got home and realized that I was only about 250 pages into the book.  I just didn’t have the energy to continue.  If someone can champion this book, let me know.

Ruthless River by Holly FitzGerald

This was a travel book and rather interesting.  In the 1970s, a newly-married couple decides to travel around the world.  They get stuck in a backwater village in South America and it will be months until the next plane will be coming.  They want to make it to Rio for Carnivale so they decide to raft down the river.  It goes badly.  I flipped to the end because I had to know how this book ended.  It is a good story but it had to go back to the library and I didn’t have it in me to speed read through the suffering and starvation in the middle of it.  Even so, I would still recommend it.  

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2017: A Year in Books

Welcome to my sixth annual book review. This year was a little bit different because the first quarter was mostly books geared specifically for a trip to Eastern Europe and I read some things that I normally would not have chosen. This was also the year that I allowed myself not to feel forced to finish books that I did not enjoy, this list includes a few that I read enough of to form an opinion but I did not read to the end.

Without further ado:

Wonder, by R.J. Placio

I read this book because I needed to discuss it during a diversity book discussion. I did not love it, I know it was super popular but I found it trite and formulaic.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I loved this book, it made me want to be an anthropologist and run away to lead a completely different life than the one I have.

A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator, by Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel and George Theiner

This was a book I ordered special to learn about the Velvet Revolution in Prague. This wasn’t a topic I was familiar with at all but  learned quite a deal about through this slim manifesto.

The Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis

I chose this book because I wanted to know what Berlin was like after the fall of communism. This book provided a good feel and context of what it was like to make a life in the newly built city where you have to acknowledge the past but not get stuck in it. I liked it very much.

Dreseden: February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor

In preparation for visiting Dresden I wanted to learn more about its history and more specifically about the bombing that happened at the end of WWII.  This book did not disappoint, it was an excellently researched and comprehensive breakdown of not only what happened in February of 1945 but of the events leading up to it and the aftermath proceeding it. A great option for anyone wanting to learn more about WWII.

A Cultural History of Prague, by Richard D. E. Burton

More of a textbook and reference resource, I did not read this book cover to cover but I did take it to the Czech Republic with me and used it several times to learn about specific things.

In the Garden of Beats, by Erik Larson

This was an EXCELLENT read about the American ambassador to Germany at the beginning of WWII, its a remarkable story that everyone should read.

Necessary Errors, by Caleb Crain

An obscure and quiet novel about young Americans teaching English in Prague directly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I really enjoyed this book, it provided a glimpse into an unusual time in history.

Time’s Magpie, by Myla Golderg

A must read for anyone visiting Prague. Myla lived in Prague for several years and lists many out of the way  treasures the city has to offer. I had this book in my hand during my entire stay in the city.

Iron Curtain, by Anne Applebaum

I ordered this book on my way home from Germany because I realized I needed to understand more about what happened when WWII was over. This books offers a thorough and comprehensive education on the subject. Every high school student should have to read this book.

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

Another book I ordered on my way home from Eurpoe, I felt like it was a something I was obligated to read having been in Kafka’s old stomping ground. And I must admit I really like the metamorphosis, it surprised me but it was the only story in this book that I read, none of the others could hold my interest.

Prague Winter, by Madeline Albright

Who knew Madelie Albringht spent the early part of her childhood in Prague? When I discovered that this book existed I got really excited but is was less a memoir of her impression of the city than it was a history of the region. I liked it but I didn’t finish it after already researching a lot of this topic in other books.

The Zookeepers Wife, by Diane Ackerman

The last of my WWII books, this was a well written story of an unsung hero. I really liked this book.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Switching topics I read this because my Mother left it at my house. I do not usually enjoy murder mysteries but this was so fast paced and quick that I finished it before I could dislike it.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

I read this on the recommendation of a friend and while I did not dislike (I thought it was a compelling story) I did not like the way that Vance tried to use his own very unique story to try and tippify an entire culture of people.

Make ‘Em Laugh, by Debbie Reynolds

I picked this up at a library sale and felt like it was just the thing to add some levity to my book list, it was a fun read even if many of her references went over my head. In the end it was bittersweet though because right after I finished this book both she and Carrie died.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

This was a great book and it’s no wonder that it won the Pulitzer, introspective and enjoyable.

Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham

A great read for any Gilmore Girl fans, this book is Lauren’s memoirs of shooting the show and the experiences she had while doing so. I bought this at the airport, it was a fun travel read.

Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb

I am a HUGE and long-time fan of Robin Hobb and anxiously waited over a year for this third book and conclusion to the latestest Farseer trilogy. I loved it (as I have with all of her Fitz books) and even though she killed off one of my all time favorite charterers she did leave a door open to revisit him again. I am now anxiously awaiting whatever she decides to do next.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

This was another library sale find which I enjoyed, of course I read it before I discovered that it might not all have been true. That aside it helped me to understand the current political/cultural climate in Pakistan better and for that reason I am glad that I picked it up.

Will Not Attend, by Adam Resnick

Trying to lighten things up after Three Cups of tea I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and I thought it was good, not great but a nice departure from the Middle East.

Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham

I didn’t even know that Lauren Graham had written a novel until I read her memoir earlier in the year. Once I found out, I ordered it immediately and I really liked it. I thought it was well written and a fun coming of age novel of a New York actress, it had just enough of her story mixed with fiction to make it fun.

Under The Tuscan Sun, by Francis Mayes

I thought this book was just okay, it made me want to visit Italy but I don’t understand all of the hype it generated.

Housekeeping, by  Marilynne Robinson

I ordered this book because I liked Gilead so much that I wanted to try something else from her. But I did not love this book, I didn’t really even like it that much.

Are you there Vodka? It’s me Chelsea, by Cheslea Handler

Being almost completly unfamiliar with Chelsea Handler I picked up this book on a fluke from a library sale and became and instant fan, I even wrote her a letter, you can read it here

Night Road, by Kristin Hannah

I ordered this book because I loved The Nightingale so much. This was another excellent book by her but oh so very sad. I didn’t even know what it was about before I started it on a cross country plane ride, I literally cried for 5 hours straight.

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

This was the first in a trilogy that I read back to back. This book was by far the best of the three but the entire series really filled a dystopian void that I had in my reading list.

Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer

Book two, I hear they are going to make a movie of these books – they are so weird that I have no idea how that could possibly happen.

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer

The end of the trilogy, this was by far my least favorite of the three books. Maybe the movie ending will be different?

Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me, by Chelsea Handler

I picked this up with her other book at the sale library sale, I enjoyed it but it was not the book I was expecting it to be.

Made In America, by Bill Bryson

In typical Bryson fashion this book was dense and informative, I didn’t get through the entire thing but what I did read was fascinating.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

I really like this book, it was different than anything else he has written and I’m super glad that no turtles were harmed.

The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

This book sat in my TBR piles for YEARS, I tried picking it up two or three times and couldn’t get in to it. I finally forced myself to give it one last chance and I am gad that I did. The book surprised me and went in a direction I wast expecting, in the end I really liked it and it makes me wonder what other good books I got rid of because I wasn’t in the right mood when I tried to read them.

Choices, By Mary Lee Settle

The only reason I read this book is because I finished Henry House on the train coming in to work and I was desperate to find something quickly. This book was hidden in a book exchange that we were hosting and I almost passed it by. I was SO glad that I grabbed it though, it was officially the best book of 2017, I loved it.

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach and this book was great, a well researched look into the physical and psychological demands of what it takes to be an astronaut. In full disclosure I didn’t finish this book but I still feel very well informed.

The Known World, by Edward Jones

Another top book of the year, this was an excellent book and a history I hadn’t read about before. It’s a novel of black slave owners which I only sort of knew happened.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Another super popular book I didn’t like very much. This book started out really good but there was a huge plot hole in the middle that I simply could not overlook, in the end I didn’t believe the characters or their actions.

The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaimen

I am a big Neil Gaimen fan and was excited when I discovered this book although I would say I only really enjoyed about half of it, there were too many obscure references to people and books that I was unfamiliar with to really get in to it.

A Man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman

Picked this up in the airport as I was finishing the Gaimen book, I both liked and disliked it, I thought the writing style was fun and different but I also thought that 75% of the book was spent developing a very specific character who dissolved in the end, I did not care for the ending.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos

I loved  this book, I thought it was a rare gem, as entertaining as teenage depression could be, I think it would be a great book for kids struggling with self identity.

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes

Uuugh… I really just wanted one good sci-fi book this year, this was not it. I really tried to like this book – I felt there was a great foundation for a good story but it was so male oriented and misogynistic that I felt offended as a woman and had to give up about half way in.

Mendicino (and other stories),by Ann Packer

I don’t always enjoy essays but I this was an exception, I thought it was very good. I thought all of the stories included where well developed and intriguing.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

I picked this up at the airport and it was not what I was expecting, I thought it would be funny essays of his but instead it was a pretty well researched look at how people find, date, marry, divorce and find love in today’s culture. It was interesting but not that relevant to me right now.

Back When We Were Grownups, by Ann Tyler

A sweet little novel, I enjoyed this book and was happy that this was what I ended the year reading.