All posts by Becca

Donuts, the great cure all. Also why I’m kind of a good person but not really…

I want to preface this post by setting the scene in my family room last night. On occasion, since the pandemic started, I facetime with my BFF in California. We do this over several bottles of wine and typically rage at the current political situation. Our shared outrage tends to lead to more wine and that invariably leads to a rough morning after. Last night while pregaming for my facetime raging I decided that I needed to do something good and worthwhile and I signed up to donate blood at 9:00 this morning. The forethought that this might not be a good idea 6 days before the election and that by 9:00am my blood alcohol level might be lethal to whoever is unfortunate enough to get my blood did not at all cross my mind. Smugly, I logged into the Red Cross website and put myself on the list. Below is the texting transcript that started with my BFF in California at exactly 9:28 this morning:

  • Me: UGGGHHHHH… I just got back from donating blood with a HUGE headache. I wanted to tell them that my blood is probably 46% straight red wine. I thought it problematic to reveal…
  • Him: Hahahaha, Ugh. Someone in need somewhere is going to get an infusion buzz! I’m onboarding GALLONS of water as we speak
  • Me: I’ve had a TON of water, I’m currently toasting a bagel because… food.
  • Him: Bread will help
  • Me: Fingers crossed emoji
  • Him: lighted candle GIF
  • Me: I HOUSED that bagel, is it wrong to have 2 bagels?
  • Him: NOT.AT.ALL (this is why I love him)

*Five minute interlude where I stand in front of my refrigerator seriously contemplating toasting another bagel (side note: they are pumpkin bagels from trader Joes and delicious), but ultimately come to the conclusion that I don’t have enough cream cheese to adequately smother said bagel appropriately. My mind decides that the only thing that will make me feel better is a donut. My mind will NOT let go.

  • Me: My headache DESPERATLY needs a donut!
  • Haha, its funny that you say that I’ve been CRAVING a real, honest to god donut shop donut for a solid 72 hours now (Side Note: my BFF and I share a brain – these things come up all the time. Also, Side note: since his heart attack last year, he can’t eat donuts and I can’t listen to the second half of the Hamilton soundtrack without getting panicky – true story)
  • Me: MY ENTIRE SOUL IS CRYING OUT FOR A DONUT!
  • Him: Theatrical much? It is T minus 30- minutes until I have to leave for the office, how can this be? I’m nowhere near ready.
  • Me: Dammit – hey pick up a donut on the way. Also, bring me a donut.
  • Him: Ugh, Devil on my shoulder
  • Me: I know, I’m sorry. I am evil and my will power has been replaced with a ginormous headache that only donuts can fix
  • Him: I completely understand donut emoji

I am never going to get that donut, in fairness he has MUCH more will power than I do and lives 5,000 miles away. It doesn’t lessen the desire though.

Oh man, my head hurts.

New Guidelines for Living in These Uncertain Times

When this pandemic started if someone had asked me how long it would be before wearing a bra became optional I would have been hard pressed to tell them, now I know that it’s exactly six months before I unharnessed that social custom, see what I did there?

And it didn’t go down hill gradually, Monday I decided not to put one on when “going” to work. And by work I mean the corner of my living room. By Friday I was going to the Acme without it. I hesitated, but my rational was that I had on jeans and not the pajama pants that all of my fellow shoppers were wearing. I thought of it as leveling the playing field.

There are other things that have slipped in this COVID lifestyle, brushing my hair happens… um… sometimes and I definitely wear the same pair of jeans longer than I should.

On the flip side I floss my teeth EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. My dentist retired in June and there is NO way I’m going out shopping for a stranger to stick their hands in my mouth now, nope.

Other things I will not do now – eat inside at a restaurant, make out with random strangers in the subway, ride the subway, eat food off the ground or use that chapstick that I found in the bar bathroom. My life has really closed in on itself.

Newsletter: Year 10

Thursday Lucy turned 10. She is tall and quick witted and loves to bake. She has a dry, dead-pan sarcastic humor, she is anxious around new people and still loves to play with barbies and cannot sleep without being surrounded by stuffed animals. She is the light of my life and I can’t imagine life without her.

Here she is in her own words – we did two videos because the first one we realized (half way through) was not the right set of questions and the second one there’s some sound issues and its very hard to hear her. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

 

 

Oh and here’s all the others because it’s fun to see the progression:

Back in the Bunker

I’m still alive!

I’ve spent most of the summer sheltering in place in the middle of nowhere and as Robert Frost once famously stated that has made all the difference.

I have been somewhat immune to the power of the coronavirus as its barely reared its ugly head in my former (and soon to be current again) location. My daughter and I have had the privilege of running around the woods and swimming in a lake and in general staying away from things like the news and the white house press briefings.

All of this, of course, comes with a price and that price is reverting to childhood and living with my parents. Most of the time this is fine – they are old, can’t hear very well and go to bed very early. But I still find myself rolling my eyes behind their backs and rebelling against home rule in sly but subtle ways. The difference now is that at 4:00 everyday my Mom and I have happy hour together and sometimes drink enough wine to blur the line between parent and child. I also have an ally in my daughter and my nephew who both also rolls their eyes at Nana and share private jokes with me about getting old.

My biggest fears right now are ticks and how many spiders are crawling in my mouth while I sleep… trust me that place is teeming with spiders.

This week I am home, and it is literally 100 degrees outside and I can’t visit anyone or do anything  because I’m not going out there… It is nice to see my husband (who only stops working for about 2 and a half hours every day) and pet my dog who has been woefully neglected this summer, but I’m ready to switch out the four outfits I wore all summer for a different four outfits and hit the road again.

The bunker has weathered the summer quite nicely without me –it makes sense that when my child and I are removed from the equation spaces stay nicer and less messy. Two hours after arriving at my parent’s house in June the entire thing was covered in glitter and nearly half of the porch had been sectioned off to make way for Barbie land – 30 square feet of bedrooms, shopping malls and fashion runways. In reserve it only took half that time when we arrived back to home to completely take over the living room that (apparently) had been mess-free for two solid months. I try so hard to remind my husband that the chaos and debris that follow me around is simply part of my charm – he (for some reason) does not believe me and rolls his eyes every time I try to convince him otherwise.

There has been a lot of eye rolling this summer.

Updates from the Bunker

Here in the bunker we have lost all sense of time and space – we simply refer to everyday as Blursday. We operate strictly according the laws of nature, if it’s nice we go outside, if it is not than we stay inside. We are simple folk who sometimes remember to wash their hair and sometimes have to be called out by those around us to do so. Our biggest excitement comes when new Amazon boxes are delivered.

Next week some of us will be relocating to a new bunker – because sometimes it’s exciting to clean different things than the things that you always clean. And also this bunker is getting hot and I have already sent a strongly worded email to our pool club that under no circumstances, even if they open, would be using their facilities this summer. They are not big fans of me.

I actually spend a lot of my time sending strongly worded emails these days. So much so that sometimes my husband will walk in to the living room looks at my face and say “who are you arguing with now?” He knows me so well.

Things that I love right now are: drive through convenience stores, drunk FaceTime get-togethers, the price of gasoline, audiobooks and Pinterest. Things I hate: TV, people who congregate in groups, the price of avocados, politics and cooking dinner.

The Review…

I would definitely not recommend this restaurant. The proprietor is surly, sarcastic and (I’m pretty sure) drunk. All of the surfaces are sticky and the food is not just bad but teaming with cat and dog hair. I was served undercooked hotdogs with cocktail sauce despite the giant crate of ketchup sitting in the corner of the dining room. Once finished my “meal” I was informed that I had to do my own dishes as well as those sitting next to the sink. Despite all of my hard work I was presented with an outrageous bill at the end and told that I had to pay… in wine.

I’m giving myself a terrible Yelp review

Becca’s day 45 pandemic diner menu

Breakfast: Cereal, but really it’s just the end of 3 bags. I call it stale cinnamon toast crunch raisin bran cheerios surprise. The surprise is that you have to eat it dry because I need the last of the milk for my coffee.

Lunch: BLT – no wait just a BT um… this tomato isn’t very good and there isn’t any bacon. Here – have this bowl of mayo but lick it slow it’s all there is until dinner.

Dinner: hot dogs on white bread – we are out of ketchup though your condiment choices include cocktail sauce or red Thai curry paste. The hot dog will be served with a side of bag salad – you need to pick out the good stuff, there is no dressing.

Dessert: What now?

Ramblings from the Bunker

I have lost track of what day it is – I only know if it’s a work day or a non-work day, last week I got excited for Friday but then I couldn’t remember why… My bangs have still not grown out long enough to tuck behind my ears and I’m thinking of just covering all the mirrors in the house with heavy black fabric.

I have started walking five miles a day – for both exercise and escape. I’ have been doing this consistently for a week now and have managed to gain 4 pounds. Four pounds! This seems wildly unfair especially since I haven’t changed any of my eating habits.

I’ve been having a lot of strange coronavirus related dreams – including one night when I discovered that the Keebler elves had created a vaccine and I had to go get it from them, it was hard because I barely fit inside that tree.

I have started some weird habits since being home, for instance I make my bed every day. Every day – I have never done this before, I will miss it when the world resumes a semblance of normalcy.  I have also cut down on the amount of coffee I drink – it seems to only take me half of what it used to to get me going, probably all of that energy I had to exert putting on pants.

A Public Service Announcement

Rules for online shopping during the Pandemic:

–          Pay attention to the quantity of what you are purchasing. I now own enough ketchup and popcorn to last the rest of our lives

–          Abstain from constantly refreshing your order summary in Amazon to see when items will arrive – this will drive you crazy. Everything takes a long time.

–          The more puzzles you buy the more puzzles you will be forced to put together

–          If you buy enough books you can use them to build a prepper bunker in your backyard

–          Literally all of these things can be avoided if you don’t shop online while intoxicated.

April Fool’s in the Bunker

Here is a list of the April Fools pranks that Jason played on us this morning:

  • The coffee cup cabinet was full of plastic Easter eggs that rained down on my head at 6:00am
  • Lucy’s toilet paper roll was taped together with packing tape
  • All of the keys on my keyboard were popped off and put back on alphabetically
  • Lucy’s bathroom sink was taped closed
  • The bottom of my optical mouse was taped with packing tape
  • The default language on Lucy’s iPad was set to Spanish

Clearly this man needs some hobbies (and less packing tape).

Bunker Life*

My hair is a mess, my bangs are too long to be down and too short to go back. I have hair like Ray in Star Wars but not in a good way – in a way that looks like it was done by a toddler with one good hand.

I feel like I am failing at a number of things right now – like why aren’t my closets clean and how come only half the laundry has been put away? Why aren’t I planking more often or taking free master classes? I have one totally arbitrary goal everyday – to get the coffee table cleaned off and I’m even failing at that. Actually I’ve failed so bad that I’ve finally hauled out the requisite pandemic puzzle. Its the puzzle that you do when your family doesn’t have anything left to talk about beyond what you are all having for dinner.

Its seems to be shedding season, or we are just petting the animals too much? Either way everything in the house is covered in multiple layers of fur. You open a door and the entire floor seems to move. I could vacuum everyday and still it would pile up. Just to be clear I do not vacuum everyday but I could… vacuuming is the worst.

Last Sunday Jason smoked a chicken and I spent the entire week making it in to different things – a pot pie, fajitas, salad… I hate this chicken so much. I thought that we would be prepared for the long term because we have a freezer full of chicken downstairs – I am currently regretting this idea.

Today Lucy asked me “how do you multiply fractions?” and “Mom, why are you drinking so much wine lately” I couldn’t answer either of those questions.

*Like thug life only more isolating

Sleeping With One Eye Open

I am alive! I am in the same clothes that I wore yesterday and maybe the day before that. I have only left my house to either walk the dog or to go to the grocery store. This past Monday the grocery store was much more crowded than I felt comfortable with and in full disclosure I may have gotten into a fight with a woman in the wine aisle – I was not my best self but in all fairness neither was she.

At home I have been changing the cat litter more often than normal and when not doing that I am emptying the dishwasher – feeding 3 people 3 meals a day creates a lot of dishes. Work, chores and obsessive news checking has taken up most of my energy – there are streaming work out videos and a large primed canvas downstairs mocking me right now.

Lucy is being pretty good about her school work but looks for any excuse to procrastinate – this morning she made me tell her everything that I know about typewriters, dental floss and what the center of the earth feels like. I am a sucker for this and end up turning in to Cliff Clavin at the breakfast table… I was 10 minutes in to an explanation of how and why the qwerty keyboard was invented when I realized I was playing right in to her hand – if I was a cartoon there would have been a giant lollipop over my head.

If anyone is excited about this lock-down it is our animals, the dog especially is loving the constant attention. The cat though… I’m fairly certain he is plotting to kill us in our sleep.

Day 4? Day 5? Day 15?

Moral in the house is waning, or at least it was until we realized that Netflix has released a new season of Boss Baby. Online school started today and Jason has one again retreated to the basement. Once we start math though, I’m going to lock Lucy down there with him.

My bangs continue to grow out in a weird and awkward way that doesn’t even submit to the hot air brush anymore. I might need to resort to wearing headbands soon.

Last night we taught Lucy how to play monopoly and she kicked our butts – I’m attributing it to the fact that she was the only one of us not pandemic drinking. I woke up to an empty bottle of lagavulin on the kitchen counter this morning and warned Jason that if things continue this way he may be forced to drink the blended scotch soon. It is dire times.

In the Bunker day 3

The only good thing that I can attribute to the corona virus so far is that it is giving me ample time to grow my bangs out without anyone seeing that weird awkward stage where you have to pin it back with a random bobby pin.

This morning I struggled out of bed at 5:30 and made way to the grocery store so I could avoid interacting with people and get there when they open. Also, with the recent closure of the state wine stores I was hoping to restock my quickly dwindling wine supply. But you know what I learned today? Apparently there is a PA law that says no wine sales before 8:00a.m.. 8:00! A.M.! PA residents take note!

Lucy technically had a day off of school today and even though I tried to make up work for her to do she saw right through it and by 10:07a.m. she was bored bored bored. And what I should have done is opened any of the 500 links people have posted online to “keep your kids from getting bored while stuck at home” – we should have mixed up some bath bombs or created giant bubble frame in the back yard but instead I let her watch the Simpson’s – like a dozen episodes of the Simpson’s and if that’s not educational I don’t know what is.

Jason hasn’t been spotted for two days, he went to get something out of the basement on Saturday…

Lock down

Yesterday my employer (in an abundance of caution) closed our office and all but essential employees are working remotely until the end of the month – I am far from “essential”. By sheer coincidence I have been working from home since Tuesday, that’s four days and I’m already sick of myself.

I don’t want to get in to the virus and debate over whether or not we are responding correctly, I want to talk about how I tried to buy tampons at target last night and how that aisle was virtually empty. I want to discuss whether the 11 bottles of wine I have is enough to get me through without murdering my family (whom I love very much and don’t really want to kill unless I HAVE to).

Very much like my “updates from the couchside” I’m going to be writing for the next two weeks about how life is “inside the bunker”. Today my husband is home, working in the office – I can hear him on a conference call and I already want to bash his face in for destroying my peace and quiet. Today is day one.

Random Observations of the similarities between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings      

Things you start thinking about when you watch LOTR with your 9 year old:

  • –          Both villains are trying to reclaim their corporal bodies

  • –          Both protagonists have the ability to become invisible

  • –          Both have giant spiders that look exactly the same (Shelob & Aragog) – same for the trolls

  • –          The Ring is really just a horcrux

So Long My Old Friend

Last night my microwave died – this might not seem like very important news or an impetus to write an entire blog post over but it is. It really is.

The Microwave in question was a basic 1200 watt Sanyo. It was black and nondescript, it had a wonky open button that often got stuck and required 2 hands to get in to. What makes this particular appliance special it that I bought it, on clearance (as a returned item missing the box) in 1994. For those of you that are math challenged that was 26 years ago – twenty six! That microwave and I had a relationship that outlasted well nearly all of my relationships. That microwave was old enough to take to a bar and buy a beer and up until the very end it was a work horse, it could heat a cup of water up in 30 seconds and cook an entire spaghetti squash in less than 15 minutes. In a time when small appliances are so short-lived it feels like you rent them rather than buy them this Sanyo was a relic of a bygone age (I do in fact recognize that writing that sentence also makes me a relic of a bygone age). It died without fanfare or dramatics, it simply stopped working in the middle of heating up a cup of coffee – it stopped so abruptly that I thought the electricity had gone out.

I realize that I may be abnormally attached to small electronics. I still have the same blender that my parents had in the house that I was born in to – a heavy glass monstrosity that can still crush ice with the best of them, not that I ever use it. I can’t remember the last time I needed to blend something – that’s what Jamba Juice is for. Also until just a few years ago I had been hauling around my alarm clock from my childhood bedroom, this alarm clock was so bright that I could read books by it and as a small child I remember doing just that for hours after my allotted bedtime. The alarm clock stopped working years ago and in the end was just a pile of broken pieces but it was still a sad day when I finally threw it in the trash. When you consider all the times I have moved in my life this is a serious commitment most likely bordering on psychosis.

I do not know how to truly honor this Sanyo, I know many people would simply throw it out and make a trip to best buy and move on but I am thinking that a nice burial plot out behind our shed might be a fitting place or perhaps a new life as a planter box. It is a good thing that my husband is a patient and understanding person.

Beth’s Books 2019

I am finding it more and more rare to find people in this world who still read the way my sister and I do. I was in the post office a few weeks ago and as I went to pay a book fell out of my purse, the cashier said to me “huh, I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual book” This made me so sad – for her.

Anywho – without further ado, for the third year in a row here is my sister’s official 2019 line up. Enjoy!

“This was a different kind of reading year for me. I was in two book clubs, so much of my
reading (or attempted reading) was chosen by others. Not an unwelcome situation, as I read things I would not have picked up on my own, but it did affect the amount and types of what I read, as well as the pace of my reading. There were a number of book club books that didn’t finish, mostly because I ran out of time and had to move on to the next book. I only included the books I completely finished below. Also, in spite of my best intentions, I didn’t keep very good track of what I read. Therefore, the list below is only what I can remember, and likely incomplete.

Part 1: Books I Chose On My Own

Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman’s Last Journey by Ralph Leighton

This was a travel book – one of my favorite genres. I loved this tale of choosing somewhere to go on a whim and trying to get there — pre-internet. This was a slow motion travelogue in which letters were written and airfares were researched by checking the fare list in the travel section of the Sunday paper. Tuva, at the time, was located in the Soviet Union, which further complicated the attempt to travel there. This was also a sweet book about friendship. Not for everyone, but if you like travel writing and remember the Cold War, it was a delightful time capsule.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Speaking of the Cold War . . . although, this one is set after that time it is still a USA versus Russia spy story. I enjoyed it – it was fun and suspenseful and had all the elements of a classic espionage novel. It is not great literature and there are times you have to suspend disbelief, but it was a good time.

Life Undercover Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox

So, staying on the espionage track . . . this was a memoir by a CIA agent. I really got into memoirs in general this year and this one was a fast read – finished it in a weekend. She had some insightful observations on attempting to balance marriage and motherhood with undercover work. Definitely recommend.

Mindhunter by John Douglas

I came to this book the opposite way of how I usually get there – from TV. I binge watched the series on Netflix and then read the book. It may have been the better way to do it. The series is definitely made for TV – much more dramatic and only loosely tracks the book. The book is very good in its own right but had I read it first I would have been all upset about how the series changed it.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Mindhunter put me onto a “how are serial killers caught” kick so I picked this one up next. The book was somewhat anticlimactic given that the killer was caught after it was published. However, it was a very detailed illustration of just how the killer was able to elude police for so long.

Calypso by David Sedaris

I bought this in the airport because I need a book to read on my flight home. I have read Sedaris before and enjoyed him. This one was hysterical – I was sitting in a middle seat on the plane and trying to stifle my laughter so that I didn’t make a scene, but I think that just made it look like I was having a seizure. In addition to Sedaris’s fabulous sense of humor, another reason I like him is this: “The Sea Section [his beach house] came completely furnished, and the first thig we did after getting the keys was to load up all the televisions and donate them to a thrift shop.” Yay for those who eschew TV [including myself in this category, occasional Netflix binge notwithstanding].

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence

This was a recommendation from my friend Jen and I LOVED it. A librarian writes notes to various books – some she likes, some she doesn’t. It was funny and sarcastic and irreverent. However, we decided that maybe the snarky humor is generational as not everyone we got to read this book felt the same. However, if you are roughly Gen X and like books about books, pick this one up.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

I needed to read a Maine student book award winner for last winter’s book bingo so I picked this one. It is a middle-grade book that involves a challenge to get out of the library by solving book-related riddles. I listened to the audio version and enjoyed it quite a bit – a clever book about libraries and books – how can you go wrong?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Another recommendation from Jen and another win. It’s a multi-generational story surrounding a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I listened to the audio version which was read by Tom Hanks. Hanks’ narration absolutely made this book for me – definitely bumped it up a notch from just reading it alone. Trigger warning of evil stepmother.

Part 2: Genre Fiction from authors that I follow

If you have read my past year’s book reviews, you will know that I read a fair amount of genre fiction. I have a few authors from whom I eagerly await the next installment and pounce on it the moment it is published. For the most part [looking at you Joe Ide] they reliably produce a book every year. Below is what I read in 2019.

Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron

This is a series about a Maine game warden. These books are always satisfying and have a wonderful sense of place. As it turns out, the main character, Mike Bowditch, is also a no TV person: “One of the decisions I’d made, in moving into my new house, had been to sell my television.”

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

I started reading Anthony Horowitz with Magpie Murders. It was my favorite book of 2017. I do like this new series where he inserts himself into the novels – it’s a clever device. This is the second of these, after the Word is Murder. I liked it but am really waiting for another Magpie Murders book – which appears to be coming out in August 2020.

The Fallen by David Baldacci

The only series of Baldacci’s that I have read is the Memory Man series. This is the fourth in the series and it didn’t disappoint. I am fascinated by the protagonist, Amos Decker, who has a photographic memory.

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

I have been reading the Maisie Dobbs series for years. This is book 15 – the characters are well-developed and have matured over the course of the series but the writing still feels fresh. Love this series.

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly is a master of crime fiction. I am so happy that he has brought Harry Bosch and Rene Ballard together (with a little Mickey Haller thrown in for good measure). This one involves a cold case which is one of my favorite crime novel devices.

Bloody Genius  by John Sandford

This latest in the Virgil Flowers series involved the murder of a college professor. I liked Virgil a lot more when he was single. Now that he is in a serious relationship, my crush is fading.

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke

Another series with a fantastic sense of place, this one is set in East Texas and follows Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. Only the second in the series, I can’t wait for more.

Part 3: Book Club Books

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Annie Spence went on at length about this book in Dear Fahrenheit 451 so we decided to read them together for book club. I liked, but didn’t love, this book. However, it did stick with me. I think I might have been more enamored of it as an angsty teenager than as an adult. I also watched the movie directed by Sophia Coppola – one of the better movie adaptations I have seen.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Another book club pick, I both read and listened to this one. Like The Dutch House, the audio is superior to the printed book. Michelle Obama reads it herself and you feel like you are sitting in the room having a conversation with her.

After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry

Not one I would have picked up on my own, but a pleasant surprise. This is a memoir by a woman whose mother was murdered when she was a child. She doesn’t just rely on memory but goes back through all the records and interviews people to make this a more complete telling of the story. Excellent both as a memoir and a true crime novel and, it took place very near to where I live.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

We picked this a classic for book club. I had read it at least twice before but couldn’t remember much about it. I am not sure what it is about this book – I like it but it just doesn’t stick with me. Even now, the most recent reading is fading from memory.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This book made many of the “best of” lists and I just don’t get it. It is two teenagers who emotionally torture each other by alternately getting together, breaking up, and generally miscommunicating. It was painful. As an adult, I just have no patience for this.

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

A classic locked room mystery written in 1934. It was enjoyable but dated.

Part 4: Audio Books My Son and I listened to on Car Trips

Enders Game  by Orson Scott Card

My son is into science fiction so we listened to this classic. I loved it and am not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it. Published in 1985, it is heavily influenced by the Cold War but forward-thinking and futuristic enough that it holds up over time.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

One of my favorites, I had to really sell my son on this one but once we listened to it, he couldn’t wait to listen to the next two.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I liked this a lot more than my son did but it is probably due to all the 80s references. Set in the future, it involves an on-line contest that requires the participants to know a lot about the 80s.

Treasurer Island  by Robert Louis Stevenson

The recording we listened to had a full cast and sound effects which made it very enjoyable. A true classic novel . . . with pirates.”

 

Join us back here next year when Beth will take better notes and share with us all the books that she read in 2020 🙂 . Until then – Happy Reading!

2019: A Year in Books

Welcome to my  8th annual book review! I came in just shy of my 50 book goal but not by much. This year I think I had a good mix of books that I intended to read (books that I went out of my way to get) and unintended books – free books and nearly free books picked up all willy-nilly here and there.

What are you doing with your Christmas Bonus?

Let’s talk about the dental habits of cats for a moment, shall we? I have had cats my entire life, I like them because unlike most other pets (I’m looking at you dogs) they are pretty self-sufficient and take minimal time to deal with. If our dog is a toddler with ADHD who can’t even bath himself than the cat is a 17 year high school senior who knows how to do everything for himself, disdains you and is ready to just leave and get to college already.

Because of all of this my history with cats has always been – I will feed you and pet you but you are responsible for your own grooming and medical care. Don’t come crying to me if you need anything. Our current cat was found huddled, dirty, sick and malnourished under a car in West Philly. I took him to the vet when I first got him to get medicine but after he was healed and had packed on another 5-7 pounds I washed my hands of his care and have spent the last five years simply petting him and providing a lap for him to nap on.

This past summer he developed an odor… a truly disgusting, foul stench that emanated from his mouth. I did what anyone with my disposition would do, I ignored it and re-positioned him on my lap so as to smell him as little as possible. Eventually it became hard to ignore, I did some internet research and decided he probably had some bad oral hygiene going on up in there. I went out and purchased some very expensive scientifically formulated cat food that is supposed to break up plague and take care of your cat’s oral care. Done and done.

Then this fall, as the stench not only returned but worsened (even with the expensive new food) I finally relented and made him a vet appointment but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was not going to be that person that paid hundreds of dollars to get their cats teeth cleaned, enough is enough you know? So imagine my surprise when the vet showed me the advanced stages of periodontal disease happening inside his mouth and as I looked at my poor kitty literally clinging to the front of my jacket for emotional support I realized that I wasn’t that person at all.  I was the person who said “it’s okay, go ahead and pull all his teeth it doesn’t matter what it costs, I don’t want him in pain, we’ll do whatever we need to do”. I don’t really want to disclose how much oral surgery for a cat costs but let’s just say… I have reached a higher plateau of crazy cat lady status.

Beth’s Books 2018

The following is my sister’s second annual book review – revel in it’s beauty my friends!

I didn’t read many books this year. I had a number of things going on, including my father passing away and running for office. I was short on time and distracted most of the year. This also resulted in a very long list of half-read books that I keep meaning to go back to (A Gentleman In Moscow, Educated, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, We were the Kennedys, River Talk, Outposts . . . the list goes on) as well as books I may have read but forgot to make a note of. What I finished, and can remember, is below.

The Top Five

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a love letter to libraries woven around the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles public library. Non-fiction that read like fiction. If you love books and libraries, this book is for you.

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

A Turkish classic from the late 1940s that was only translated into English last year. I am a sucker for tragic love stories and this one hit all the right notes. Favorite passage: “It should not have mattered so much where we were born, whose child we were. All that mattered was that two people had found each other and achieved a rare happiness. The rest was incidental.”

Butterflies in November by Ardur Ava Olafsdottir

One of my reading resolutions for last year was to read less provincially and to read more books in translation. This is a contemporary novel translated from Icelandic. This book had many elements that I enjoyed: an intelligent, resourceful, female protagonist with relationship issues, a journey, and lots of quirky characters and events.

The Biggest Elvis by P.F. Kluge

This was primarily set in a nightclub in the Philippines before the closing of Subic Bay Naval Base. It is part love story, part mystery, and part social commentary on bar-girls and entrapment caused by poverty. This one stuck with me long after I was finished. Kluge also wrote Eddie and The Cruisers – made into a movie that I watched multiple times in the 1980s.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Yes, I know that he is on the “me too” blacklist, but this is a great coming of age book told from the point of view of a Native American living in poverty. It is funny and the self-deprecation is masterful. I am thankful to the guys in the used bookstore who recommended this and I would recommend it to others, despite the sins of the author.

Non-Fiction

The Year of Reading Dangerously, How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller

I spent an entire afternoon laughing out loud while reading this book. However, I appreciate that not everyone is going to find it so fantastically funny. Your mindset has to be part book snob, part adolescent, with an appreciation of dry British humor. Miller’s comparison of Moby Dick and the Da Vinci Code (“Whale vs Grail”) will forever be one of the funniest things I have ever read.

The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

I love good travel/adventure books. The very best ones make me want to pack a bag and run away from home to traipse around the world. This was one of those. Newby chucks his job in advertising and signs aboard the Moshulu as an apprentice seaman (in 1938) in an around the world voyage transporting grain from Australia to the UK. Also exciting is that the Moshulu is now a floating restaurant in Philadelphia that I have been to.

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

I first saw the Tina Fey movie Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot and was determined to read the book behind the movie. This one also made me want to run off – this time to be a foreign correspondent. It goes without saying, but there is so much more to the book than there was to the movie.

North Country by Howard Frank Mosher

Mosher was a Vermont author that I had heard of but never read. This book chronicles his 1990s drive along the US/Canada border. Part travelogue, part memoir I enjoyed it but it wasn’t super exciting. I did like Moser’s writing enough to read more though (see below).

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

If you have a child that is really into nature then you may have read some of Sy Montgomery’s other titles (“Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition into the Cloud Forest of New Guinea” or “Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot”). Soul of an Octopus is another nature work that chronicles the life of the resident giant pacific octopuses at the New England Aquarium. This is an enjoyable piece of immersion journalism that will make you care about octopuses in a way you never thought possible.

Book Lust by Nancy Pearl

Last year I had picked up “Book Lust to Go.” I decided to check out Pearl’s other titles in this series and I enjoy having them as references for when I am stuck on what to read next. Nice to have on hand if you want to discover some titles you might not have otherwise read and add to your TBR pile.

General Fiction

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

I am reasonably sure that I bemoaned the crowded field of WWII women in espionage novels last year. This is yet another entry. It is well done but I am so tired of reading books in this setting. Let’s find another era to write about.

Points North: Stories by Howard Frank Mosher

Moser passed away and this short story collection, set in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom, was published posthumously. It had some editing issues (maybe the first story could have been left out), but overall I enjoyed it. Will continue to read Mosher.

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Historical fiction, set in the late 1800s, which tells the story of the battle between Edison and Westinghouse over who will dominate the field of electric light. As an attorney, I appreciated that Paul Cravath was the central character. Other historical notables, such as Nikola Tesla and J.P. Morgan also play significant roles. There is a bit of a love story. While I liked the general history/narrative of this book, the writing was atrociously bad. It was one overdone metaphor/simile after another: “He spun his fingers again, the gin in his glass swaying like the waves in a summer storm.” Ugh.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This book has gotten a lot of hype which is too bad because it is a good but not a great book so it will end up being overrated. I enjoyed it – part mystery, part love story, part coming of age with a strong appreciation of nature. Some helpful pointers to manage your expectations: should you read this book, yes; will you enjoy it, probably, yes; will it change your life, no; is it one of the best books ever, no.

Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson

This is a sweet little book about two eccentric brothers who run a literary bed and breakfast. The characters are quirky and it is a fun read. Good but not great.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Completely overrated – this was drippy and predictable and, of course, set during WWII because this is, apparently, the only backdrop available to fiction writers these days. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to double down and watch the movie. The movie was also drippy and changed the book in completely unnecessary ways. Double ugh.

Mystery/Crime Fiction

Wrecked by Joe Ide

My favorite novel I read in this genre. I raved about Joe Ide as a new voice in crime fiction last year. This third installment was the best so far. It’s like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Carl Hiaasen – Sherlockian logic coupled with secondary characters that chew the scenery. Fantastic.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz’s Magpie Murders was my favorite book of last year. I was very happy to have a new book of his to read this year. Completely different conceit but I liked this almost as much as Magpie Murders. Horowitz is one of the cleverest writers in this genre.

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Vividly evoked setting with a strong, yet flawed, protagonist (African-American Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews). I hope this becomes a series. I want to read more.

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

I only “discovered” Michael Connelly last year. He is one of the very best. This latest installment in the Harry Bosch series was excellent.

Stay Hidden by Paul Doiron

One of my big thrills this year was meeting Paul Doiron in person. I have been a fan of this series about Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch since the beginning. Doiron captures Maine so well and, this latest installment – set on an island off the coast, was no exception.

Holy Ghost by John Sanford

Okay, so you all know what a tremendous crush I have on Virgil Flowers. I love Virgil and look forward to Sanford’s yearly installment in this series like I am going on a date. Sadly, Sanford has been developing the relationship between Virgil and his girlfriend, Frankie, to the point where I may have to find another literary crush.

To Die But Once Jacqueline Winspear

Historical fiction. This is book 14 in the Maisie Dobbs series and Winspear has stayed strong and consistent throughout. Maisie is a favorite heroine.

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

I had to read a Nordic Noir for book bingo. I don’t usually read this genre because I don’t like the graphic violence/sexual violence (loathed Girl With a Dragon Tattoo for this reason). Did not like that aspect of this book either but Jo Nesbo can write. If you can stomach the violence and haven’t read him, don’t wait. He is a master.

The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

This is a translated work from Morocco and part of my “reading less provincially” program. This is not the most intricate of plots and you will have the murderer figured out well before the end. However, learning that Moroccan crime fiction did not exist until recently, because police corruption made is obsolete, adds a level of appreciation to this novel.

Ash and Bone by John Harvey

I consider Marilyn Stasio (the NY Times crime fiction reviewer) to be an Oracle. If Marilyn says she likes something, I will check it out. She gave a thumbs up to Frank Harvey so I decided to read him. This was the second book (not sure how I missed the first – I like to start a series at the beginning) in his Frank Elder series. I liked it. It was gritty without being over the top. Elder reminds me of John Rebus – one of my favorite characters. There was enough of a twist in the plot that I was interested to the end. I will probably read more.

Salt Lane by William Shaw

This one was on a list of best overlooked mystery novels of 2018 – or something along those lines. I would generally agree with that. I give him high marks for the setting and the main character of Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi (who struggles with being a working single mom). Unfortunately I figured out who did it long before the end. Will give him another go, though, if this becomes a series.

Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon

Read John Verdon’s first two novels because Marilyn Stasio likes him. These are complex plots with a lot of psychological elements. High marks for the beautiful farm in upstate New York where main character Dave Gurney has retired, the realness of Gurney and overall cleverness. Don’t love all the drawn out psychobabble – there are pacing issues.

Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton

I had never read Sue Grafton but felt that I should after her death. I plucked this one randomly off the shelf. I see why people like this series, but it is too slow paced for me. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.

Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander

This is the first book in the Sir John Fielding series of historical crime fiction. Falsely charged of theft in 1768 London, thirteen-year-old orphaned printer’s apprentice Jeremy Proctor finds his only hope in the legendary Sir John Fielding. Fielding, (blinded at an early age) is the founder of the Bow Street Runners police force, then recruits young Jeremy in his mission to fight London’s most wicked crimes. My favorite line from the book was: “A man can be known by his library better than by his house or dress.” I liked this book but the rest of the series hasn’t made it to the top of the TBR pile yet.

Audiobooks I listened to with my son

I don’t have a lot to say except that I enjoyed revisiting these classics, sharing them with my son, and getting his take on them. Here is what we listed to while on trips this year:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Harry Potter books 3-7 by JK Rowling

2018: A Year in Books

Welcome to my 7th annual book review extravaganza! Mixing things up this year I decided to include the (good) books I read to Lucy (i.e. not the 300 Junie B Jones or Magic Kitten books) also audiobooks (they’re books too!).

Books I read:

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

This was a tough book to start the year with. From the description it seemed like an interesting historical account of a deadly moonshine gang running booze through Franklin county Virginia (true story!). And it was interesting but the way it was written, the way that the story moved between the 3 brothers and a random reporter trying to get a story on them, it was hard to follow and lost something in the telling. I’m glad I read it but I felt like I scratched and clawed my way through this one.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

This was a book about a woman named Helen who, fed up at the end of her rope, strangles her Mother who has Alzheimers. In many ways this book really resonated with me. I ran through it (I think I read it in 2 – 3 days) but the ending was such a disappointment, there was no conclusion, no closure, just no more words.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Serious literature from Chelsea Handler, I needed some levity after the first two books of the year. As usual, Chelsea fit the bill. Maybe not her best book, but good nonetheless.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

I was itching for some good post apocalyptic literature and there’s nothing better for this than young adult fiction. This was a quick, fun novel set in England during WWIII. I liked it a lot.

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows

I’m not sure why there was so much hype about this book, it is a cute little novel not especially well written where everything works out just fine in the end. It was an epistolary novel which really appeals to me but it seemed like all the characters had the same voice. I would have been okay skipping this one.

Frozen In Time, by Mitchell Zuckoff

I needed some non fiction after the last few books so I picked this up and it was a great choice. It tells two amazing stories – one of 3 WWII planes crashing in Greenland and the modern day team trying to find the abandoned planes buried in the ice for the past 70 years. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn’t read it fast enough.

I Feel Bad About my Neck, by Norah Ephron

I liked this book, but I expected it to be funnier, there were a few times I chuckled out loud but that was her very dry sarcasm coming through. I liked it, I didn’t love it.

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

This was a great story, recommend by my sister for reasons that became super evident when I first started it. Any 40-something year old divorcee should go pick up this read.

World War Z by Max Brooks

It always comes back to the zombies… I really enjoyed this book,I liked the style it was written in, I like how he included all sorts of different points of view and inserted little tidbits of information that weren’t obvious or in your face. It took me a long time to get through but I think that speaks more to my attention span and not the story itself.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchette

I love love love Ann Pachette and this was a beautifully written story that had me sucked in from page 1. As much as I enjoyed it and really liked the main character – I did find the science presented in it to be utterly ridiculous, I was able to look past that and still enjoy it.

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

This was a super interesting read although it took me forever to get through. I found the perspective of this book fascinating although I developed a deep seeded dislike for the author, I cant describe why but in the end it didn’t take away from the enjoyment or the lessons learned in her story.

Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis

An excellent coming of age novel that I enjoyed very much. This was a poetical read that whispered in your ear and that I felt long after it was over.

Luke Skywalker Cant Read by Ryan Britt

Ugh – this was a chore to get through. I thought this book would be funny, it was not. It read like a freshman thesis from a kid trying to justify his obsession with Star Wars, Dr. Who and Back to the Future. As a self realized Sci Fi geek this book should have resonated with me. It did not.

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

A very good, solid novel. I liked the main character in this book a lot, the relationship she has with her older sister was very familiar to me and I think the author did an excellent job fully developing everyone’s characters. The story was not at all what I expected but I enjoyed it very much and felt sad when it was over and I couldn’t read it anymore.

Gone With The Mind by Mark Leyner

I thought this book was very funny. I thought Mark created a modern day Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy-esq book. There were parts that I read and then went back and reread to fully appreciate them more. I am very glad because I got it out of the same clearance humor bin that I got the Luke Skywalker book and this one was lightyears better than that one (see what I just did there?)

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

OMG, I loved this book. Paoloa creates a world that is so vivid I felt like I could see, taste and smell it while reading this book – I never wanted it to end.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Meh. I read this because I needed a pallet cleaner after the Wind Up girl, something reality based and light, this book was both of those things but also superficial and one dimensional.  If you are thinking of picking it up I’d reach for something else.

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

I know many of you will give me grief about this, after Al’s fall from grace but in reality I don’t think he deserved what happened and it certainly doesn’t diminish the fascinating look into the day to day life of a US senator told by someone able to relate to everyday people. I enjoyed and learned from this book, I am even more sad now that he has lost his seat and is no longer an advocate for the people of Minnesota.

Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi

I ordered this about 3 minutes after finishing the Wind Up Girl, it is a mind trip of essays set in the same dystopian future. Reading it so soon after finishing the Wind Up Girl was probably a mistake it was almost TOO MUCH, I felt worn out by it at the end, but even now weeks after finishing it I’m still thinking of the stories he created.

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

This was a really interesting book, it was a quick read that I didn’t anticipated I would like. It sat in my to be read pile forever.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. I read Disgrace by him many years ago and disliked it so much I wasn’t sure I’d give him a second chance. I am glad that I did.

My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

Ugh, not my favorite of her books. It might  be best to take Chelsea in small doses and I think that I might have overdone it. This was an entire book about all of the one night stands that she had, it was not as funny as I think she meant it to be.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

This was an unexpected gem of a book! I picked it up at a library sale and it sat in TBR pile for a long time. The story was written a series of journal entries describing his life as a New England veterinarian which gets turned upside down when his son is hurt in a hunting accident and left in a coma, it is his search for both the man responsible and the meaning behind events told in clinics notes, I inhaled this book I couldn’t read it fast enough.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by by Rebecca Skloot

Excellent, everyone should read this book. The story behind this book was incredible, it was well written and informative without being boring. My only complaint would be marketing, I had this book forever and never picked it up because the cover was so unappealing (yes, I am that shallow), the blurbs didn’t do it justice and I feel like overall it should have been presented in a different way.  Go buy it anyway, for yourself and for your children and your parents.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip Dick

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, being a standard classic sci fi story. I liked it, it’s been years since I watched Blade Runner so I cant remember how closely the plots align together but all that aside I give this book a solid B.

Where’d you Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Super popular and therefore I didn’t really expect to like this book as much as I did. The story was pretty far fetched but it was well written and well developed. Its a great beach read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

What a fun book. Honestly what could be better for a book lover than a mystery book ABOUT books. It probably wasn’t one of the best written books I read all year, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A must read for EVERYONE. This is a short and simple graphic novel that explains what it was like living through the Islamic revolution. I read it in a day and it taught me more than any class I’ve ever sat through. Go get your copy now!

A Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

I read this book on the recommendation of my sister who raved about it. I liked it, I didn’t love it. The books chronicles a year in the life of the author wherein he reads all of the great literature he’s always told people he has read, there are moments in here that are very very funny although I feel like a lot of it was over my head. I hadn’t read the majority of the books he chronicles and missed many of the references and subtle innuendos, by the end I was skipping large sections – sorry Beth!

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

A classic novel I’ve been meaning to pick up for a long time and finally did. It blew my mind how much a simple narrative could have such a huge impact. I understand completely how this book won the Pulitzer and has been studied by scholars for decades, I wish I would have read it sooner, I’m looking forward to reading it again sometime.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Completely ridiculous in all the right ways, this novel was a really fun joy ride of imagination. I never saw the movie, which I heard was terrible but the book was a lot of fun, I read it in a just a few days and even though the entire time I was shaking my head with the absolute absurdity of it all I still really enjoyed it. A great feel good book for all of the underdogs out there.

Mixed by Angela Nissel

Ugh, I did a little happy dance when I saw this book at a library book sale, her first novel The Broke Diaries being one of the all time funniest books that I have ever read, I was super excited to read something else by her. But this book, which was a memoir of sorts about her experiences growing up as a bi-racial woman struck me mostly as sad and depressing, she put a sarcastic spin on it but reading between the lines it didn’t seem funny. I did not finish it.

Forever, Pete Hamill

A serious contender to get on the list of best books that I have ever read. This is an epic story that spans hundreds of years but never gets tired or boring. I almost didn’t read this book because the title and the cover art suggested this was a romance which is not my cup of tea. It did have some romance but it was so much more than that, this book was 500 pages that went by in the blink of an eye… Definitely the best book of the year.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abartalli

Another popular book that I didn’t expect to like, but I did I – I feel in love a little  with Simon and became totally caught up in his gay high school romance. I did not love that the story wrapped up so perfectly at the end and I did think that his best friends where completely unrealistic (no one is that selfless and empathetic in high school).

Madonna in a fur coat by Sabahattin Ali

I love foreign books translated in to English and this one was excellent, it was a novel that whispered in your ear and forced you to be still and quiet to hear it. I loved it, despite being angry with the protagonist for most of the story.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchette

What a good book, I’ve read several of her works and I think this ranks almost as high as Bel Canto which might just be one of the best books of all time. This story was a little slow and I put in down a few times in the beginning but once I was able to slip into it I never wanted it to end. Complex and rich, it will stay with you long after it is over. Much better than  State of Wonder.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

In an effort to read more books from foreign countries translated in to English I picked this up. It is a short Japanese novel set on a small island off the coast of Japan. It was a pleasure to read, quick and light and able to transport me to a different place and time. I liked it a lot.

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

I picked this up at a library sale and didn’t realize until after I started it that it was an Oprah book club book. Maybe for that reason I expected something more than I got. It s a story of a young girl growing up poor in the Appalachians who suffers from turrets syndrome. I did not connect with this book. I felt badly for Icy the entire time I was reading it but overall I would not recommend this book.

Choose your own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris

I love NPH and was excited to get this book. I both loved it (content) and hated it (format). You can read the letter I wrote to him here

Childhoods End by Arthur C. Clarke

Classic old school sci-fi. I needed a departure from well, everything I had read lately and as usual I turned to science fiction. This was a good book that made you think, I didn’t fly through it like I do with sci fi books that I really like. I struggled a bit to get in to it, but even so I did end up liking it and have thought it over many times after I was done.

This Boys Life by Tobias Wolff

Reminiscent of Jeannete Walls this is the story of Toby’s boyhood and growing up with dysfunctional parents. It was good if a little heartbreaking, I liked it but I didn’t love it.

The bullfighter checks her makeup by Susan Orlean

Ugh, I felt like it took years to get through this book. I am not always a fan of essay writing and this book did not change my mind. Some of them were very good but some of them dragged on seemingly forever. I would say I really enjoyed about 30% of what was in here.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Both fascinating and heartbreaking, this is the true and terrible story of the murder of dozens of Osage Indians for no other reason than to steal their money and oil. I think more people should read this story. My only complaint is that the book is almost two books in one, the first half is heavily researched step by step account of the FBI investigation of several murders and the second half was a rushed accounting of hundreds if not thousands of other murders, it seemed like maybe he ran out of time and just threw the ending together, it should have been presented better.

Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Another book I ordered right after I read The Wind Up Girl. I really enjoyed this book – it was several short stories set in a land where magic was illegal and the effects of it where taking over and destroying the world. Paolo and Tobias took turns writing the stories, some of which I liked more than others but overall I found this a very enjoyable book.

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

I didn’t love this book, honestly I’m not even sure that I really liked it very much. I guess I expected more from someone who wrote the Poisonwood Bible

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff

Charming and quaint, this short little book can be read in an afternoon. I liked it very much, I felt like by the time I was finished I was good friends with all of the characters.

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

This book nearly beat out Forever  for the best book of the year. It was exceptionally well crafted and I looked forward to reading it everyday. The one big problem was the ending, I liked what happened but the way it happened made no sense and also seemed super rushed, for a 600 page book it seemed like he could have spent a few more days and actually given the story and ending instead of throwing nonsense at you and then just stopped writing, I felt very much let down.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Admittedly I have not finished this book yet, but I’m pretty close to the end. I am enjoying it although I think I like the idea and concepts of this book better than the actual execution. I’m still undecided on whether I will read the rest of the series.

~

Books I read to Lucy:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

What an amazing book! I don’t know why I never read this as a kid, but I really really enjoyed it as a adult, the word play was absolutely brilliant. Lucy liked it too although I did have to stop and explain many things to her.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien

I remember loving this book as a kid and reading it again as an adult was just as magical.

Cricket of Time Square by George Seldon

A fun and endearing tale. I loved this book.

The Penderwicks, books 1 -5 by Jeanne Birdsall

We either listened to or read all five of the Penderwick books this year. I thought they were great children’s literature, full of fun, adventure and a few important life lessons. Lucy loved these books and besides Harry Potter are her favorite to date.

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler

I remember having this read to me when I was in Elementary school and it stuck with me. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked anywhere and not thought of this story. I don’t know if Lucy had the same reaction, honestly she seemed more bored than anything while I was reading it to her.

A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

Trying to get Lucy out of her comfort zone, I wanted her to hear a story that made her empathize with someone unlike her. I’m not sure she liked this book or really understood a lot of it but I did. I thought it was a good read.

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

Another book I liked better than Lucy did. I thought this was an amazing tale, told clearly and descriptively at a kids level. It should have been 30 pages longer, the story wrapped up too fast for my liking.

Mrs Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

This year we read all of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. I ordered them for Lucy because I remember reading them as a kid and thinking they were amazing, and she had the same reaction. As an adult however I cant fathom why I loved them so much, they all seemed repetitive and formulaic. But whatever, this wasn’t about me.

Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great by Judy Blume

Classic children’s story. We both enjoyed this one.

~

Books We Listened to:

The Tale of Desperoux by Kate DiCamillo

We listened to this in the car and I thought it was brilliantly done, the reader did a spectacular job talking to you not reading at you – it felt like there was a real storyteller in the car.

Harry Potter 1-5 by J.K. Rowling

There is nothing more effective to get Lucy in the car than to offer to play Harry Potter for her. I had tried to read the first one to her at bedtime early in the year but she was uninterested in it so I let her watch the movie and then checked he audio books out of the library. She is hooked, she dressed up as Hermione for Halloween and is anxious to finish the series, we are currently in the middle of the Order of the Phoenix.

 

 

Christmas Letter 2018

Hello and welcome to my open Christmas letter! I’m posting it here in order to save the earth from all of the paper that I would have otherwise used printing it out for everyone on my Christmas card list and definitely not because I’m too lazy to go to the store, buy pretty paper, and stuff it in to envelopes. That’s definitely not why I’m using this high tech electronic format.

I actually hesitated even writing a Christmas letter this year, I mean it seems so passe and I’m not even sure anyone reads it. But I guilted myself in to it for the sake of nostalgia. Nostalgia can get me to just about anything.

This year was somewhat of a mixed bag, it started with several losses that were difficult to deal with. In February we said goodbye to my sister Ellen and in April we said goodbye to my father.

And that, my friends is where I’ve lost the momentum of every Christmas letter I have tried to write since I started this the weekend before thanksgiving. It seems hard to transition from there to our fun trip to Disney, or Lucy successfully completing the second grade or Jason & I celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary. All of which are things that we did and enjoyed and splashed across social media so shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you.

The following are the statistics that can pretty much some up the rest of the year for you:

All told I took about 807 selfies this year. I sent over 60,000 texts messages (I know this for a fact because the T Mobile guy was boisterous about pointing it out when I upgraded my phone in August). I have spent 608 hours sitting in the waiting room at dance/tumbling/gymnastic classes. I have brushed 534,697 tangles out of someone’s hair. I have applied sunscreen 3,007 times, I have rated 700 jumps into the swimming pool. I have played 4,893,120 words on words with friends. I have read 56 books, I have purchased 250 train tickets. I’ve changed my hair color 3 times.  I have traveled to Florida, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington DC and Texas. I have taken 279 conference calls. I have been on 12 date nights with my husband. I have set off the smoke detector once, I have shaved maybe 5 times…

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Let’s hang out in 2019!

An Open Letter to Neil Patrick Harris

Dear Mr. Patrick Harris,

It is no secret that I have been a fan of yours for years, I watched Doggie Howser as a kid and was overjoyed to find you back on television as Barney Stinson in HIMYM. I even blogged about you way back in the day when this website was still in its infancy, you can read about it here and if I must* say it was hilarious. It also should be noted that my husband also loves you which is notable because the list of people he likes is very very short. In the very beginning of our relationship (like the first weekend we moved in together) he left me for a long weekend in NYC where he went to watch you perform in Assassins, not only did he see you perform but he stood out back afterwards and waited for you to get your autograph (which I’m pretty sure he lost later that night in a drunken stupor in the hotel bar of the W).  He came home from that trip raving about how crazy talented you are and how very down to earth you seemed to be, he and was super impressed that when the rest of the cast hurried off after the show  you stayed to talk to everyone gathered at the back door, and when it was finally time to go you apologized for not being able to stay longer, unlocked your bike from a nearby lamppost and rode off.

Needless to say you are a family favorite, the 3 of us currently watch you terrorize the Baudelaire’s in the Netflix adaptation of a Series of Unfortunate events (you make an excellent Count Olaf).

Anyway, Neil I’m not here to talk about your acting career (awesome as it might be) but your recent foray into writing.  My husband and daughter have both read (and enjoyed) the Magical Misfits and I just finished your Choose Your Own Autobiography. Based on these two items I think that you are a fairly talented writer (if you knew me you would understand that that is high praise). I was really looking forward to reading this book knowing that it would most likely be as honest and down to earth as my husband believes you to be (also he bought it and asked me to read it first to see if it was something he would want to read – he does this a lot so that particular request was not entirely about you (I said’yes’ btw)). What I really want to say to you, Neil, is that I enjoyed your autobiography however the whole gimmicky ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect was entirely unnecessary. I know you probably chose to do this to make your book stand out and to insert some ridiculousness in it, but you didn’t need to. It would have stood well on its own, for me the whole choosing aspect really took away from your story. At first I tried to follow along, choosing the path that I thought actually portrayed your journey, but I gave up after I realized that the chronology was all off and I was missing what was happening. I ended  up reading the book straight cover to cover which worked out okay but made some things confusing. For instance I was able to pick out the sections that were thrown in for simple hilarity but I was also wrong a few times, like the chapter on hanging out at Elton John’s house I thought for sure was pure fiction until I realized it wasn’t – also OMG NPH you get to hang out at Elton John’s house! How cool and jealousy-provoking is that tidbit of information?

So, Neil (can I call you Neil?) knowing how much celebrities and writers in general love unsolicited criticism advice I just wanted to say that next time you write an autobiography (and there will be a next time) please don’t feel the need to embellish it in any way, you don’t need to. Oh and also, since you were asking – I’d probably not use the word meta as an adjective.

Hugs,

Becca

This is my favorite picture from your book

*I must

A Public Service Annoucement

At some point in your child’s increasingly short childhood they are going to become afraid of going to bed. Maybe it’s because you let them stay up to late watching the prisoner of Azkaban, maybe it was because they went to a sleepover where their friends told them scary stories maybe it was just shitty parenting in general. Whatever the reason I almost guarantee that your kid who has been going to sleep with nary an issue for a long time now will at some point start to make bedtime a nightmare for both you and them.

At this point you will sit them down and calmly and rationally explain that there is nothing to be afraid of, that you have kept them safe for 8 years and that nothing can penetrate your all-seeing Mom protection. You will tell them that there is no such things as werewolves or basilisks, you will be utterly convincing and reasonable and they will not believe you. You will call your Mom, who may or may not be a trained psychoanalyst and she will tell you to be firm but not to give in to your child’s fears, don’t offer to post a stuffed animal sentry in front of the door, don’t make them think that there is anything to be afraid of –  just keep leading them back to bed and reassure them they are all right. You might try this one or two times, but it will not work. You will be tired, you will be cranky.

You will stop being reasonable and search the internet for anti-werewolf potions, you will do you research (because that’s what good parents do and also because you don’t have a stash of essential oils in your house which most of them call for) and if you are lucky you will make the following:

Anti-Werewolf potion*

What you will need

Spray bottle
Something Silver
Warm Water
1 drop of milk
2 drops of green food coloring
1 mint

Directions:

Take a half a cup of warm water and using a glass measuring cup stir it with something silver. Add a drop of milk and two drops of green food coloring and the mint. Stir and wait for the mint to dissolve. Once dissolved stir again. Transfer to a spray bottle, act really scared about the strength of this potion and only allow your child to spray once around her bed each night. Let it stay on the bedside while they are sleeping. Leave their room and go pour yourself a large and well deserved glass of wine.

Feel free to call and thank me later.

*I stole this recipe from The Fantastic Book of Potions

A Danger To Myself And Others

I am sorry to report that I have come to rely on Sticky Jam Hands less as an outlet for my angst and sarcasm and more as a place to list the current books I am reading (so far 42 this year!). And seriously what good is that? I might as well break down and start a goodreads account.

I was just perusing the items I posted this year and I was horrified at the selection – one recount of a trip to NYC, a maudlin eulogy to my late father and a few birthday interview videos. I thought to myself “you hardly deserve to have a website at all.” In my feeble defense I did write something funny on my other website (yes, there are 2) you can read it here. And if everything works out as it should there will be a new update to Artistry in Alcohol based on our latest (and much less successful) craft night that happened over the weekend.

Today, however I want to recount to you something that happened to me back in August. About a month and a half ago, when it was hot – HOT, the train that I take into the city underwent some track renovations. Yes the Southeastern Transportation Authority (SEPTA) decided to terminate the train that I take to work everyday 4 stops before I get to the stop that gets me to work everyday. They had set up a system of shuttle buses and subway rides or some such nonsense but I had no wish to research or understand what I was supposed to do, so I decided to drive in to the city instead. Since I work in an area completely devoid of parking options I dove to my old stomping ground, parked in west Philadelphia at the University and made my way in from there. I only had to go in to the office two days during this disturbance (thanks well planned business trip and vacation!).

The first day I went in to the office, I parked 26 blocks from work, about 20 minutes earlier than I usually go in and since it seemed hot but not unbearable I decided to walk across town. I realized what a terrible mistake this was about 5 blocks in to my walk, but being stubborn and slightly insane I decided I couldn’t deviate from the plan I had already committed to, it got hotter as I walked. I had nothing with me except a thermos of hot coffee and on my feet some fairly uncomfortable work shoes. I got to work an  hour late, dehydrated, covered in sweat and limping.

Six hours later, my feet felt better, I purchased a large water bottle and waved away co-workers attempts to provide me with subway tokens. I decided to walk back to my car. Why? Because I’m stubborn and a little bit insane (pay attention). I spent the hour long walk chronicling  my journey via text message with my friend Jeff, this is how it went:

Me: I just left work, feels like I walked in to a sauna

Jeff: Please tell me you figured out the subway or used the taxicab service in your purse (uber)

Me: I’m walking

Me: But I have water this time

Jeff: WHY?? Do you have a death wish?

Me: I like walking

Jeff: your current temp is 93/ feels like 103

Me: Yeah, its hot

Jeff: That’s Africa hot

Me: I’m in Chinatown and it smells like bad fish

Jeff: I think that’s because there isn’t any ‘good’ fish when its 103

Jeff: I guess it smells like 103

Me: I’m almost to city hall – I’m developing a blister

Jeff: No one saw that coming

Me: I just stopped in love park to change my shoes

Jeff: Today I’m calling it ‘love my feet park’

Me:  I just got to Comcast, if my husband wasn’t so smart to have worked from home today I could go visit him

Me: Just passed their newest, taller second tower…

Jeff: Oh yes! I heard something about them needing a newer shinier towerer thing

Me: If one colossal tower is good than 2 has to be gooder right?

Me: Okay, I just literally walked in to 2 people while texting you, I’m officially ‘part of the problem’

Jeff: Haha, watch out for fountains!

Me: Way off in the distance I see salvation!

Jeff: Is it a pizza hut delivery car?

Me: No, 30th street station!

Me: F*ck, the sun jut came out!

Jeff: Now you are really melting 😦

Me: crossing the river

Jeff: Jump in!  Jump in!

Me: Have you seen the Schuylkil?

Jeff: Are you at the station?

Me: Yes, sweet sweet air conditioning, I think I might just live here now, who needs to go home?

Me: God dammit – my favorite smoothie place was turned in to a pretzel stand, I cant live here – on to my car

Me: two blocks to go

Me: You know what would suck?

Jeff: ???

Me: If I left my keys at work

Jeff: Hahahaha! That’s EXACTLY what I thought you’d say

Me: Hey, guess what?

Jeff: Are you at your car?

Me: (insert car emoji)

Jeff: and the angels sing

I made it home in record time – I mean record time not including the hour long cross city hike I took. The next time I went in to the city, I parked at the same place, bought some subway tokens and rode underground. Who says I cant be reasonable?

 

Newsletter: Year 8

Today Lucy’s turned 8. It blows my mind that this is possible. She asked me approximately 2,700 when she could do her interview but then wouldn’t sit still for it at all. This year she still loves the pool and eating mac and cheese. Apparently we need to start planning a trip to Hawaii. Also, I would like to apologize to Stacy in advance:

Here are the past few years for a little comparison:

Happy Birthday to my amazing girl:

Dad

I’ve taken a long break from Sticky Jam Hands because there is something I’ve needed to write and I haven’t figured out how. I still don’t know but I’ve decided its time to do it anyway.

The Eulogy

On 4/2/18 my father Edward Neumann Watson died. At the moment of his death the first thing I felt was relief. Relief that his struggle with dementia and congestive heart failure was over. Relief that those of us that had to care for him and watch him struggle no longer had to. Was I sad? Absolutely, but my sadness didn’t have a landing mark. Was I sad because I no longer had a father – maybe? Was I sad that he died alone in a place that he hated not having fulfilled all of his dreams and desires – definitely but not entirely. But, I pushed that sadness to the side, I boxed up his possessions and put them and his cremains into my laundry room and whenever that sadness came creeping around the edges I countered it with anger. Anger at the Dad who terrified me as a young child. Anger at a Dad who was all but absent during my adolescence. Anger at a man who hurt my Mom both physically and emotionally. I went about my daily life feeling a gap but not acknowledging it. I took back my Wednesday’s and used the time I would normally spend with him doing mundane things like running errands and cleaning.

Cavalier. I became cavalier about something that maybe I should have thought deeper about.

Months later I attended his memorial service, I dressed appropriately and made plans to go to the pool when it was over. But, as I sat and listened to his life and watched pictures of the 87 years that he was alive a thought occurred to me that hadn’t before – that my version of him was not the only version of him. For 79 of his 87 years on this earth he lived a life separate from mine. As I sat at the memorial and watched pictures of him as a young man, as a young father taking his young children to the beach it occurred to me that he was older than I am now by the time I became a somewhat unwanted figure in his life.

Does this excuse his behavior or invalidate my feelings of relief of his death or anger over the relationship he had with me? No. But it certainly did complicate things. Did it soften me a little to think about the circumstances and tragedies that shaped how he was? Yes. Does it take the edge of my anger and round the corners a bit of the animosity I’ve always felt? Yes. Will I be sad in a different way going forward? Most certainly.

If anything his death makes me more worried about my own future, I pray everyday that I wont ruin the relationships I have with my own family – there are times I feel a rage that I am sure I inherited from him simmering to the surface and I need to walk away and remember that what started his undoing was allowing that rage to escape.

If I could go back knowing how I feel now I would ask him to explain/ defend himself for the way that he was; I’d like to know what it was that made him do the things that he did. It makes me wish that I had the courage to ask the hard questions.

Goodbye Dad.

A Brief Moment in Time

Those of you who follow me on social media know that last weekend I took Lucy to NYC so that I could throw gobs and gobs of my hard earned money at the sassy, underpaid teenagers that work at the American Girl Doll store.

Taking Lucy to New York to visit the American Girl Doll Store was something that I vowed never ever to do before I became a parent. But you know what I’ve discovered in the past 7.5 years? I didn’t know shit about anything before I became a parent. I had no idea that childhood would last for the briefest flicker of time, I had no idea that as a parent you have T minus 12 seconds to make lasting memories that will imprint on your child forever before you wake up one morning and they refuse to have anything to do with you.

Sure, Lucy still likes me NOW, last night she said she didn’t want to go to sleep because she never wanted to stop hugging me, and if I knew that she would still be saying that ten years from now I may not have spent the equivalent of two months salary on the NYC trip last weekend but she won’t (or at least she shouldn’t). She’ll decide one day that I don’t know anything and that she would rather be with her friends than me, someday she will tell me she doesn’t want to help me make her bed because crawling under the sheet while I fluff it up over her head isn’t fun anymore. She will go off to college and I’ll rifle through boxes of her old artwork and the pictures she drew of us holding hands under rainbows and I will wonder if she’ll think her childhood was a good one or if she’ll focus on how I never wanted to sit on the floor and play barbies with her or how we would nag her for HOURS to finish her dinner. She’ll get married and move far away and I will  struggle not to call to often or interfere too much. And hopefully someday 30 years from now when we are sitting down having a drink together we’ll reminisce about the weekend we went to New York City and walked 20 blocks for frozen hot chocolate and got her hair done at the American Girl Doll Store.

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.