2014 Yearbook

I wanted to wrap up the year on a fun  note. You may have seen the Facebook game floating around where you list 10 books that have stuck with you. Could just be a favorite, could be memorable in a challenging way. The aim is to identify books that have influenced you in some way. It took me about and hour to compile my list. So many books that I read linger in my memory, but to narrow done to 10 was so impossible that I had to include 2 swing votes! My top 10 (+2) are listed below and I encourage you to share yours!

1. The Glass Castle- Jeannette Walls
2. The Secret Life of Bees- Sue Monk Kidd
3. The Red Tent- Anita Diamant
4. Life After Life- Kate Atkinson
5. Charlotte’s Web- EB White
6. The Probable Future- Alice Hoffman
7. The Magician’s Nephew- CS Lewis
8. Atlas Shrugged- Ayn Rand
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- Jean-Dominique Bauby
10. The Time Keeper- Mitch Albom
(Swing votes: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks- Rebecca Skloot,The Storyteller- Jodi Picoult)

 

And now for the list of books I read this year! I made it to 37 book reviews (I admit to reading a few that I didn’t write reviews for). Here is the line up, start to finish

Book # 1- Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan 

Book #2 Where’d You Go, Bernadette. By Maria Semple. Audio Narration by Kathleen Wilhoite.  

Book # 3- The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. 

Book #4 Defending Jacob, William Landay. 

Book #5 Deadly Heat, by Richard Castle.  

Book # 6- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce.  

Book # 7 Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding. 

Book # 8- Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, by Matthew Dicks

Book # 9- Night Film, by Marisha Pessl. 

Book#10-ish The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

Book #10- Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.  

Book # 11 Morning Glory, by Sarah Jio

Book#12- Out To Lunch, Stacey Ballis

Book # 13- Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman.

 Book #14- The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout

Book #15- Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

Book #16 The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg

Book #17 Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Book#18 This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

Book # 19- Serena, Ron Rash

Book #20 Twisted Sisters, Jen Lancaster

Book #21 The Dinner, Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett

Book #22- What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty. 

Book# 23- The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

Book #24- The Theory of Opposites, Allison Winn Scotch

Book# 25- Conspiracy of Silence, Martha Powers

Book# 26- The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

Book #27- The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

Book # 28- The Invention Of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

Book # 29, The Time of My Life, Cecelia Ahern

Book #30 The One and Only, Emily Giffin

Book #31- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, By Gabrielle Zevin 

Book #32 The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty. 

Book# 33 The Home For Wayward Ladies, Jeremy Scott Blaustein. 

Book #34 Lost Lake, Sarah Addision Allen.  

Book# 35- The Collector, Nora Roberts. 

Book # 36 A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki. 

Book# #37 Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen.

And coming soon… Book #38, The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness. So stay tuned!

 

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” ― John Keats

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Another one bites the dust!

Another month has gone by, and for me, another year! September 1 is my birthday and therefor marks one year since I started my blog. It’s been great fun, and except for slacking off this summer, I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with the project. I’ve read a lot of great books and and few not so great… I’ll give you the final flash review before and a total wrap up before I reset the book counter!

Book# 35- The Collector, Nora Roberts

collectorRating: 3- it was a good book

Synopsis: Lila is a professional house-sitter with a habit of observing her surroundings through binoculars as she settles in to a new place. One job gives her full view of the soap-opera going on in the building across the street; and she is the sole eye-witness when a young woman falls to her death. Lila believes there is foul play involved, especially when the woman’s boyfriend is also found dead. Ashton is a New York artist and the brother of the young man who was found dead. He doesn’t believe his brother is capable of murder and he wants to get a better understanding of the situation, so he tries to question Lila. When the two begin talking, they realize there must be more to the story that the police are putting together. Ash has unlimited resources and great connections, but he wants to keep Lila involved and more than anything, he wants her to pose for him to paint. The two are thrust into a hunt for answers and lost art. And find unique connections all along the way.

My Impressions: I’ve been a Nora Roberts fan for many years, starting with her Chesapeake Bay saga for its home town appeal. When I want to get lost in a suspenseful love story, I know she will deliver. This story, while romantically predictable, had a great element of mystery incorporating the art world. A fast paced story to get swept up in!

Read if you liked: Sweet Liar (Jude Deveraux), The Violets of March (Sarah Jio), Carolina Moon (Nora Roberts)

 

 

Book # 36 A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

A-Tale-for-the-Time-Being Rating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: Nao is a sixteen year-old girl writing in her diary to describe the life of a girl in Tokyo after moving from America. She is bullied, trafficked into prostitution, and constantly on the lookout for her father to commit suicide. Ruth is a middle-aged novelist living on the Pacific coast of Canada, struggling to adapt to life on a small whaling island and failing to write her next book. Ruth finds Nao’s diary washed up on a beach after the 2011 tsunami, along with a few other items that may lead to the identity of the intriguing young author of the diary.

Nao begins her diary intending to recount the life of her grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, and has taught now how to survive her life and appreciate what you don’t see. Ruth becomes obsessed with reading the story and trying to locate Nao and her family despite faulty internet and frequent island storms that limit her connections to the outside world. The two seem somehow connected through the diary which Nao wrote to no one and Ruth came to own randomly.

My impressions: Well, not my favorite… because this could have been a much shorter book if the story were the central focus. There was a lot of deviation to explain, in detail, many things that didn’t really need such thorough telling. For example, WWII Japanese suicide bombers were a big part of the story, however the personal aspect was lost (and not added to) by the detailed history of the troops that was given. Also the concept of Schrodinger’s cat was discussed. And while there was a (very literal) tie-in to the story, I’m not sure that I needed the entire philosophical principle discussed in the text.  The story itself was very interesting. Very cross-generational, with comparisons to be made from post-war to modern lifestyles. But not enough to balance the drawn explanations and slow moving story.

 Read if you liked: The Briefcase (Hiromi Kawakami), Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Eleanor Coerr)

 

 

Book# #37 Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen

still life Rating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: Rebecca Winter found fame as a photographer in her younger days, first by capturing the detritus of a dinner party, then the intimate angles of her infant son. But her star is no longer rising and she is out of favor and out of money! She sublets her New York apartment and moves to the middle of nowhere to save some money. Her little cabin is small and already inhabited by a creature. SHe meets Jim when he comes to free her of a raccoon and fix her roof. She settles into small town life while trying to find a new muse and sell a few photos. Her new view of life leads her to discover that her perspective has been off for years.

My Impressions: I kept waiting for something to happen! I liked the characters okay, I thought they could have been interesting if they were actually doing something in the story. There was just no story progression for me. It moved slowly and there were not really any connecting events to help string it together. Just kind of a snap-shot of a life that mosies along.

Read if you liked: Promises to Keep (Jane Green), Love the One You’re With (Emily Giffin)

 

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” ― Neil Gaiman

GOAL!

Let me tell you this… I don’t know the first thing about soccer. This whole World Cup business just goes right over my head! But I know A LOT about goals. My profession requires that I write short term and long term goals for every patient upon each encounter, and document their progress. And for myself, I’ve learned the value of setting personal goals, and the satisfaction in meeting them. Most of my goals have been financial; I wanted to pay off all credit card debt before I turned 30, I wanted to pay off my car a year early, I wanted to buy a house before I was 32. I have accomplished all of those goals! And now, I have reached another goal, my 31st book review of the year! That was the goal when starting my blog last September. 31 reviews after turning 31. And I’m a few months ahead of my deadline, which means plenty of time for more reading!

Book #31- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, By Gabrielle Zevin 

AJ Fikry Rating: 4– Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books. He is  a particular man with particular tastes in literature. He is not great with the customers in his store; his wife was always better at that, but she died in an accident and A.J. can’t seem to move on from her memory. His sister-in-law, Ismay, is a big help when it comes to keeping his head above water. She is married to Daniel, an author with a wandering eye. This is A.J.’s worlds until a series of strange events occurs, leading to a toddler abandoned in the bookstore. A.J. sees this as a sign to turn his life around and adopts the girl. Maya becomes a staple in the store and changes A.J.’s life in every way.

My Impressions: The perfect way to reach my goal was a book about books! The style of story telling that carries the plot along is for each part to begin with a book description. It is as if A.J. is telling the story of his life and his memories through the books that he has read. He is sharing his literary legacy with his daughter, Maya. I found it a little hard to connect with A.J. as a character in the first few chapters. His voice is stiff, but I think that is an intentional trait. As Maya becomes a bigger part of his life and he opens up to the community more, he becomes a much more relatable, likable character.

The character of Maya is delightful from the start. The inner thoughts expressed for her are perfect at every age and her charm comes through every word. It’s very easy to see how she was able to soften A.J. and basically wrap the town around her finger. The other secondary characters are well written, but poorly described early on, so the way I imagined them was negated later as more details were revealed.

Why you should read it: It was a sweet story with a different set a twists that were unexpected and intriguing. It was a quick read and would be a great way to kick off your summer reading list!

Read if you liked: Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan), Matilda (Roald Dahl), Inkheart (Cornelia Funke)

Book #31 in the bag! Goal= Met!

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” ― Stephen King

YA not?

It seems like the YA genre is getting a lot of heat lately. Thanks to John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, the spotlight is on YA novels turned film, but the scrutiny is on the value of these books in the adult literary world and whether we should spend vs. waste our time with them.  So for everyone judging adults reading from the YA section of the bookstore, let me ask, what defines a YA book?

Probably the first answer is a teenaged protagonist. Then, subject matter relating to adolescence.  Occasionally, there is some element of fantasy, though not required. And more often than not, these books arrive in series. Let’s explore: Twilight, Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Hunger Games.  Wildly popularized by their movie buzz, but still marketed as YA.

But if we follow that set of rules, it could also be argued that books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are also YA novels. And I’m sure no one would tell you to feel embarrassed about reading that. I’m firmly in the camp of read whatever you want! If you are a kid who only wants to read comic books, a teen who only wants to read magazines, or an adult who only wants to read blogs; I’m all for reading anything that informs, enriches and enlightens your world. I’m the kid who read every word on my activity placemat at diners, practically memorized the signs in the aisles of the grocery store and tried to pronounce all the vitamins and minerals hiding in my cereal. Why? Because reading is good for and it’s more fun than staring into space while you wait. Thats why I’m the adult who carries reading materials everywhere and measures my purse to my Kindle before buying. My point: never feel ashamed of your reading material! You’re already one-up on the person playing candy quest on their phone!

Instead of my normal review format, here is a list of YA novels I’ve read recently that are totally worth reading as an adult:

1) The Fault in Our Stars, John Green 

fault in our stars Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for kids with cancer. They bond over their shared fates and as they become close, they share their favorite books with each other. Hazel’s book has an unsatisfying ending, and they decide to pursue the author together to ask for further closure of the story.  It’s rather like reading the plot of a Shakespeare play in modern times.

2) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

book thief Set in WWII Germany, the story is narrated by Death who becomes intrigued by Liesel when he sees her steal a book at the site of her brothers grave. Death follows her story as she is taken in by foster parents, learns to read, and steals books from Nazi book burnings and affluent community members. The story is beautifully descriptive and gives unique insight into being a German citizen during the Nazi reign.

3) Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight

Amelia Kate is a single mom, doing her best to raise her daughter well, but she works hard as a lawyer in a competitive firm and isn’t as on top of things as she may think. When she gets a call to inform her that her daughter jumped from the roof of the school, she is in utter disbelief. Then she starts receiving mysterious messages indicating that Amelia’s death wasn’t suicide after all. Kate investigates the remains of daughter’s life to uncover the truth. A bit like an episode of CSI, this story offers insight into high school social media and the privilege of affluence.

4) If I Stay, Where She Went, Gayle Forman

if i staywhere she went If I Stay tells the story of Mia who is alone in the world after a horrible car accident takes her family from her. She is hurt badly and while her body lies in the hospital, her consciousness roams amongst her friends and grandparents gaining a different perspective of the situation. It becomes clear that she has a choice to stay with them or to join her family…  Where She Went tells the story of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend and his life after Mia. At the time of the accident, Adam’s band was gaining ground in Portland and Seattle and since then, they’ve reached super-stardom.  While I enjoyed the first book better for the interesting perspective, I appreciated the closure of the follow-up.

5) The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau

ember Ember is a city created by “the builders” with a specific infrastructure and community plan to save its inhabitants from the dangerous conditions occurring on the surface of the Earth. The city was supplied for 200 years, but 40 after they were due to exit, Ember’s people are running out of supplies. When they are assigned their jobs, Lina and Doon become suspicious of the city’s ability to survive and discover a way to save the people of Ember. This post-apocalyptic fantasy proposes an interesting means of survival and renaissance.

 

Those are just a few suggestions to get you started, all coming with my recommendation for personal enrichment, book club discussions and side-by-side reading with your favorite 13-17 year-old!

 

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis

I’ll Fly Away

Well, I’m certainly delinquent in my posting and my reading as of late. It would be safe to say I’ve had a lot going on in the last 2 weeks and not a lot of free time or concentration remaining. I usually escape to reading as a stress relief, but that is assuming that I have a book that I am eager to read and that I have a bit of time to sit down and read it! I had neither. Also I’m usually good about reading before bed; at least until I’m startled awake by the book hitting the floor after falling out of my sleeping hand! But I read the same page of the same book about 5 nights in a row before I gave up on it and decided I would come back to that book another time (The Daughters of Mars, Thomas Keneally). I always have an audiobook going in the car too, but I picked one that was read by a reader that I didn’t like in the past, and I immediately recognized her voice as annoying me before and my objectivity for the story suffered because of it. (See, no concentration at all!) What’s going on? Well for starters, I’m buying a house… Exciting and scary all at once! I’m buying on my own, so there is a lot to do, all resting on my shoulders. But I found the house, got the loan and now I’m just moving forward with the process until settlement. In the mean time, my little dog got sick, requiring a night in the hospital, followed by 3 days at home of not eating. That sent us back to the hospital and he had to have surgery to remove a foreign object from his stomach. I don’t know what he ate, but they were kind enough to save it for me so I could guess what it was after it spent a week in his gut… Gross! We are only just recovering from that (I mean WE. He may have had surgery, but he wasn’t the only one with an upset stomach after all that worry!) as he snores on the sofa next to me. But before my world went insane, I read a great book and I can finally share it with you!

Book # 28- The Invention Of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

suemonkkidd Rating: 5- I’d read it again

Synopsis: In 19th century Charleston, SC, slavery is in full force as a way of life. Sarah Grimke, at age 11,  is gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid. Sarah is appalled by the idea and by slavery in general and tries to give her back, but her father won’t have it. Sarah is trapped in a world where she can do little but accept her place in society, learn to hold her tongue,  and try to make a good match of a husband. But she feels she is meant for more. Hette is 10 when she is given to Sarah. She is forced to leave her mother’s side and live in the house, sleeping outside of Sarah’s door at night in case she rings her bell to call. Hette is what she is called by the Grimkes. Her mother called her Handful. And she, like Sarah, isn’t content to accept her place. As she grows up in the household, she takes over for her mother as seamstress, and is granted privileges to leave the house and go into town. Once she gets a taste of the world, she has to have  more. Sarah leaves Charleston to join the Quaker church in their abolitionist movement; and she and her fearless little sister Angelina make a name for themselves, as well as a few waves as they go. Handful remains under the close watch of Sarah’s mother and her gold-tipped cane, yearning for the freedom that is so often promised but never bestowed.

My Impressions: I could write pages and pages and never truly describe how beautiful this story really is. There is so much depth and detail in every page. The characters of Sarah and Handful are so strong, that their convictions conflict. Handful, takes her freedom from Sarah’s shyness and Sarah gains strength from indignation. The girls both cross boundaries that society sets for them, despite the ridicule that Sarah edures, and the physical consequences that Handful endures. And as they find their courage, their place, their purpose, they find more meaning in each other.

Another thing I loved about this story, is how well researched it is! The Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, are historical figures, who were very involved in the Quaker abolitionist movement, and Sarah went on to advocate for women’s rights. Their sister, Mary remained pro-slavery throughout her life. And Sarah was in fact gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid on her 11th birthday. All of these details are so intricately woven into this beautiful story to add to the depth and create powerful imagery.

Why you should read it: In a few years, I can see this book on a list of high school required reading. Add it to the list of fictional works that paint the picture of American history through literature; To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Raisin in the Sun, The Jungle. This is a book not to be missed, but I personally recommend the incredible vocal performance of the audiobook.

Read if you liked: The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), The Help (Katheryn Stockett), Beloved (Toni Morrison)

Book #28 in the bag!

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” ― Malcolm X

Everything’s coming up Rosie

I can’t say enough about books from a character perspective that ventures outside the social norms. Of course I want to read a story told by a dog, or an imaginary friend, or even a child who spent the first years of his life in one tiny room. But it’s also fun to read about a character that may not be aware of their own strangeness (think Screech from Saved by the Bell!) This book was recommended by a friend, so thanks Lauren!

Book #27- The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

ROsie Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Don Tillman is a genius in the world on genetics and a bit of a imbecile when it comes to social interaction. He is rigid with his routine and abhors lateness by even 2 minutes. It’s just a waste of time!  And he really knows how not to waste time. He jogs to the market to combine exercise and errands. He prepares the same meal every on the same day every week to simplify the shopping and prep time. He books face-to-face conversations with friends to ensure their availability. So when Don decides he want a mate, he develops the Wife Project. He creates a questionnaire to be filled out by his dates and weed out unsuitable candidates. His best friend Gene, a bit of a cad, commandeers the forms and suddenly Rosie shows up at Don’s office door. She is beautiful and smart, but totally unsuitable. She smokes!

Rosie and Don develop an unconventional friendship and flirtation as Don helps Rosie to learn the identity of her father. And as they become closer, Don teaches Rosie to button up, while Rosie teaches Don to deviate.

My Impressions: What a sweet story. Don is, to quote a 90’s teen flick, so adorably clueless. He has some idea that he does not behave within social norms, and he plays the role to be laughed with instead of laughed at. For Rosie’s part, she is rough around the edges and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Don’s failure to take social cues helps to break down her tough shell, and Rosie’s emotions seep through Don’s general attitude of apathy. By the end of the book, they both make each other better people.

Why you should read it: This is a quick and quirky little book. It’s perfect for traveling, since you’ll finish by the end of your trip. But it’s also a different spin on romance and told from the gentleman’s perspective.

Read if you liked: Look Me In The Eye (John Elder Robison), House Rules (Jodi Picoult), Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)

Book #27 in the bag!

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.” ― Christopher Morley, Pipefuls

Silence is Golden

The last time I went to a public library was 9 years ago. I went daily for 5 weeks straight to study for my physical therapy board exam. It was NOT a quiet place! I was settled at a table in the center of the stacks (adult fiction, G-J) with people milling around me, chatting with their friends, the other “regulars.”  I was only a few feet away from the bank of computers where people could access the internet, so that brought its own special noise as people laughed at their screens or asked help of the attendant. Patrons held cell phone conversations, and listened to music through headphones at a volume that could be overheard. And the best part by far; the library was housed below a senior center where shuffle board was played regularly on the floor above. Scrape, shuffle, collide and begin again at regular intervals with a drop ceiling buffer. A McDonald’s PlayPlace may have been a quieter environment to study! With the convenience of mass-market book stores and the advent of the Kindle, I haven’t needed to re-visit the library since, but I do appreciate the concept of free use of books. Now that I can borrow from my Kindle, I’m more inclined to try the title that doesn’t cost me anything and return them when I’m done. That’s how I crossed paths with this title and I enjoyed its price as well as its content.

Book# 25- Conspiracy of Silence, Martha Powers

silence Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Grand Rapids, Minnesota is a quiet little lake-side town. Unassuming and uneventful as far as small towns go. It’s home to renowned author Nathan Hassan, and that is the reason for Clare Prentice to travel there from Chicago; to interview him for her literary magazine. But she has another reason as well. She recently discovered she was adopted after her mother’s death and her only clue to her identity is a class ring from the town from 1962. Clare’s best friend also has a connection to the town; her father grew up there, and her aunt still lives there with a cottage for rent by the lake. As Clare begins her research, she discovers her adoptive mothers real name is Rose Gunderson, and that her sister Lily Newton was murdered in 1982. It becomes clear very quickly that Clare is really the Rose’s niece, Abigail Clare Newton and was sent away because her father was responsible for the murder. As Clare uncovers more details, she grows closer to Nate and his daughter Erika. But she also clearly stirs up a past that someone doesn’t want uncovered. There is more to this murder that meets the eye and someone doesn’t want Clare sticking her nose into it. Who is it, and what lengths will they go to to keep the past quiet? That is what Clare is about to find out before she can find out who she is.

My Impressions: I do love a good murder mystery. In fact I think I’m a bit of a sucker for them. This one was pretty good, though slightly predictable… I figured out that the boy would get the girl after their first meeting; as happy endings tend to go. And I figured out the source of secrecy about half-way through, even though the unveiling of details still made for an interesting journey to the ending.
The ending of the story itself was rather abrupt. I would have liked an epilogue to tie a bow on it. Perhaps since Clare’s cover story for the investigation was an update of the 25th anniversary of the murder, the epilogue could have been her article on the subject. I think it would have been nice to have a brief telling of all of the facts surrounding the story. Or a first person narrative of her journey to the truth since that is how she ultimately found her identity.
Overall the voice and the character development were fitting, and not forced. Even when I thought relationships were progressing unnaturally fast, the characters would recognize it and accept responsibility for it before backing up a little bit for a reality check.

Why You Should Read It : A sweet, if not a little clumsy heroine, a handsome hero. Murder, suspense, intrigue and small-town charm. It’s a recipe for success! Plus if you are a Kindle/Prime user (this is not a plug, I have no financial interests here!) it’s free. I guess also if you are a library user, than so is every other book; so there’s that…

Read if you liked: The Bean Trees (Barbara Kingsolver), The Secret Life Of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), Lost Lake (Sarah Addison Allen)

Book #25 in the bag!

“You can find friends between the pages of a book, wonderful friends.” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkspell