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

Summer days, drifting away

Why does summer always go by so quickly? I used to think it was just because I didn’t want to go back to school as a kid, but even as an adult I just seem to lose track of the time. July was a busy, whirlwind month for me and while I made a little time for reading, I didn’t make time for blogging, so I’m going to get caught up with some flash reviews. So here are a couple of the books I’ve been up to.

Book #32 The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty

chaperoneRating-3, It was a good book.

Synopsis: Cora volunteers to chaperone a young Louise Brooks for the summer in New York City in the 1920s. Louise is there to become famous; Cora is there to dig into her past. Cora’s earliest memories are of her life at the New York Home for Friendless Girls, before she was put on an orphan train and adopted in the midwest. Cora is trying to set a good example of decorum for Louise, but in the late 20’s Louise is intent on breaking all the rules while she joins a modern dance troupe on her way to becoming a silent film star. At the end of the summer, Cora goes back to her life, but she and Louise will cross paths again.

My Impressions: While the first part of the story was as advertised, and the character back stories were strong, the years following the initial “chaperone” summer didn’t have a lot to do with the original story line. The book started out strong, but the storyline deviated a lot for me to stay interested.

Read if you liked: The Paris Wife (Paula McLain), Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline), A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

 

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

ladies Rating- 4, Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Nick, Hunter and Eli have been friends since college and now they are roommates in New York City. Each trying to make their way in the NY theater scene, each searching for something, each with their own vices in their way. When Nick meets Mr Right, he gets a chance to do a one-man show tour and his producer boyfriend gets Eli and Hunter a gig as the director and choreographer of a summer stock production in the Poconos. Since nothing can go smoothly, the Ladies have to pull together for each other to make through the summer.

My Impressions: For starters, this book is not PG for anyone scanning for a book to read. There is a lot of sexual reference and humor. But there is a lot of humor! This was a really funny book with great character relationships and truly shows the heart of life-long friendships. And gay men making vagina jokes is a good time! Full disclosure: the author is a high school friend of mine… But I’d still recommend his book even if I’d never driven him home after school play rehearsal.

Read if you liked: Sex and the City (Candace Bushnell); Someday, Someday Maybe (Lauren Graham)

Book #34 Lost Lake, Sarah Addision Allen

lost lake Rating- 3, It was a good book

Synopsis: Kate opens er eyes on moving day, one year after her husband was killed in an accident. Her mother-in-law is in charge of the move and waiting to settle-in Kate and her daughter, Devin, in her home across town. But instead of driving to the house, Kate keeps driving and ends up at Lost Lake, where she spent the summer as a child. Her estranged aunt, Eby, owned the lake-side retreat with her husband and she is struggling to stay afloat. This will be the last summer at Lost Lake. Eby welcomes Kate and Devin with open arms, but knows there is more to the story of why they’ve come.

My Impressions: While this was a sweet story with a whimsical side, it was fairly predictable. There was a twist in the back story that kept it interesting and it’s a quick read. This is great light-reading vacation book.

Read if you liked: Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen), The Last Camellia (Sarah Jio)

 

Books 32-34 in the bag!

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” ― Mortimer J Adler

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

Only You

I’m nearing my goal of 31 book reviews. It’s been a very interesting project to get my blog up and running, generate interest and traffic and learn the ins and outs of publishing my opinions on the internet. I’ve had a ton of fun doing it! And as a personal challenge, it’s been great to step outside of my normal book choices and really enjoy some stories I may not have tried otherwise. I appreciate all of the comments and suggestions- here and on Twitter. And while I won’t be reading any zombie-versus-alien-apocalypse series any time soon (despite unrelenting suggestions from my friend Martin), I have gotten to know many new authors with other titles that I can’t wait to read. So while I’m working on book #31 (and 32 on audiobook), I’m also working on my next goal for the blog. In the meantime, check out this weeks title.

Book #30 The One and Only, Emily Giffin

one and only Rating: 3- It was a good book.

Synopsis: Shea and Lucy are lifelong BFFs. Shea’s mom and Lucy’s mom and also BFF. Lucy’s dad is the football coach for Walker University, and Shea is possibly Walker’s biggest football fan. When Lucy’s mom dies from a long battle with cancer, their little family is rocked. Lucy turns her grief on Shea, criticizing her life choices from dead end job to pot head boyfriend. Coach gets in on the action, with a little more subtlety, buy giving Shea a pep talk and a contact for a job interview. He also advises her to stop wasting her time with the lame boyfriend. She has always looked up to Coach, so she readily takes his advice. She also follows Lucy’s instructions to keep an eye on Coach and help him in his grieving, since the two have a special bond over football.

Shea takes all of their advice; getting a job as a sports reporter covering Walker, stepping up her dating game in a relationship with a pro football quarterback, and spending more time with Coach. But as they spend more time together, Shea realizes that all her years of hero-worship have turned into a bit of a crush! And she begins to feel as if the feelings may be reciprocated… But how could they? And how would she tell her best friend that she is in love with her father?

My Impressions: I most definitely think that the author has written a very real female character here. Shea is both strong and vulnerable, self-aware and insecure and we meet her at place in her life where she searching for her grown-up identity.  The life struggles she faces are terribly relatable, and the moral challenges she encounters present choices that could change her life entirely. Her friendship with Lucy, as close as sisters, plays out just that way; no matter what is said or done, it’s forgiven and/or appreciated for it’s good intentions. I also liked the development of her relationships with her mother and father, separately, and the alteration of what she believes to be true about them. I think most adults have that happen in their lives at some point, and it either strengthens or separates a bond with parents. But then the story gets a little weird for me… I guess age doesn’t really play a huge part in relationships anymore, much like it didn’t in the era of Jane Austen. But Shea’s relationship with Coach is the one that I don’t find realistic and honest throughout the book. And it’s all a little George Michael- Father Figure for me!

Why you should read it: If you are a fan of Emily Giffin from her past books, you may find this book a bit of a departure from her usual stories, but consistent with her style. It’s still chick-lit, but not the traditional story line.

Read if you liked: Love the One You’re With (Emily Giffin), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Friday Night Lights (H.G. Bissinger)

Book # 30 in the bag

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ― Jane Austen

It’s something unpredictable

Life definitely offers lots of twists, turns and unpredictable surprises. There are plenty of cliche things that can be said to that end, but ultimately, your days are what you make them. I can safely say that I find myself at a period in my life that I would not have predicted, and certainly didn’t plan for, but I’m trying to make lemonade.  They say when it rains, it pours, and I’m just waiting for my rainbow at the end. I’ve been told that everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Nothing tragic is going on here, there is just a lot going on! I can’t seem to catch my breath before something else comes up. So all things considered, and all cliches aside, I’m just looking forward to a little quiet time to kick back, relax and read a little more.

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

download Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: When the mail starts piling up, you can’t ignore it forever! Especially when the letters are an invitation from your life, requesting a meeting face-to-face. Lucy Silchester would avoid the notes forever, except that her family has signed off on the meeting and has also been receiving letters from her life on her behalf. Lucy would hide forever, in her tiny studio apartment with her hermaphroditic cat and grungy carpets eating microwave pot-pies, if she could.  She wasn’t always this way, but since her boyfriend Blake ended their 5 year relationship and agree to tell people that it was Lucy who left him, she has been caught in a downward spiral of lies that she pulls over herself like a down comforter to shut everyone out.

When Lucy does finally take a meeting with her life, she finds him repulsive and annoying. Maybe because he is so brutally honest with her. He calls her out on all of her lies, makes her feel uncomfortable in her hideaway of a home and forces her to face her behavior of the last few years that has been holding her back from happiness. Life’s little interferences send Lucy down a path of revelation, first for herself and then of all of the lies she’s told. When she finally get down to the whole truth and nothing but the truth, she finds that nothing is different. That is, no one who loves her treats her any differently, and she had no cause to lie to them in the first place. All of the pieces of her life fall into place thanks to all of her Life’s coaching.

My Impressions: This was a cute story with an interesting concept. What if your life was an actual physical being that you were responsible for making happy and keeping healthy. In return, your life would intervene at extremes to save you from yourself. As a philosophical concept, I liked the premise. As a story, I found it entertaining, if not a little slow, and maybe a little sad. Of course like all good chick-lit, there is a predictable happy ending, leaving you feeling good about Lucy’s life, and maybe your own. And I think maybe I would like someone with my best interests and a little insight to step in and take over for me every now and then!

Why you should read it:  It was a good, light read! Perfect for sitting outside with a glass of wine and enjoying the sunshine. I know I say this a lot, but it could easily be a chick flick with a good bit of reality suspension.

Read if you liked: Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

Book #29 in the bag!

“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in, is the library” ― Maya Angelou