Saturday, August 12, 2017

Books Read in May and June


Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah.
The story: Kate and Tully are best friends, growing up together on Firefly Lane. Kate is average but has a fabulous family; Tully is gorgeous but has no family. Kate wants an ordinary life; Tully wants fame and fortune. They novel spans their relationship from early teens through their 40s or 50s: through first loves, college, career, lost loves, parenting, etc.
Me: Meh. I couldn't get attached to either of the main characters or even to any of the characters. There was too much backstory left untold to make some of the more potentially interesting plot lines substantive. It was predictable and embarrassingly silly at times. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that Kristen Hannah wrote The Nightingale, which was phenomenal, and also wrote this.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.
The story: Kline imagines the story of Anna Christina Olson, subject of the iconic painting "Christina’s World" by the  Andrew Wyeth. Olson and her brother are living by themselves in the old family farmhouse without water or electricity when Wyeth stumbles upon them and sets up his summer studio in their home. Christina's life has been a series of disappointments, from contracting a crippling disease as a little girl to losing her only love. Wyeth brings beauty and grace to Christina's world and allows her to see herself through different eyes. Wyeth's painting turns the once invisible Christina into a lasting treasure.
Me: It was hard to get into at first but I began really enjoying it about midway through. I didn’t know what was wrong with Olson— neither did she— and would have understood more had there been more detailed description as her disease began. Kline is a wonderful storyteller, and eventually I became completely immersed in Christina's world. Her own personal landscape was gray and tired, but Wyeth saw something completely different. I love that someone so ordinary could become a muse to someone so extraordinary, and thus become extraordinary herself. Highly recommended.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott.
I had the pleasure of hearing Anne Lamott speak recently. She was partly reading from Hallalujah Anyway and mostly just talking. She was truly wonderful. What an absolute privilege that evening was! Anyway, this memoir of sorts is Lamott's exploration of the concepts of grace and mercy. It's just a lovely book full of thought-provoking, comforting musings.
• “The hard silence between frustrated people always feels cluttered. But holy silence is spacious and inviting. You can drink it down. We offer it to ourselves when we work, rest, meditate, bike, read. When we hike by ourselves, we hear a silence still pristine with crunching leaves and birdsong. Silence can be a system of peace, which is mercy, easily offered to a friend needing quiet, harder when the person is one's own annoying self.”
• “My parents, teachers, and the culture I grew up in showed me a drawer in which to stuff my merciful nature, because mercy made me look vulnerable and foolish, and it made me less productive.”
• "Forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment. You open the drawer that was shut and you take out hte precious treasures that you hid there so long ago, and with them, the person who marvels at tadpoles, who pulls for people to come clean and then have a second chance…"
It sounds trite, I know, but Lamott truly challenges me to be a better person: more compassionate, more forgiving, and more merciful.


My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.
The Story: When Gerald Durrell was 10 years old, his family (his three older siblings, all in their late teens or early 20s, and his widowed mother) left dreary England for the sunny island of Corfu. Gerry is left essentially on his own at first: free to wander the island, make friends with the locals, and explore the incredible plant and animal life. Every now and then, his family would suddenly remember Gerry and decide he needed formal education, so a occasional tutors were hired—and they learned as much from Gerry as he did from them. Durrell remembers his island days with beautiful writing, hilarious stories, and incredible detail.
Me: I loved this book. It was our June book club pick and a particular favorite of our book club member's 18-year-old son. And I can completely see why: as I was reading this book, I saw Sam, her son, on every page. Durrell was bursting with curiosity as a young boy. He simply observed the world around him, soaked in every detail, befriended everyone, watched every animal-- insects, birds, reptiles-- adopted all kinds of pets, and wreaked havoc on his more "mature" siblings. He was simply delightful, as was this memoir. I laughed a lot and really wanted to re-do by kids' childhood by living off the grid. Lovely book.

Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas
The story: Firoozeh Dumas came to America from Iran as a young girl, and she recounts the hilarious and poignant story of her family's experiences in America in her memoir Funny in Farsi. Laughing Without an Accent continues with more vignettes of her Iranian family and their cultural conundrums, the often confusing intersection between American and Iranian customs, and her own place as a citizen of the world at large.
 Me: I've been meaning to read this book for years, so I was excited when a former student loaned it to me. Whenever I teach World Literature, I begin with Funny in Farsi. My students almost always love this memoir-- and always ask me if I've read Laughing Without an Accent. I'm glad I can finally say I have! This collection of stories is nearly as wonderful. Dumas is a humorist but she has these moments of truth that just hit hard. At the core of her memoirs is the intense love of family but also the theme of "why can't we all just get along?" Highly recommended.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott.
The Story: The Knox family has only one focus: getting Devon, their teenage daughter, to the Olympics. She's an incredible gymnast and perfect child, and everyone in the community is rooting for her. Well, rooting for her while seething with jealousy. And then the assistant coach's boyfriend dies in a violent accident, and everyone is a suspect. Secrets start piling up and relationships crumble, but the Knox family is determined that nothing will get in the way of Devon's success.
Me: Oh, this was good! It was all very riveting and suspenseful, with plenty of twists and turns and secrets revealed slowly. It was a quick, creepy read.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell.
The story:  The Bird family used to be the perfect family. Lorelei was a creative, free-spirited mom to Meg, Beth, and twins Rory and Rhys. But then something happens to the Bird family. (The tragedy is revealed about midway through.) Once carefree and joyful, the tragedy leads to the demise of the family. They drift apart and then become disdainful of one other. Once best friends, even Meg and Beth refuse to speak to one another, and Lorelei dies alone, a hoarder in their once lovely home. The book shifts between the present, when the children are middle-aged, and the past, as we find out what actually happened-- and why.
Me: I liked most of the book, although a lot went on. Like, really a lot. Probably too much-- it became tangled a bit too much. But somehow it was all quite interesting, and I did get wrapped up in the characters. My biggest complaint is that the mystery finally revealed at the end of the novel was odd and didn't really fit with the rest of the novel. It was just plain weird. So... good, but not great.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.
The story: Arthur Pepper has been a widower for one long and painful year. He goes through his days with precise and painstaking routine.  On the one year anniversary of her death, he decides he really must go through her belongings, and while sorting through her clothes, he discovers a charm bracelet that he's never seen before. He's puzzled but intrigued. Where did the bracelet come from, and why was she hiding it from him? The first charm leads him on a journey to uncover a life he never knew about—her life before she met Arthur and settled down. While he discovers who Miriam once was, he also discovers who he really is—and that there is a lot more life to live.
Me: I loved this book! It was our July book club read, and everyone agreed that it was wonderful. It's reminiscent of both A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry—two of my favorite reads last year. Like Ove and Harold, Arthur is a lost, grumpy old man who discovers incredible joy—and the incredible writing in all of these novels just makes it all incredibly delicious. Highly recommended!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Books Read in March and April

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck.
The story: Marianne, privileged widow of a Nazi resister, has survived WWII, barely intact. A key player in the resistance movement herself, she is determined to find other resisters' widows and bring them and their children to her once beautiful castle. She finds Benita and Ania, and the three women and their children become a family of sorts. But Benita and Ania turn out to have their own secrets and desires, and Marianne will have figure out how to accept that other people had choices to make that didn't necessarily align with her choices.
Me: I love WWII novels, and this one is one of the best I've read yet. It took me a while to get into it, but I am so glad I took the time to stick with it. I was reading/teaching Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief with my high school world literature class at the same time I was reading this, and I found Shattuck's novel provided incredible perspective into still another dimension of the war. Shattuck is an incredible, insightful writer. She explores various dimensions of these complicated women without ever judging their decisions and motivations or telling the reader what to think. I am amazed that, with the plethora of WWII themed books there are still fresh stories to tell, but there are—and this one certainly is. Highly recommended.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty.
The story: It's the first day of kindergarten. Jane is a young, single mom with a tragic story. Celeste, mother of twin boys, is a flawless beauty with a secret. Madeline, friend to both of them, finds that her ex-husband and his new wife just happen to have their daughter in the same kindergarten class as her youngest. Something terrible happens to a kindergarten parent, and somehow these three are involved. Moriarty tells the story through several viewpoints and does it so well that you can hardly put down this book. Another absolutely mesmerizing read from Moriarty!
Me: I read this in one day. I mean, I love Moriarty's books. All of them, so far. She's perceptive, funny, and oh so real. With every book of hers I read, I just think how does she come up with this--these plots, these characters, everything? She's fantastic. Highly recommended.

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.
The story: William is a 12-year-old Chinese American boy in an Seattle orphanage who discovers that his mother is, in fact, still alive. Willow Frost, his long lost mother, is a Hollywood screen star. When the two finally connect, Willow tells William her tragic story, including why she had to give him up.
Me: Blah. This was our April book club's pick, and it was just not terribly engrossing. I loved Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this one just fell flat. It was terribly sad and stark, and yet I never really felt connected to any of the characters. We did end up having a lot to talk about at our book club meeting, but we all agreed that it was a hard book to get through.

The Tenth Circle by Jodie Picoult.
The story: Fourteen-year-old Trixie is the cherished daughter of stay-at-home Dad, Daniel, and professor mom, Laura. Everyone has secrets, of course, and when these are brought out into the open, their insulated world explodes.
Me: Just… so much drama. How much can possibly happen in one book? Nonetheless, I kept reading, even though, well, Alaska. How can a 14-year-old girl just catch a plane to Alaska and end up as part of a sled dog team? It's been a long time since I've read a Jodie Picoult novel, and it will probably be a long time until I read another one. But it was entertaining and really well written. The characters were great-- just way too much happened.

Saving Grace by Lee Smith
The story: Florida Grace is the narrator of the story. Her father, Pastor Virgil, is the fire-and-brimstone, charismatic leader of a snake-handling, signs-following church in Scrabble Creek, a mountain town in the Southern Appalachians. The family is dirt poor, relying on the goodness of the congregation mostly for food, shelter, and clothing. Florida Grace yearns to be just an ordinary kid, one without the baggage of snakes and signs and poverty. Eventually, disaster strikes and the family breaks apart, leaving Grace to find her way.
Me: I love snake-handling stories, I'll admit. I'm fascinated by the practice and the people who adhere to this belief system. Lee Smith is an absolute master of dialect and an incredibly storyteller. She knows Appalachia and avoids stereotypes, instead giving these characters rich, full inner lives. Highly recommended if you enjoy contemporary Southern literature.

Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Multiple re-read of a book I teach for my high school World Literature Class. Review here

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn McCrumb
The Story: Ellie Robbins is newly widowed, and the only way she can figure out how to survive is by taking over her husband's job—and being a woman sheriff in the 1930s in Appalachia is a hard sell. She manages to do it, nonetheless. Loosely interwoven with this story is another one of a marriage that did not end well. The two stories connect toward the end.
Me: Another bleh. I am a big fan of Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad novels; She Walks These Hills was incredible. But I actually desperately wanted to toss this novel aside unfinished. The only reason I kept reading was because I was intrigued by the beginning of the novel by a scene involving a strange mountain custom (the Dumb Supper). I kept thinking that we'd get back to that scene, but it was only loosely referred to again, and not convincingly at that.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Books Read in February

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
The story: Ellen, a professional hypnotherapist, is in a promising new relationship with Patrick, a widower with a little boy—and, she soon discovers, a stalker. His ex-girlfriend, Saskia, just can't resist watching Patrick's every move. She follows him to dinner, the movies, and even on vacation. She can't seem to stop herself, even though she knows she's acting crazy. Told both through Ellen's and Saskia's points of view, this is another can't-put-down novel from Moriarty. (Where does she come up with these plot lines, anyway?) Ellen is a wonderful character: honest and lovable, you can't help but want everything to turn out okay for her. Saskia is complex and scary, yet also so pitiful you can't help but sympathize with her.
Me: I love Liane Moriarty. Her books feel like guilty pleasures for me, but I don't know why I feel guilty. She's an incredible write with amazing insights, and the plot lines, as I've said, are phenomenal. 

Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris.
The story: Lily Bard is a young woman who is trying to erase her tragic past by living quietly and without forming relationships. But when she sees something suspiciously like a body being carted off to a nearby park, she can't help but look—and when she does, she discovers her landlord's corpse. As Lily tries to remain uninvolved in the murder, she becomes more and more involved with both the mystery and with the people around her.
Me: This is our book club pick for this month. I was extremely skeptical. I rarely enjoy pulp mysteries, especially ones that come in a series. But this one? I loved it. Harris is an excellent writer. She doesn't trip to be flippant, cute, or funny, which I think is what often irritates me about light mysteries. Lily is the opposite of a bumbling amateur detective. She's smart, strong, and complex. I found myself picking up the book and reading in the middle of the day, which I don't normally do because, well, real life. In fact, I loved this book so much that I've already checked out the second one in the series, Shakespeare's Champion, so that I can find out what happens to Lily next. Highly recommended! This is a very quick read at less than 200 pages.

Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris.
The story: This is #2 in series featuring Lily Bard in the tiny town of Shakespeare, Arkansas. I had to keep reading after #1 to find out what happens next in Lily's life, and I wasn't disappointed. You wonder how many murders could happen in a year in a tiny southern town, but somehow it all seems perfectly logical in a mystery book. This one deals largely with racial tensions, hate crimes, and small town life.
Me: This was another good little mystery. I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one. Lily wasn't as endearing and well developed in this one, but it was still a good read. I think my obsession with Lily Bard has probably worn its course after these two little books. I loved them, really;  but when the third one was available only in a format I don't like reading, I decided I just didn't care enough to pursue it. My book club friends assure me that #3 and #4 are excellent and that I should read them, so I may come back to them eventually.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
The story: Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu are four slave women from different plantations who meet one summer at a summer resort in the free state of Ohio. They are there because they are their masters' favorite mistresses ('wenches"), available all summer to their masters' whims and desires. They suffer constant abuse, humiliation, and mistreatment by their masters, yet these men are the fathers of their children. Each woman has her own struggles: jealous wives, fear for their children's futures, constant threat of violence, and, of course, being forced into slavery. It is in Ohio that they first hear of abolition and begin contemplate the possibility of freedom. They carefully observe free blacks at the resort and imagine a life in which their children are free. For three summers, the women meet and share their hopes and fears, and the possibility of freedom is always at the forefront of their minds. Should they try to run for freedom, or is the risk too great?
Me: This novel was enlightening to me, mostly because of the complicated relationships between slave women and their masters. I never considered that a slave woman might actually have feelings for her owner other than hatred. While three of the women are repulsed by their masters, Lizzie actually seems to love her master, Drayle, although she questions how she could possibly love a man who owns her. I don't think one could possibly read a novel about slavery that isn't tragic and heartwrenching, and this is no exception.  

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.
Multiple re-read for my literature class. I adore this book, and I always love doing my repurposed book pages with my class.
Here's my original review of the novel. I think it gets better every time I read it!


Friday, February 3, 2017

Books Read in January

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The story: Lucy Barton came from nothing. She was trash. Her parents abused her, neglected her. She made it out only because she stayed at school as long as possible each day to keep warm and safe, and, while doing so, did all her homework and landed a top scholarship. And then Lucy, a grown woman, is hospitalized for several weeks, and her mother comes to stay with her. They talk, sort of. They talk about other people but never about themselves. Lucy never asks the questions that burn inside her: why did we live like that? Who are you? Who am I? The only one she asks, finally, is “do you love me?”
Me: As a reader, we want to know the details: what exactly happened in that home? What happened to Lucy’s parents to make them so horrible? And yet, the hints of what happened are really enough. This is an incredibly introspective book about a woman who is so damaged that she can’t even come close to pinning down the causes of the damage. She lives on the edge of her childhood, balancing precariously in her adult life. The only way she can come to terms with her childhood is to write about it, and then to write about writing about it. If I sound vague, it’s because the story is vague, and yet strangely satisfying and intimate. It’s a story of prejudices and sacrifice, survival and identity, what we do to children, and what we choose to know. I love sweet, sad, lonely Lucy Barton.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
The story: The Miller family has lived in the valley for generations—200 years, in fact. But the state wants to buy up the houses in the valley and flood it to make a recreation area. This is Mimi Miller’s coming-of-age story. The novel begins as she’s a little girl, eavesdropping on her parents’ late-night conversations, watching her older brothers with admiration and adoration, for her brother Tommy. And the story progresses from there, as Mimi moves from an observer of life to a participant in life. Her family is full of people who don’t necessarily say what needs to be said but who love each other deeply. This is really just quite an ordinary story about an ordinary family. It’s a quiet, slow-paced novel with a powerful narrator.
Me: This was a long and winding road. Sometimes my attention wandered. But as the only girl with four older brothers, I understand Mimi so well. I understood perfectly how she was always watching people and how, even when she went out into her own life, she reverted to the role of little sister whenever she was with her family. I was interested particularly in the actual flooding of Miller’s Valley  because this happened around here with the TVA lakes—whole towns were covered. This aspect of the novel was not terribly gripping, however. In the end, I didn’t get the wistfulness I imagine feeling if my whole town was under water, although I did  like the image of all the secrets being washed away.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
The story: Carrie McClelland is an author of best-selling historical fiction novels, and her newest subject takes her to Slains Castle, scene of a failed attempt of James Stewart to return to his throne. Carrie rents a cottage by the sea and finds herself writing the novel obsessively, almost as if she were a witness to the events in 1708. She suspects that she's triggered some kind of ancestral memory. The story of her ancestor, Sophia, is intertwined with Carrie's own story.
Me: This was incredibly well written and fascinating! I read way too late into a few nights with this one.  Kearsley knows how to tell a story. I honestly have little idea of the historical accuracy of her novel, but other reviewers indicate that she's spot-on. I just loved her characters, the setting, the adventure, and the intrigue. This novel reminded me of how much I enjoy historical fiction, and also that I need to branch out beyond World War II. Highly recommended.

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
The story: Novalee Nation is 17, pregnant, and utterly alone in a tiny town in Oklahoma, after having been dumped at Walmart by her boyfriend. She has no money and no place to go, so she makes Walmart her home by night and the city her home by day. She meets a cast of loving characters who don't know her plight at first: Sister Husband, Moses Whitecotton, Lexie, and Forney, among others. When Novalee has her baby in Walmart in the middle of the night, she becomes an overnight sensation: headlines announce the amazing birth of her daughter, Americus. Sam Walton even visits her in the hospital. Sister Husband takes Novalee and Americus into her home, and Novalee, who saw herself as a piece of trash, soon finds that she is loved and admired by a whole village of lovely people.
Me: I loved this book. Sure, it's not a great work of literature, but it's fun, sweet, and full of optimism. There are a few hard scenes, but these add a dose of harsh reality into the novel. I read this many years ago and really didn't remember anything about it. It is our book club's pick for January, and I'm glad I had a chance to revisit it. I don't know if I've seen the movie or not, but I think we'll be watching it again after our book club meeting. Recommended as a most happy, optimistic read.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

To-Be-Read {2017}

*Indicates books added in 2017

41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
Alena by Rachel Pastan
*All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Americanah by Adichie.
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg.
Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
*At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told by Jody M. Roy, Ph.D.
*Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Bastards by Mary Anna King
*Becoming Curious by Casey Tygrett
Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield.
*Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (read and reviewed 2017)
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
Blood Work
by M Connelly
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet
*Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
*The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
China Dolls by Lisa See
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eye Ward
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry
Commoner by J.B. Schwarz
Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
A Country Doctor’s Casebook by R. MacDonald
*The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (read and reviewed 6/17)
The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale by Haim Sabato
Departed, The by K. Mackel
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by D. Gregory
Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (reviewed by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books)
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (The World As Home) by Janisse Ray.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Darie (reviewed at Maw Books)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Fatal Vision by J. McGinnis
Father, Mother, God: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse
*Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah (read and reviewed 6/17)
First Wife by Emily Barr (recommended by Fleur Fisher)
Flowers by D. Gilb
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by J. Lee
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Persico
Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
Ghost Map
by S. Jackson
Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes 
Ghost Writer, The by J. Harwood
*Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
The Girl in the Italian Bakery by Kenneth Tingle
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hava: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (reviewed by Gautami at Reading Room)
High House, The
by James Stoddard
*Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
by John Hershey
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
Hot Zone by R. Preston (reviewed by Semicolon)
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
*The House We Grew Up in by  Lisa Jewell (read and reviewed 6/17)
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
Human Cargo by C. Moorehead
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams.
*The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty (read and reviewed 2017)
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
*Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh
The Invention of Wings by  Sue Monk Kidd
Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas
by E. Southwark
Keeping the House by E. Baker
*The Known World
*The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (reviewed at Thoughts of Joy)
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
Leave it to Claire
by T. Bateman
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (reviewed by Literary Feline)
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (reviewed at Maw Books and Just a Reading Fool)
Liar’s Diary by P. Francis (reviewed by Semicolon)
Life Among Savages
by Shirley Jackson (reviewed at Dwell in Possibility)
Life Is So Good
by R. Glaubman
* The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian. 
Lila by Marianne Robinson
Little Altars Everywhere by R. Wells
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher
Living End by L. Samson
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Loving Frank by N. Horan
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy 
Mariner's Compass by E. Fowler
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Mercy Falls by WK Krueger
*Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen (read and reviewed 1/17)
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Minding the South by J. Reed
*Mink River by Brian Doyle
Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
*My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (read and reviewed 6/17)
*The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
*The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
* The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
The Plague of Doves  by Louise Erdrich.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)
A Pool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon (reviewed at Missy's Book Nook)
Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Quaker Summer
by Lisa Samson
Quilter’s Apprentice
by J. Chiaverini
A Quilt for Christmas  by Sandra Dallas
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Reading Lolita in Tehran by
Azar Nafisi
Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson (Reviewed at Reading to Know)
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
The Rest of the Story by Phan Thi Kim Phuc.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books by Lynne Schwartz (reviewed on Shelf Life)
by Shactman
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens
Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
Same Kind of Different As Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by Stray Thoughts)
*Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
Saving Levi Left to Die
by Lisa Bently
 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
*The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
*Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
Slaves, Women andHomosexuals by William J. Webb
 So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (reviewed at Polishing Mud Balls)
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf (reviewed at Maw Books)
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren (reviewed by Book Club Classics)
Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Donna Partow
*The Spy by Paolo Coehlo
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner:
Stillwater by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
*The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (reviewed by CaribousMom)
by M. Cabon
Teahouse Fire, The
by Ellis Avery
Stones Cry Out
by M Szymusiak
*Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)
There Are No Children Here
by A. Kotlowitz
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li
The Threadbare Heart
by Jenny Nash (reviewed at Maw Books)
Three Cups of Tea
by G. Mortenson
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver
*Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Time Between by Mary Duenas
To My Senses by A. Weis (reviewed by J. Kaye)
Tomorrow, the River by D. Gray
Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
by D. Hari (reviewed by CaribousMom and Maw Books)
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
*Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera
* Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott
Uprising by Margaret Haddix (reviewed by Semicolon)
Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (reviewed by Book Zombie)
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Well and the Mine, The by Gin Phillips (reviewed by Semicolon)
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (read and reviewed 2/17)
What I Though I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
What Is What by D. Eggers (reviewed at Maw Books)
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Reviewed at Big A, Little A)
When I Lay My Isaac Down by C. Kent
When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewalt
Wherever you Go by Joan Leegant (reviewed by Bibliophiliac)
Whistling in the Dark by L. Kagen
Who Killed My Daughter by Lois Duncan (Reviewed at Nonfiction Lover)
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
*Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (read and reviewed 1/17)
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Winter Walk
by L. Cox
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (recommended at Rebecca Reads)
Women of the Silk by G. Tsuriyama
Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs (reviewed by Andi Lit)
Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes  

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 in Review

I read 48 books in 2016—17 more than I did in 2015! I feel like I'm back on track with my reading. This was a terrific year in books. I probably have way more than 10 favorites, but I'll try to narrow the list down:

Top 10 Books Read in 2016

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
Inside the O'Briens (Lisa Genova)*****
Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Rachel Joyce)
Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)
Nightingale, The (Kristen Hannah)
Ordinary Grace (William Kent Krueger)
Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)
Burgess Boys (Elizabeth Strout)
Commonwealth (Ann Patchett)

I'm having a lot of trouble picking my favorite book of the year, but I think I'm going to have to go with All the Light We Cannot See. But really, all the books in my Top 10 were incredible!

Book Club Review

One of the books on my Top 10 list was a book club book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), and four of them were books that didn't make this year's book club list! Other book club reads this year were:
Day the World Came to Town (Jim DeFede)***
Death at Wentwater Court (Carola Dunn)*
Geography of Genius (Eric Weiner)****
Lake House (Kate Morton)****
Learning to Swim (Sarah Henry)***
Me Before You (JoJo Moyes)****
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)**
War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Bradley(***)
Wild (Cheryl Strayed)****
World War Z (Max Brooks)**

TBR List 
I apparently only crossed off 11 books on my TBR list… although I probably didn't add very many this year. I've been adding more in Goodreads and forgetting to add to my blog's TBR. I also pin a lot of new titles on my "I Cannot Live Without Books" board on Pinterest. I have a huge stack of books that I bought over Christmas break at used book stores/thrift stores, but I've mostly been reading on my Kindle whatever TBR books are available on the E-Reads program from our library.

I liked how I reviewed books each month in 2016 rather than reviewing each book. I felt less stressed about getting reviews done. I set a goal of reading 50 books this year, and I'd like to add a few more nonfiction titles in this year. I think I only read a couple of nonfiction last year.

The Whole List
Below are all the books I read this year. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--absolutely must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Books Read in December

Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
The story: This is Strayed's memoir about "finding herself" on the Pacific Coast Trail. Strayed was a recently divorced woman in her mid-20s whose mother/best friend had died a few year earlier, completely unhinging Strayed. She found herself in a dangerous cycle of sex and drugs and decided to free herself by backpacking the trail. The memoir details her life before the trail and then her hike itself, including the cast of characters she meets along the trail.
Me: I've had this on my reading list forever and am grateful that it was picked as one of my book club's alternate reads for this year. I really loved it. Strayed wasn't exactly a likeable or even necessarily relatable person to my 50-year-old self, although I am sure my mid-20s self would have said something entirely different. Regardless, I am totally jealous of Strayed and her amazing journey. To think that she set out on this journey with so little knowledge of the how-to's of backpacking, without ever even taking a practice hike-- that just amazes me. I'm so proud of myself when I finish an 8-mile hike! She has utterly inspired me to set some major hiking goals and to really test my own abilities. Also, she's a great writer. I loved her anecdotes and her candid, no-holding-back style. Highly recommended, although there is a lot of language and sex.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.
The story: A nurse trained by Florence Nightingale herself is hired to be part of a 24-hour watch on a young girl who might just a the newest miracle in her tiny Irish village. Anna is a wonder, and people are coming from far to pay her homage. She hasn't eaten in 4 months, existing only on "manna from Heaven." Nurse Libby Wright's job is to verify that Anna indeed isn't eating: is someone sneaking food to her, or is she truly one of God's chosen?
Me: Donoghue's Room was absolutely stunning, so I was super excited to read The Wonder. I was initially surprised by how utterly different this novel was from Room—the subject matter, the setting, the characters. The first part of the novel was extremely slow moving and even rather repetitive. I honestly was a little confused by what was happening, but I think  that had to do mostly with my lack of focus and initial interest in the topic. But the second part of the book picked up and I was excited about reading it as the characters became more fleshed out. I ended up enjoying the novel but it definitely wasn't a favorite of the year.

The Husband's Secret by Leane Moriarty
The story: One morning Cecilia Fitzpatrick, owner of a perfect life, finds a letter from her husband to be read after his death. She can't get the letter out of her mind but promises her husband she won't read it. In another household, Tess is blindsided by her husband and her best friend/cousin by the announcement that they have fallen in love with each other. She takes her little boy and heads to her mom's, enrolling her son in the same school where Cecelia's own children go. And Rachel is an older woman who had the unthinkable happen to her nearly 30 years ago: her teenage daughter was murdered and the killer never found. Their stories all come together ultimately in a way I didn't see coming at all.
Me: I loved this book! I read it over the course of a day (yay for holidays!) and was completely satisfied upon finishing it. The characters are wonderfully rich and relatable; their stories were compelling enough on their own, but put together—wow! I was completely wrapped up in the novel and really hardly came up for air. It's not a happy book but so worth reading. Highly recommended.

Books Read in November

 The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The story: Beatrice's father has recently passed away, leaving her—a well-educated, well-traveled young woman— to fend for herself in pre-World War I England. She is hired as the first woman teacher in a village school and taken under the wing of the Kents, an influential family in the village. In her first year there she experiences successes and losses as the country heads into war and refugees pour into the village. A self-proclaimed spinster, Beatrice also discovers that perhaps she isn't destined for a life of loneliness without her father.
Me: I liked this novel. I didn't love it nearly as much as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Simonson's debut novel, but I did really enjoy it. There is a mixture of innocence and a quest for knowledge in Beatrice, who is on the cusp of an old world, ready for the new one. And I love the historical context of the novel. Recommended.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion.
The story: This is the sequel to Simsion's The Rosie Project, the story of Don Tillman's "scientific" attempt to find a wife who fulfills his 16-page questionnaire. Don and Rosie have moved to NYC and are completely enjoying their new life together— until a series of misunderstandings and surprises nearly destroys their marriage.
Me: I liked this OK, although it didn't hold a candle to The Rosie Project. I think most of that has to do with the sheer enjoyment and surprise of Don's character in the first novel; by the sequel, we know Don and aren't as intrigued by his quirks. Still, this is a must-read if you loved The Rosie Project, and everyone should love The Rosie Project.

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.
This is a multiple re-read for me. I teach this whenever I teach World Literature, and I re-read whatever books I'm teaching right along with my students. I love this one—but it's never one of the students' favorites.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.
The story: An uninvited guest shows up at a christening party, and nothing will ever be the same again in the lives of the Keating family or the Cousins family. This novel spans fifty years, exploring the intertwined lives of the two families who are bound by blood, marriage, secrets, tragedies, and, most of all, the stories behind everything.
Me: Well, Ann Patchett is incredible. State of Wonder — wow! The Magician's Assistant and Bel Canto? AMAZING!! Patchett is consistently a powerful storyteller. How in the world does she come up with these incredibly diverse storylines? I have no idea—I'm just happy she does. Highly recommended!