Category Archives: Books

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.

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.


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

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.



This is my favorite picture from your book

*I must

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.


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.  

2017: A Year in Books

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

Without further ado:

Wonder, by R.J. Placio

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

Euphoria, by Lily King

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

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

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

The Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis

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

Dreseden: February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor

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

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

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

In the Garden of Beats, by Erik Larson

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

Necessary Errors, by Caleb Crain

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

Time’s Magpie, by Myla Golderg

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

Iron Curtain, by Anne Applebaum

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

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

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

Prague Winter, by Madeline Albright

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

The Zookeepers Wife, by Diane Ackerman

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

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

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

Make ‘Em Laugh, by Debbie Reynolds

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

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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

Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham

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

Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb

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

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

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

Will Not Attend, by Adam Resnick

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

Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham

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

Under The Tuscan Sun, by Francis Mayes

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

Housekeeping, by  Marilynne Robinson

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

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

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

Night Road, by Kristin Hannah

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

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

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

Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer

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

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer

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

Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me, by Chelsea Handler

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

Made In America, by Bill Bryson

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

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

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

The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

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

Choices, By Mary Lee Settle

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

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

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

The Known World, by Edward Jones

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

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

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

The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaimen

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

A Man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman

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

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

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

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes

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

Mendicino (and other stories),by Ann Packer

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

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

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

Back When We Were Grownups, by Ann Tyler

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





2016 – A Year in Books

There is nothing like being in a library all day that makes you want to read. I started this year not really in to books – the first 5 titles on this list took me until May to read, but once I started my new job I couldn’t seem to read fast enough. Here are 28 reviews for your perusal:


Dead Mountain

I liked this book a lot, it was an excellent example of investigative journalism. The book tells the story of the unsolved deaths of nine Russian hikers. I could have done without the authors personal conjecture at the end – but his ideas certainly did not ruin the story.


The Potty Mouth at the Table

After the seriousness of Dead Mountain I decided to lighten things up with a little Laurie Notaro. I liked this book but not as much as her earlier works.



What the? This was the third book in a series by Margeret Atwood, the first was one of the best things I ever read, the second was just okay but this one I could barely get through… ugh.

fool-assassin Fool’s Assassin

I might be a nerd, but the day that Robin Hobb revived the story of Fitz Chivalry was a great day. For Hobb fans, this book did not disappoint.


Fool’s Quest

I tried so hard to space out these books to make them last longer, but I lack self control and devoured them in a weeks time. This is the second in the trilogy and now I have to wait until March to read the last one – look for it in next years review.


Coffee, Tea or Me

Totally fun and irreverent tale of two stewardesses in the 60’s. I picked this up for a quarter at a library book sale – it was totally worth it.



A very solid novel – I got this out of the book swap bin at work and enjoyed it enough to pass it along.


About a Boy

Excellent. I never read this because I wasn’t sure I could relate but found this (again) in the book swap bin at work and I’m very glad I picked it up. It was quick and sweet.


A Bear, a Backpack and Eight Crates of Vodka

Another excellent book, this is the true story of Lev Golinkin’s family fleeing Russia and immigrating to the US. This book was well written, it came across as both horrifying and humorous, I enjoyed it a lot.


Marley & Me

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but it took me getting my own Marley to want to read it (I have a hard time with books about dogs, they always end the same way). I thought this was a great book and in the end when I cried myself to sleep I was able to wake up to a Marley puppy poking me in the butt to get out of bed.


Couldn’t Keep it all to myself

Another library sale find – I picked it up because of Wally Lamb, but it wasn’t written by him. This book contains essays written by the inmates of York correctional facility. It was okay, some where better than others, it was all very Orange is the New Black.


String too Short to Be Saved

Excellent, this book made me nostalgic for something I didn’t even know about. Well written, it’s like a delicious meal you want to keep eating.


The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

Sad. A quiet bittersweet novel- I liked it, I didn’t love it.


Imagined London

Not the book for me – this was a slim book about the London of classic literature and the London of today. Not ever having been to London  I was completely lost.


The Nightingale

Another excellent book, a page turner about world war II – it reminded me of All the Light We Cannot See which was one of my favorites from last year.


La Lacuna

The first novel from Kinsgsolver in 12 years. It took me a long time to get in to this novel – in the end I really enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as the The Poisonwood Bible.


Why Not Me?

I really enjoyed this book – you can read all about it here:


A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

This was a weird little book – it started out funny but didn’t stay that way. I kinda liked it – I didn’t really like it.


Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

I really like David Sedaris and I really liked this book even despite the turtle chapter. You can read about it here:


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

This book was okay, I read it in two days- I thought the premise was good but it lacked character development.



My second Notaro book this year, it was okay – have I mentioned I like her earlier stuff better?


What the What?

Excellent – everyone should read this book. A true story billed as a novel, eyeopening and enjoyable.


I Served the King of England

Preparing for my upcoming trip, I read this because it was recommended reading for visiting Prague. It was okay, a little bit weird and I’m not sure how it’s going to come in handy when I’m there.


The Killer Angels

I read this book as research for a trip I took to Gettysburg. It was very readable and by the time I got to the battlefield I was able to ask questions like I actually knew what I was talking about.


Postcards from the Edge

I read this well before Carrie Fisher died because I was looking for some comic relief after the civil war and it occurred to me I had read almost all of her books except this one. I will miss her greatly she was an excellent storyteller.


A Tale for the Time Being

Really excellent. If I had to pick my favorite book of the year this would probably be it. It took me a long time to get through it but was totally worth it.


The Good German

I read this to get a feel of what Berlin was like right at the end of World War II, I liked it more than I thought I would especially considering at it’s heart it was a murder mystery.


The Sellout

Still reading this book – it is dry and satirical and outrageous, I really really like it

2015: A Year in Books

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting my fourth annual book review. And here is it, unfortunately my attention span has been severally restricted either because of binge watching The Walking Dead or the general stress and anxiety of dealing with an aged and ailing father, but whatever the reason this years list seems shorter than it should be:


Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend

This was a weird book and when I started it I didn’t think I could get in to it but it turned out to be very endearing and in the end I was moved by this crazy made-up relationship.


Mom’s Who Drink And Swear

No, I didn’t write this book, but I probably could have. These are essays of a, well a Mom who likes to drink and swear, some of them are super funny and others not so much. I really really enjoyed about half of this book.



This was a fantastic read, a true and amazing story well told that became a complete page turner. I really liked it but felt that the last quarter of the book was rushed through.


The Slow Regard for Silent Things

Patrick Rothhfuss is a literary genius and reading him makes me understand Kathy Bates character in Misery. If I knew where he lived I’d be there with a sledge hammer getting him to write the 3rd book in his Kingkiller trilogy… Anywho, this was a weird little book and I loved it.


A Secret History

Not my favorite book. I really expected more from the author of The Goldfinch but I generally don’t get in to murder mysteries and this was no exception. The book started off with a confession of how this murder took place and then the rest of the book explained the events leading up to it – I couldn’t relate to the characters or sympathize with their situation.


Blood of Dragons

The 4th and final book in Ronib Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles. I love Robin Hobb and can’t wait to read her newest trilogy. This book was good (as all her books are) but this series of hers was not my favorite.


All The Light We Cannot See

This was an amazing book, when I started it I just assumed it would be sad at the end so I called my sister (who had just finished it) to see if I was going to need tissues and she told me “You will cry not because the ending is sad but because the book is over and you will still want to keep reading it” and she was right. Go read it now.


A Canticle for Liebowitz

In my hunt for weirdly obscure science fiction I found this book that had been a #1 bestseller in the 60’s. I loved this book, it is a mind trip and as relevant today as it was 57 years ago when it was written.


God, if you’re Not up There

Darryl Hammond autobiography is dark and upsetting. This is a book that a co-worker loaned to me and I’m still not entirely sure why. Darryl has lead an impossibly hard life and every time something good happened to him there was an opposite reaction that was even worse. This book depressed the hell out of me.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Meh. I generally really enjoy everything that Neil Gaiman touches (his Sandman series literally BLEW MY MIND). And while I enjoyed this little book it was definitely not my favorite of his.


The Marriage Plot

Not as good as Middlesex but still readable.


The Martian

This book is dry and scientific and still very enjoyable, a veritable page turner it gave me nightmares about being alone in space but overall very entertaining.



Definitely the best essayist I read all year. Una LaMarche is super funny and self deprecating; I will try and read more of her.


Swan Thieves

Ugh. This book is BIG and mediocre and took forever to get through. It was recommended to me because I really liked The Goldfinch but this tome fell far short of the magnificence that Donna Tartt created.


Station Eleven

One of my favorite books of the year. This is a post apocalyptic story (right up my alley) that takes place 20-25 years after the fall of civilization, it was so well done and so engaging I did not want it to end.


The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

Meh. I liked this book, I didn’t love it – it was pure ridiculousness which I knew it would be from the outset but not as well done as I would have liked.


People are Unappealing, even me

A funny and endearing memoir that I would recommend again and again.


The Never Ending Story

Who knew the movie was only the first 25% of the story? I really enjoyed reading this book – it was full of imagination and new and interesting ideas, I am looking forward to reading it to Lucy when she is a little bit older.


Picking Up

Who knew that a story about collecting garbage could be so interesting? I really enjoyed this book.


Lucky Us

I have no memory of this book – but it’s on my list and in my “read it” pile so I know I must have. I just looked it up online and it seems familiar – clearly not a memorable story although it won a lot of acclaim. Huh.



Another sci-fi book – this one was pretty bizarre and I was rushing through it to be done with it and move on to something else when a surprise twist at the end made it almost worth the read. Almost.


Feeling Sorry for Celia

A cute, coming of age novel, I liked it but didn’t love it.

22Furiously Happy

Oh, Jenny Lawson… I love her and everything that she produces, this book did not disappoint it was hysterically funny and tragically awful all at the same time. Everyone should read this book.


The Samurai and the Tea

An interesting, little, self published book about the history of Christianity in Japan. I learned a lot of history I was unaware of but was constantly distracted by the typeface and poor editing.


This Where I Leave You

I honestly thought this book would be funnier. I saw the movie before I read the book and the screenplay definitely lightened things up. The book I found a little disheartening – this dysfunctional family trying to keep their lives and relationships intact.


The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

Not a book I probably would have picked up except that it was written by Alexandra Fuller (I will read ANYTHING of hers). I didn’t realize that this was a true story until the very last page. I don’t know if it would have changed my opinion if I had known from the beginning. I liked this book but found it slow and… sluggish.


You Deserve a Drink

Another book of essays from a woman who drinks a lot (do you see a theme here?). This was a gift and was 50% really funny.

2014: A Year in Books

My third annual book review. I read a lot of recommendations this year which means that I read a lot of good books. Enjoy and happy reading!

Hyperbole And A Half (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

I love Allie and have read her blog for years– if you did too, this book is a print version of many of her cartoon posts, but contains enough new material to be worth the investment. Highly recommended.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless

I really like this book although at first I was a little skeptical – expecting the run of the mill chick lit material, but this book far exceeds that. Anyone who was ever a compulsive liar as a little kid will identify with Susan Gilman almost immediately.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Meh. This was a good book and a well written tale, but I found it hard to emotionally connect with the characters or feel strongly one way or another about their situation.

The Sense of an Ending 

I waited too long to write down my impression of this book and by the time I did I honestly cannot remember the story at all – I know it was a very short book and clearly forgettable.


Not my favorite of this year – perhaps if I was a middle aged man, the clear intended audience for this book, I would have. If that’s who you are – give it a try.

Play It as It Lays

This was a great book – although it took me a little to realize this. Written in a very stark almost Hemmingway-esque style it captures a time in history remarkably well and haunts you well after you have finished.

Delusions of Grandma

Oh, Carrie Fisher… This was by far better than wishful drinking and almost nearly as good as postcards from the edge. Carrie can be crazy funny and incredibly insightful in a single breath. I loved this book.

 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 

There is nothing more depressing than the true story pf a novelist that suffered from a major stroke and is left completely paralyzed and penning his last novel by blinking his left eyelid. Read this, but beware it will leave you empty and heavy.

Orphan Train

This was a recommendation and not something I would have picked up on my own but I enjoyed it, it was a well written novel that captures a piece of history I was completely unaware of.

 Consider Phlebas (Culture Series #1) 

My sci fi book of the year this was a classic deep space tale and I loved it for all its sci fi ridiculousness I’m just sad that in all this otherwise good literature this was the only really good genre book picked up.

Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World

This was a book about a couple that circumnavigated the globe without using any kind of air travel. I had high hopes for this that in the beginning were fulfilled but the more their travel continued the less and less he seemingly took notes about it – I felt he kind of rushed through the last half of their journey and wished the second half could have been as good as the first.

The Giver

A book that came out after I was of the age to read it I decided to pick it up and really enjoyed it, I thought it was a great young adult look at a utopian society, I was underwhelmed by the ending but all in all thought it was well done. I never saw the movie but just looking at the previews can tell it is far from the original story. If you are interested read it, don’t watch it.

The Geographer's Library 

Meh. The next few book were $1.00 clearance items in a going out of business sale – some were better than others, I didn’t hate this one but I didn’t love it either.

The Catastrophist

The next in my bargain bin hunting – I thought this was going to be something it wasn’t. It was enjoyable but nothing to write home about.

Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story 

The last of my clearance finds and this one I really enjoyed, a modern day love story set in New York between a soon-to-be tenured professor and her unexpected protagonist. I honestly thought I would hate this book; not being much for romantic stories but this one surprised me and liked it.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

A memoir of a long distance swimmer – I thought this story had the potential to be really captivating or terrifically boring and was by far much more captivating than anything. It lulled in places but overall made up for it, as someone who loves memoirs this did not disappoint.

The Snow Child

A great book. Period. I can’t describe it but read it. Trust me.


I read everything Erik Larson writes, everything. This was not my favorite book of his, the stories he was trying to connect were too far removed from each other and the history of the wireless telegraph too involved to condense into a coherent story. Not my favorite but will not deter me from picking up his next book.

The Samurai's Garden 

Another recommendation – this was a very good read, written in letter form it was a compelling and heartwarming tale.


Another great book, a multi-generational family drama set in my favorite place, this is a must read.

The Goldfinch 

An excellent Novel – one of the best of the year, deeply complex and gripping – run don’t walk.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates 

The true story of two men with the same name born within blocks of each other in Baltimore, one went to prison one went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship – it was an interesting read and a cautionary tale for people in circumstances different than my own. I liked it but it did not resonate.

Let the Great World Spin 

Hands down the best book of the year, this was an ah-mazingly well written book of different stories loosely connected by one external event. I loved loved loved this book.

The Book Thief 

Another recommendation. A book about WWII from the Nazi perspective – I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, it was well written and definitely worth it.

That Old Ace in the Hole

A sleeper novel from one of my favorite authors, it took me forever to get through this book but in the end I was glad I invested the time. Not as good as the Shipping News but good nonetheless.


I heard a lot of bad reviews about this book and was hesitant to ready it but I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was witty and funny and enjoyed it very much.

Olive Kitteridge 

Another book set in Maine – I liked this although it was darker and more intense than Sullivan’s book. I watched the HBO miniseries after I finished and enjoyed that too.


Not the book I expected it to be – it began slow and stayed that way until the end. I liked it but not until it was over.

The Circle 

I’m not completely finished with this yet, but am enjoying the face pace and modern technical aspects of this book – I know it’s working toward a crescendo and I’m excited to see where Eggers takes it.

2013: A Year in Books

I know that last year I complained about the measly 34 books that I read and promised the internet I’d do better, but before you scroll down to see my final number for this year (abysmal) let me reminds you that the average American only gets through about six a year. I’ve totally beat a lot of them.

 Audition ***

I liked this book – I listened to it in the car and it took me awhile to get over her speech impediment, and I was surprised that she never mentions her speech impediment. The first half of the book was by far the best, describing her childhood, her famous father and her fairly dysfunctional immediate family – the second half gets a little braggy about her success.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter ****

Wow, what an amazing book. Certainly the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I put it into the same category as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I am stunned that a 23 year old could create such a multi-dimensional,   deep, stirring, story. Run, don’t walk – read this today.

Winter of the World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy

Winter of the World***

Not as good as The Fall of Giants but still a riveting story. It started with the rise of Hitler and ended with the conclusion of World War II. I liked this but felt like it dragged a little in the middle, it seemed like it took me forever to read.

Great Expectations

Great Expectations***

A classic I always meant to read. I like Dickens and enjoyed this – I listened to it in my car which was very enjoyable and took me away from my road rage and my 21st century paradigm.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry***

A cute, sleeper novel. This was the first book club selection of the year and I’m not sure that it’s a consensus to give this novel 3 stars, but the end took me by surprise and made me think long and hard about old age and the relationships we hold dear.

Life Interrupted: The Unfinished Monologue

Life Interrupted**

The last unfinished monologue of Spaulding Grey, I listen to this in the car. It was read by Sam Shepard and I could not get into his reading. He had neither the rhythm nor the cadence that Spaulding had and I could not hear Spaulding at all. At the end I was just depressed.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey Series #1)

2001: A space Odyssey***

I’m adding this here because I re-’read’ almost half of this book this year and I think it makes the list. It’s classically sci-fi and way better than the movie.

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs Series #1)

Maisie Dobbes*

Ugh – I could not get into this book at all. This was a recommendation from both my Mother and my sister who have read the entire series. I read three quarters of it and stuck it back on the shelf. Murder mysteries are not my cup of tea and this wasn’t compelling enough to change that.

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada**

Exactly what you would expect a block buster chick-lit book to be. I listened to this in a car on the way to my crappy job in the ghetto and it made me feel better about my own situation. I would have liked it so much better if the ending had been different, but it was the most anti-climactic thing I have read in a long long time.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


I really enjoyed this book. As a Mom the introduction and forward made me both sad and depressed and I went through many many tissues, but the story of Cheryl’s hike and quest to get her life back and move forward where both poignant and funny. Not long after reading this I got a chance to hear a reading from her at the free library and she was amazing in person – I need to get more of her stuff.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

 Tess of the D’Urbaville’s***

Another classic that I listened to in the car. I really liked this book even though I felt so bad for the protagonist Tess who is a constant victim of her own design – I spent half of the book yelling at her from inside the car. But otherwise, it is a good story that transcends time and is still enjoyable today.

The Year of the Flood

The year of the Flood***

It’s been a long time since I read Oryx and Crake, the first book in this series that I loved loved loved so I was excited to once again pick up this story and I did enjoy this but I did not love it – it fell short of the first book by a wide margin.

Mississippi Sissy

Mississippi Sissy****

An excellent memoir that will make you both laugh and cry again and again. Beautifully written and raw.

The Phoenix Unchained (Enduring Flame Series #1)

 The Phoenix Unchained*

Ugh – another audio book I got through my book club. I generally really like suspending belief and diving into other worlds that take me away from the stress of this one but this book was ridiculous to the extreme. Perhaps it’s because it was being read out loud. I finished it because I had to but I would not recommend it.

The Center of Everything: A Novel

The Center of Everything***

This is a very good coming of age novel set in Middle America. Not a book I would have picked up but I needed something to read while on vacation and found it next to the guest bed at my parents’ house. I thought it was very well written and makes you empathetic to all teenagers, especially Evelyn.



Meh. I had high hopes for this book after reading The Memory of Running from Ron McClarety last year, but again, I thought this fell short. It’s good but not great.

It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy

It Looked different on the Model***

Oh Laurie Notaro – you are one of my favorites. She could sneeze on a napkin and I would think it was funny. If you’ve never read anything by her do yourself a favor and go pick up Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club do it now.

Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin

Official book club selection***

Much better than anticipated. I can only assume that Kathy got a ghost writer for this book… It was a very honest look into her childhood and struggle with her career and relationships. I am a big fan of personal memoirs and I really enjoyed this book.

From the Dust Returned

From the dust returned**

I picked up this book because the Bloggess once named it as one of the three books she would read for the rest of her life if she could only read three books (I had already read the other two and liked them so I assumed this would also be a winner) and I have to admit that I didn’t really get it. It’s all about the supernatural and ghosts/vampires sort of things which I generally can get into. Unfortunately I simply spent the entire book a little confused and not all that interested.

City of Dragons (Rain Wilds Chronicles #3)

City of Dragons****

Robin Hobb is by far one of my favorite authors and if you enjoy being immersed in alternate worlds and like using your imagination than I recommend her highly. This was the third book in the rain wilds chronicles. The only downside to this book is that I thought it was the final in a trilogy but it turns out there’s one more – which now I have to wait for…

A ticket to the Circus***

Another great memoir – from artist, model and 6th and final wife to Norman Mailer. Norris led a pretty amazing life and takes you right inside on her wild ride. Honest and open about her struggles with Norman it’s definitely worth the read.

I Don't Care about Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux Sensitive Hipsters, Felons, and Other Guys I've Dated

I don’t care about your band**

Total brain candy. This is classic chick lit and won’t take you long to get through. It’s perfect for train riding or sitting by the pool.

One Summer: America, 1927

One Summer***

I bought this for my Dad for Christmas but as a huge Bill Bryson fan I thought I should read it before I gave it to him. The entire thing is centered around the events of the summer of 1927 and is a masterpiece in investigative literature. Anyone who wants to know more about this era should definitely make this a must-read.

The Last Unicorn (Graphic Novel)

The Last Unicorn***

This book is supposedly a classic (I read it in a list on the internet somewhere so that must be true) and while I am enjoying it (I’m not quite finished) it’s not in any way groundbreaking. It’s a cute story and well written but I’m not sure I would add it to a must read list.

2012: A Year In Books

Before I became a Mom I used to read on average about 50 books a year. This year I only managed a measly 34, however if the statistics that I read on facebook are correct that’s still 28 more than the average American read this year. I am so above average. 

Here are those 34 in the order that I read them.  Normal people would probably have just updated Goodreads, but I am so above normal, enjoy:

A Monk Swimming

A Monk Swimming, Malachy McCourt ***

Much less maudlin than his brother Frank (for the most part) this book is an autobiography of Malachy’s life and 90% just good fun.

 The Night Circus

Night Circus, Erin Morganstern ***

First selection of our new book club, I enjoyed this book but was somewhat disappointed by the lack of genuine feeling between the main characters

The Glass Castle

 Glass Castle, Jeannette Wells ****

I love Jeannette Wells’ books; she has a seemingly effortless style of writing that makes her very hard to put down.

Scribbling The Cat

Scribbling the Cat, Alexandra Fuller ****

Haunting & disturbing. A few years ago I read Don’t lets go to the Dogs Tonight and I had forgotten how much I loved it until I picked this up. Fuller is a wonderful story teller.

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man

 When I stop talking you’ll know I’m Dead Jerry Weintraub ** 1/2

I liked this book; it is a great look into Hollywood and the rise of a successful industry powerhouse. I think I would have appreciated it more if I was 30 years older.

 Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy #1)

The Fall of Giants Ken Follett ****

A compelling read that explains World War I in a way I never understood in school or was able to stay interested in, in other nonfiction works. It’s a 1,000 pages that go by in the blink of an eye.

 Sarah's Key

Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay ***

The saddest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a story that gives a great look into France during WWII and the atrocity that went on inside Paris. I would highly suggest this book, but only if you are prepared to cry.

Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky ***

Another book club selection, I am not sure this is a book I would have picked up on my own, but I am glad I got the chance to read it. Although unfinished it gives a wonderful insight into the minds of the French people and the soldiers during WWII. If you read this I highly recommend reading the afterwards and learning about Irene’s story as well.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection

This time Together, Carol Burnette **

This book was a little disappointing – while it contained some great stories and antidotes from Carol’s life on screen it ended with huge sadness I was completely unprepared for.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

 Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins ***

The Hunger Games trilogy is just good fun, and while written for teenagers it is deep and poignant enough to hold the attention of adults. Anyone seeking pure entertainment should check these 3 books out.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins ***

 Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins ***

 Here We Go Again

 Here We go Again, Betty White **

Betty White has a remarkably long and vivid memory; this book details ALL of the particulars of her long and illustrious career. However, I was expecting something funnier and more satirical and this book was simply not that.

lets pretend this never happened

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, Jenny Lawson*** ½

Very few people make me laugh like Jenny Lawson. I try to never miss her blog The Bloggess. This book would have been perfect except for the middle part full of heartache and loss.

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

Killing Lincoln, Bill O’Reilly***

Despite the author, this was an amazing book. Centered on the events and conspiracy leading up to Lincoln’s death it’s written in a very thrilling format. Anyone wanting to learn more about the end of the civil war, and the assassination of Lincoln should check this out.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

 Hotel on the Corner of bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford***

A sweet novel about a young boy growing up in Seattle during WWII and his struggles with Japanese internment camps. A love story that transcends racism. I liked it, I didn’t love it.


 Taft, Anne Patchette ***1/2

Anne Patchette has a wonderful rhythm to her writing. This book sucks you in and keeps you hungry for more. It’s a quiet story of love and hope and racial tension in the south but it’s also a whole lot more than that.

 The Devil's Company (Benjamin Weaver, #3)

The Devil’s Company, David Liss***

Davis Liss can be somewhat wordy and… pedantic but this is the 3rd book of his I read and I think if you can get through all of the details his stories are incredibly complex, interesting and very true to the period that he writes in.

 Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller*** ½

Another great book by Alexandra, this makes 3 I’ve read of hers, she’s going on the list of authors that I stalk for all new books that are due to come out.

Sh*t My Dad Says

 Sh*t My Dad Says, Justin Helpern****

Absolutely hysterical. I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed every word in this book. I even made my husband read it and he hasn’t read anything since Lucy was born.

The Kingdom on the Waves (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #2)

Kingdom of the Waves MT. Anderson **

Ugh. I waited so long to read this after having picked up The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing several years ago. Maybe I had waited too long, I simply could not get into it. In my opinion the best thing M.T. Anderson has done has been Feed which is mind blowing and something everyone should read.

 The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars Peter Heller *** ½

Adding to my love of post-apocalyptic literature, dog stars is a vivid and haunting story of one mans survival in post-apocalyptic America. Heller’s writing is beautiful and a joy to read. I am looking forward to reading more from him.

 Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated Jonathan Safran Foer ***

This is the first audio book I bought to listen to on my commute to work. I didn’t have a clue what the story was about when selecting the book and perhaps if I had known I would have selected something else, and not because I didn’t enjoy it or didn’t think it was well written but because I feel like I have read enough stories about war this year. I found myself upset when I got to work and often times in tears when I got home. It’s hard sometimes to drive and cry.

How Did You Get This Number

How did you get this number Sloane Crosley ***

I’m not sure that I enjoyed this book as much as her first one I was told there’d be cake but it was a nice light departure from the last two books I read. It’s irreverent and easy to put down and pick up whenever. I think with time and practice Crosley will become an even better humorist.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Helen Simonson ***

A cute sleeper novel. It took a long time to get into this book but in the end it redeemed itself. I liked it, I didn’t love it.

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert ****

I was prepared to really hate this book – as I normally do with huge bestsellers – but it surprised me with its depth and complexity. I listened to this in the car and by the end of the 11th disc I felt intimately close with the author.

The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul Åsne Seierstad **

I had high hopes for this book and it both delivered and disappointed. It definitely gave an intimate and real world perspective of Afghanistan and its people, but I also listened to this as an audio book and it seemed like the woman reading it (not the author) hated the people and situations she was reading about that I instantly disliked her and it put a negative slant on the book. My opinion would definitely be to read this old school.

Lit: A Memoir

Lit Mary Karr ****

Mary Karr is an amazing writer; she can create the most amazing metaphors. Her writing is like poetry (not surprising since she started as a poet.) This is the 3rd book of hers and the memoirs of her adult years. I am looking forward to her next publication.

Saving Fish from Drowning

Saving fish from drowning Amy Tan***

I didn’t love or hate this book. It was in interesting story but for some reason the characters never fully resonated with me. I want so much to like Amy Tan’s books, but for some reason they always seem to fall just a little short if my expectations.

The Memory of Running

The memory of running Ron McLarty***1/2

An enjoyable, bittersweet novel with a truly unusual protagonist. I spent the entire book rooting for him even though he never truly rooted for himself. I am definitely putting more Ron McLarty on my reading list for next year.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Is everyone hanging out without me? Mindy Kaling ***1/2

The perfect travel book. I bought this at the airport and it got me ¾ of the way across the country. Funny & irreverent & quick, everything you need to keep you entertained and laughing on an airplane.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

The man who loved books to much Allison Hoover Bartlett***1/2

I never knew there was such a big problem with rare book thieves – it was a great look into a world I have always been curios about. Any great book lover would enjoy this story.

The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #4.5)

The wind through the keyhole Stephen King ****

For anyone who read King’s dark tower series this is a must read. Not actually part of the story this is a supplemental tale that falls somewhere between book 4 and book 5. It is a story within a story within a story. I loved it.

Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid

Why We Suck Dennis Leary ***1/2

A perfect audio book to listen to while sitting in traffic, it will make you hate yourself and all that you stand for – but who doesn’t a little bit already?