Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Revisited Authors I Read in 2020

The prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is "New-to-Me Authors I read in 2020," but I'm going with authors I revisited in 2020—the other list would be much too long!

Here is everything I read in 2020. The authors below are repeat authors; the rest on the list were new-to-me!

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline: I've also read Sweet Water, Desire Lines, A Piece of the WorldThe Way Life Should Be, and, of course, Orphan Train. I was surprised to peruse my blog and see how many books of Kline's I have read and enjoyed!

Persuasion by Jane Austen: A re-read for book club. I've also read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

The Bean Trees
by Barbara Kingsolver: Re-read for another book club. I've read lots of Kingsolver: The Lacuna,  The Poisonwood Bible (three times), Pigs in Heaven, Prodigal Summer, Animal Dreams. There are several I have yet to read and need to add to my TBR list.

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick. I'd previously read The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and loved it. The Library of Lost and Found is on my library wait list.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. I've also read Before We Were Yours.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver. I've read many collections of Oliver's poems, including Devotions, A Thousand Mornings, Why I Wake Early, and New and Selected Poems.

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. I'm not sure there is anything by Anne Tyler I haven't read, beginning with The Accidental Tourist when I was 22, right after graduating from college. I've devoured every one of her books since then.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Multiple re-read.

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica. I've also read The Good Girl and Every Last Lie.

You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart. I read her Little Broken Things in 2019.

Linked up with Top Ten Tuesday at That Artsy Reader Girl

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To

This week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is "Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To." I added dozens and dozens of books to my TBR shelf last year, but here are a few that I'm extra anxious to read:

First, there are two books I still need to finish reading from last year: Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. They are both incredible books: enlightening, educational, shocking, horrifying and so important. But I had to get Stamped back to the library before finishing, and Randy and I are working through Saad's book together. Whenever we drive an hour or more to go hiking, we read a chapter of the book and discuss it. Sometimes our adult kids have been with us, and that's made for some excellent discussions.

Looking back at the books I added last year, these are the 10 that really jumped out at me:


The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein: "Essential… Rothstein persuasively debunks many contemporary myths about racial discrimination…. Only when Americans learn a common―and accurate―history of our nation’s racial divisions, he contends, will we then be able to consider steps to fulfill our legal and moral obligations. For the rest of us, still trying to work past 40 years of misinformation, there might not be a better place to start than Rothstein’s book." - Rachel M. Cohen, Slate

His Other Life: Searching for My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams by Melanie McCabe: "When Melanie McCabe's father died in 1973, she learned a startling truth about his life before he settled into a quiet suburban existence. Terrence McCabe had been married before; his first wife, Hazel, was Tennessee Williams' childhood sweetheart; and Williams wrote characters based on both of them, and their marriage, into his plays. As an adult, Melanie set off to discover the real story behind her father's former life, enlisting help from librarians, amateur genealogists, and Tennessee Williams' own writings to fill in the blanks. At the center of the investigation is the perplexing death of Hazel, who died at age 38 while living in Mexico City. Was it suicide? Was it an accident? And who was the unknown man with her when she died? Part memoir, part love story, part gripping mystery... "

A Promised Land by Barack Obama: I gave this to Randy for Christmas, and he's loving it.  Michelle Obama's Becoming was one of my favorite books last year, and I know President Obama's will be amazing, too!

A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America's First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper. This is my book club pick for this coming year: "The moving true story of a group of young men growing up on Chicago's West side who form the first all-black high school rowing team in the nation, and in doing so not only transform a sport, but their lives." I'm looking forward to the book and the movie!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: "Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed."

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: "A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup."

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister: "A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety, and her life." (I was excited to see this one is free with Kindle Unlimited, so it's on my Kindle now.)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: Going to Anne Patchett's independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, with my daughter and son-in-law was one of the last outings I had last year, back when "coronavirus" was a distant thing in faraway China....
My girl at Parnassus Books, when COVID was not part of our daily vocab

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: “American Dirt is a literary novel with nuanced character development and arresting language; yet, its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale. Its most profound achievement, though, is something I never could’ve been told…American Dirt is the novel that, for me, nails what it’s like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment.” (Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air). Also, Cummins is my maiden name, so I feel particularly drawn to this one. ;)

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I think I'm about #435 on the waiting list at the library for this one, so clearly there is a reason it's on the NYT Top 20 list. Like everyone else I loved A Man Called Ove, so I'll wait patiently for my turn to read Backman's newest!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley. "The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body" ... This one sounds deliciously suspenseful and gets great reviews. I've got a while to wait: I'm #68 on the library's waiting list.

What's on your list? Have you read any of these?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reading (and Other) Resolutions/Hopes for a New Year

Resolutions/Hopes for 2021 

1. Finish all the half-read books started in 2019 and 2020.

2. Keep up with writing a review of every single book I read this year.

3. Re-read two classics. I think my choices will be: Richard Llewelyn's How Green Was My Valley and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. It's been 30 years since I have read either of those. How will my perspective differ in my 50s than in my 20s? Will I still consider them two of my favorites books ever?

4. Memorize a poem. When Randy and I are hiking, we often quote fragments of poetry and immediately say, "I wish I could recite a whole poem!" My parents, who grew up in a generation where memorization was emphasized, can both recite—in their 90s— at least a few poems in their entirety. I so wish I could do this! I think I will choose Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things."

5. Read all the books for book club—on time. Our book club has been really sporadic and disorganized since COVID hit. I hope we get our feet back on the ground and find a regular meeting time again!

6. Read at least two autobiographies or memoirs. I loved the ones I read lats year: Michelle Obama's Becoming, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, and Carole King's Natural Woman. Suggestions welcome!

7. Blog more! I'm doing better here at my reading blog; now I need to be more consistent with SmallWorld at Home! I love link-ups, so suggestions for "regular" blog link-ups are appreciated.

8. Carve out more time for reading. I primarily read my pleasure book (as opposed to newspaper articles and work-related materials) only at night, as part of my going-to-sleep ritual. I'd like to dedicate an hour each day to reading for pleasure.

9. Have more gatherings. Some of this is wishful thinking, imagining that day when we can have indoor parties again, but in the meantime, I'd love to have a a few friends over to sit around the bonfire every couple of weeks instead of just now and then.

10. Keep participating in the book blogging community regularly!

Linked up with Top Ten Tuesday at Artsy Reader Girl

Monday, January 11, 2021

It's Monday! What are you reading?

 I'm currently reading two books over here: one nonfiction, one fiction — one published, one not published.... yet!

The first is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I'm not quite halfway through this absolutely essential book. I say "essential" because I think everyone should read this, especially all Americans. As Wilkerson writes, 

Americans are loath to talk about enslavement in part because what little we know about it goes against our perception of our country as a just and enlightened nation, a beacon of democracy for the world. Slavery is commonly dismissed as a “sad, dark chapter” in the country’s history. It is as if the greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves, the better to stave off the guilt or shame it induces. But in the same way that individuals cannot move forward, become whole and healthy, unless they examine the domestic violence they witnessed as children or the alcoholism that runs in their family, the country cannot become whole until it confronts what was not a chapter in its history, but the basis of its economic and social order. For a quarter millennium, slavery was the country.

Wilkerson is a fantastic writer, and while this is an emotionally difficult read, her writing style is engaging and inviting as she explores the caste system that has shaped America. I'm reading this one slowly and taking a lot of notes. 

The second book I'm reading, also slowly, is my brother-in-law's manuscript. He's written the first and second in the series so far, and I can't wait to see them on the shelves! He's an excellent writer, and although this particular genre (mystery/amateur investigator/humor) isn't one I gravitate toward, I am thoroughly enjoying the novel. I'm also enjoying the process of working with him as a Beta reader.

That's it for now! I'll probably be working through both of these all week, maybe finishing by the weekend. I'll be choosing something rather light then! 

Linked up with It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? — a place to meet up and share what you have been, and are about to be reading over the week. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Anticipating in 2021...

Perusing the lists of new releases for the first half of 2021 made me want to forego all my daily tasks and just read. I mean, basically, that's what I want to do all day, every day. Here are some of the new releases I am looking forward to most.

Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott: I adore Lamott and look forward to pondering some of the big questions through her thoughtful, wise, and witty lens. 

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri never disappoints. The book's premise is intriguing to me, with a theme of solitude and isolation. I have a feeling I might have to be in a certain mood to really dive into this one.

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders. Through short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, writer and Syracuse University professor explores what makes great short stories work. This is a perfect one for my writing life! 

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.  This debut novel sounds part thriller, part social commentary. I'm probably most excited about this one!

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. If this one is as fantastic as The Great Alone and The Nightingale, I know I'll be in for an epic journey—this time in Texas during the Great Depression.

The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin. 1888 in the Dakota Territory: a freak blizzard comes without warning just as school is dismissing for the day. I have this one downloaded on my Kindle already and can't wait to read it! 

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson. I'm about 50/50 with Jackson: sometimes I love her, sometimes I want to throw the book across the room. This one sounds like it could go either way: a rags-to-riches story, a mother who will do anything to protect her child, a witch in the window.... We'll see!

Caul Baby by Morgan Jenkins. This debut novel sounds fresh, unique, and full of mystery. I'm looking forward to reading Hallow's story already!

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier. I do love thrillers mixed in with my heavier reads! Listening to true crime podcasts are one of my guilty pleasures, and this novel dives into the world of crime within a crime podcaster's own life. 

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. A new telling of the triangle of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, and Bertha, the wife in the attic? Yes, please. My favorite classic novel as a psychological thriller in 2021. Can't wait!


A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson. I loved Lawson's Crow Lake; she is a wonderful storyteller and a master at crafting beautiful prose. This one sounds like a journey into the heart of a family, from crisis to redemption.

What are you most looking forward to? I'm looking forward to seeing what others are anticipating on Top Ten Tuesday at Artsy Reader. I'm sure I'll be adding more to my list!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Books Read in 2020

 I read 60 books in 2020: 8 more than my goal of 52. I probably have the pandemic to thank for that, right? Here are the books and some comments about each collage.

This is a particularly good set of books! Some of my favorites of the year (a 4 or 5 star ratings on my Goodreads) are here: Dear Edward, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, The Gifted School, Stay, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Writers and Lovers, Defending Jacob, Your Perfect Year, and Between the World and Me. 
Persuasion and The Bean Trees were both re-reads, and both were for book clubs. Persuasion still bored me, and I still loved The Bean Trees. It's been 30 years since I read them! 
Prep was one of my least favorite books of the year. The main character was intriguing and I had high hopes for her, but ultimately....she just turned out to be self-absorbed and without any sort of growth. Pizza Girl was horrid. Unfortunately, it was the book I picked for book club for 2021, as it sounded rather fluffly and fun! I have already taken it off the list, begging my fellow clubbers not to read it. 

This collage has more of my favorites and a few I did not like at all. The Silent Patient, March, The Other Wes Moore, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Vanishing Half, The Islanders, and The Silent Treatment all garnered 4 or 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I also really liked The Operator and found Carole King's autobiography fascinating.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Messy Grace, and the Lager Queen of Minnesota were three of the five worst books of the year for various reasons. Death Cleaning was actually interesting, but it was a terrible book to read in the midst of a pandemic. Also, one of our best friends had just passed away as I was listening to the audiobook, and it really just made me cry a lot.

And this last collage is full of wonderful memories! These are actually the first 20 books I read of the year, pre-pandemic. Remember those days? I loved Dear Mrs. Bird, This Is How It Always Is, Matchmaking for Beginners, The Sweeney Sisters, and Southernmost. 

Becoming, Just Mercy, and Born to Run were my favorite nonfiction books of the year. Oh man. I loved each of those so much!

Things Fall Apart was a re-read for me. I used to teach this in high school literature classes and decided to re-read it, as my college sophomore was reading it for a class. What an amazing book!

I really disliked Mrs. Everything. I don't remember much about it except that way too much happened. Snow took a long, long time for me to plow through. It was a book club choice, and I think we all agreed that we wish we had understood it better. The prose was beautiful, but the topic was difficult and the history largely unfamiliar to us. Dear Mrs. Bird and Courting Mr. Lincoln were also book club books. Heart in the Right Place may have been also, but I do not remember that one.

Here is my 2020 Top Reads List, although really, I could have added many more for fiction!

Top 10 Best Fiction:
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Becoming by Michelle Obama
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
March by John Lewis

Happy reading!