I have been busy compiling a list of books that I plan to read this spring.
This is a big number one for me. The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben. I LOVE Harlan Coben’s books. Every single one of them. I have read them all and would reread them all if I had the time. Harlan and I have a special relationship. I follow him on Instagram and one time I commented that the next time he is in Milwaukee he should contact me, I would take him for a brat and beer. He responded “there’s beer in Wisconsin?’ I felt pretty special. He’s kind of my middle aged crush.
Reese’s Book Club always has good recommendations. I have Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid already checked out and ready to start today. I have yet to read a book that Reese Witherspoon recommends that I don’t end up loving. She really has great taste in books.
The follow up to My Lovely Wife is He Started It by Samantha Downing. I am guessing her encore will be as disturbing and fun to read as My Lovely Wife. I can’t wait!
I have read rave reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I hope to read this one by June, but I am number 93 on the library hold list. This one might not happen until summer.
I am going to put The Institute by Stephen King back on the list. I never got to it in the winter, like I had planned. I have heard great things about it, but for some reason I just couldn’t find the inspiration to start it.
That’s my list. I love book recommendations, so please send them my way.
Below is a list of books that I read in the month of February. I am well on my way to achieving my goal of reading 110 book in 2020.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger – In a word, fantastic. This author has proven over and over again to be a master story teller. His books are always thoughtfully told with characters that the reader is meant to genuinely like. His last book Ordinary Grace is another that I would highly recommend. My mom gave me this book for Christmas because she did not want me to have to wait too long on the library hold list. Five stars for this book, without hesitation.
Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller – I read this one for my bookclub. It is a biography about Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon. It really gets into their role in the feminist movement, while telling their individual stories. I liked it, but there was about 150 pages in it that could have been edited out. I would give 4 stars.
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman – I had high hopes for this one. After reading her 2018 novel Something In The Water which was a nail biting, brilliant story, I was so excited to see she had something new. Meh. What a disappointment. She had such a great idea with this one, but it was rushed and the ending was really unsatisfying. Two stars, which really broke my heart. I know this author is capable of great novels.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – Everyone knows this story. It was ok at best. I am glad I read it, as it has been on my to read list for years. Three stars just because it’s a classic and his withstood the test of time.
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick – This book was on my 1000 Books To Read calendar, so I ordered it from my library. I had never heard of it before seeing it on that calendar. Mothers and daughters can be so complicated, this book proves that over and over again. This is Vivian’s story about her relationship with her mother. It made me happy that I have the mother that I have, because her’s was a piece of work. Four stars because anyone who came out of that childhood a productive citizen deserves a well reviewed book.
The Winter Sister by Megan Collins – This was another good mystery. It tells the story of Sylvie and her mother, 16 years after her sister’s murder. I had no idea who did it until about two pages before the reveal. This is another one with a pretty terrible mother, who the reader has very little sympathy for. Four stars for this one
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – Imagine the most annoying grammar police, times ten on Facebook and you have twins Laurel and Daphne. Their world is grammar and words, making them pretty insufferable to be around. This books tells their story up to the rift that causes them never to speak to each other again. This was an okay book, not great but certainly not terrible. Three stars.
I did not read nearly as many books in February as I normally do because Girls Like Us was so long, well over 500 pages with small print. March should be a better reading month for me, I have a lot on my list. What is on your list for books this year? I need recommendations.
I have compiled my list of books that I would like to read this winter. I came up with this list from a variety of sources including Goodreads, friend recommendations and my local newspaper book reviews.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger – I received this book for Christmas and was told by the giver that it was her favorite book of 2019. That is a pretty strong endorsement. I can’t wait to get started.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – I loved the The Handmaid’s Tale and have avoided watching the tv show. Given today’s political climate, the tv show feels a little too real. But, The Testaments won best 2019 fiction on Goodreads, so I will put it on my to read list.
The Call of the Wild by Jack Wolf by Jack London – This is the next book on my pile. I want to finish this in anticipation of the movie that will be released soon.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell – I have been on the waiting list for this one for months. I can always depend on Lisa Jewell to write a great mystery and is also an easy read.
The Institute by Stephen King – Another dependable author. I have read so many Stephen King books and know that I have not even scratched the surface of the great stories he has written.
That’s about it for planned reading. I like to keep my options open. Working in a library, I see so many great books come through circulation that I never knew existed.
Reading is without a doubt my favorite hobby. I can spend hours with a book in hand, ignoring the world around me. I have been like this since childhood. I remember many nights when I was supposed to be studying for a test and instead, I was quietly reading. My tests grades were often a reflection of my lack of preparation, but I did not care if I was in the middle of a good book. In fact, 7th grade earth science really took a hit when I was 12. So far, I have read 110 in books in 2019. I will likely add 1 or 2 more to that total, but I feel confident in my 2019 favorites and doubt that I will add to that this list. My list is not in any particular order, I had too many to consider favorites.
Becoming by Michelle Obama – Michelle Obama is an excellent writer. Her book sets the gold standard for autobiographies. I listened to this one and cried more than once. Her descriptions of loss are truly heartbreaking. Don’t go into this one thinking it’s about her husband’s rise in politics, it is not. This book is about her life. It made me miss the Obama presidency more than I thought possible.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – This is another autobiography. 2019 was the year of the autobiography for me. I have read a lot of them this year. Imagine taking a DNA test and finding out that everything you thought you knew about yourself was not true. For this author that is exactly what happened. In the age of at home DNA kits, this is becoming a reality for a lot of people. This one validated by position that somethings in life are best unknown.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – This book was released in 2018 but I read it in 2019. It was nearly impossible to get at the library for months, it’s that good. This tells the story of girl left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina. The descriptions of her natural world transport the reader.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing – This one puts a whole new spin on dysfunctional family. You know the author is talented at her craft when you find yourself hoping that these 2 truly terrible people will get away with their crimes.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This book won best historical fiction on Goodreads. It is written as an interview with the band members of Daisy Jones & The Six. I kept picturing Fleetwood Mac and the story behind Rumors when I was reading this one. It was an excellent read and rumor has it will be turned into a limited series, staring Elvis Presley’s granddaughter.
That is my list, I could have gone on. I know that there are at least 5 more books that I could have added as favorites, but it needs to end somewhere. I am really looking forward to what 2020 has to offer in the way of new books.
Last year I read the book Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shafer. It followed Barack Obama and Joe Biden while they tried to solve the mystery of the murder of Joe’s favorite Amtrak conductor. It was a ridiculous story in which after their time in the White House, Obama and Biden join forces to solve mysteries. It’s an absurd concept that works for me. I laughed out loud countless times during the first book, imagining the Joe Biden we know from the Biden memes that became so popular at the end of their term.
Hope Rides Again is the sequel to Hope Never Dies. In this story, Obama’s blackberry mysteriously disappears and Joe decides that he needs to solve the mystery of what happened to it. Over a 24 hour period, on the streets of Chicago, Biden and Obama not only try to find the blackberry, but they also try to solve the attempted murder of the presumed thief. Their adventures are hilarious and I think I laughed out loud on every page. The infamous tan suit makes an appearance in this book and Biden has a very strong opinion of Obama’s greatest scandal.
I love these books not because of great writing or because an important story needs to be told. I love these books because I miss Barack Obama and for a few hours, I can imagine that he and Biden are out there, somehow making the world a better place.
I recently finished The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda. The main character in this book, Jane, is a mother of 2. She recently lost her older daughter, Mary, and questions remain as to what happened. When the book begins, they are approaching the one year anniversary of Mary’s death. Jane has spent a year, heavily medicated, to get through the grief of losing who she believed was her perfect daughter. During that year, her husband has been working longer hours and her younger daughter, Betsy, is keeping secrets. The family appears to be falling apart and Jane has made it her mission to find out what is going on and what actually happened to Mary.
I don’t want to give any spoilers. But, I have read a lot of books that follow what I have mentioned before as being in the “Gone Girl” genre and this one definitely follows that same genre. As we all know, Amy was a certifiable lunatic in Gone Girl. Compared to Jane in The Favorite Daughter, Amy was actually very sane and normal. To say Jane is crazy, would be an understatement. While I had fun reading this book, I did have a hard time dealing with the true insanity of Jane, I can’t remember the last time I read a character that was crazy and so void of humanity. In a word, WOW!
The Favorite Daughter gives us a very fictional glimpse into the perfect, All American family living in Orange County California. The neighborhood that they live in is over the top idyllic and the people who live there are nothing more than characters. If this is what it is really like to live among the rich in California, I will continue to be happy in Midwestern America. No one seems real in the story, making it hard to actually care about the characters. That being said though, I did have fun reading the book and read it quickly. It is a very easy read and while the ending is very predictable, Jane is very transparent, the story will draw you in.
Don’t expect great literature with this one. I came across one very glaring mistake the author made while writing the book. Throughout the story she talks about all the years her girls were one year apart in school. However, when the oldest daughter goes to college, the younger daughter is starting her junior year of high school. This was, in my opinion, a major mistake that the editor missed. That set aside, expect to have fun reading it and know that the ending will be very satisfying. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. I would have given 3.5, with a half star for the fun factor if that was an option.
I recently finished the World War II drama Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein. This was one of those books that I started and had to promise myself that I would not stay up until 12:30 am reading. I did not fulfill that promise to myself and finished it in 2 nights, it was that good.
Set in Berlin in the 1930’s, best friends Ilse and Renate, have spent their childhood together. They share secrets and make promises to each other to remain best friends forever. As the Nazi party continues to strengthen in Germany, they find that maintaining their precious friendship is going to be impossible. Renate’s family reveals a secret that will make it impossible for her to sustain her lifestyle, her social connections and education.
After introducing Ilse and Renate, the book jumps to 1980’s New York City and the reader is introduced to Ilse’s daughter Ava. Ava was born at the start of WWII and never knew who her father was and never knew why she was surrendered to an orphanage as a young child, only to be retreived by her mother years later. She spends her life begging her mother for answers, but receives nothing from Ilse. Finally, after years of estrangement from Ilse she receives a letter from Germany that includes the story of her mother’s life through a series of letters that her mother wrote over several decades to Renate. These letters explain to Ava why her mother was distant and cold during her childhood. It also explains the mystery of her father and those years in the orphanage. The answer is shocking.
I really liked this book for several reasons. I have read so many WWII books over the years. The events of 1940’s Europe provided endless material for historical fiction. Personally, I have always felt an obligation to read those stories so that I can understand why the holocaust happened and what drove millions of people to follow a madman blindly. In all honesty, I have been backing away from those books a little bit because they all seem to end in the same place, a death camp. While I know that was the story for millions of victims, it was not the story for all of Hitler’s victims. Make no mistake about it though, just because this story does not end in a death camp, that doesn’t make the outcome any less tragic. In the end, the brutality these families live through ends before they have to enter a death camp.
I realize that while this book was historical fiction, it also had the element of mystery and suspense. The big reveal is saved for the last few pages, which allowed the book to hold my attention until the very end. I kept asking myself, what is the secret? So many scenarios went through my mind, but honestly, I wasn’t prepared for the end. That is what makes a good story great!
I also appreciated that the author had the ability to make me really hate Ilse through almost the entire book. I mean, she is really portrayed as an awful woman. Her final letter allowed me to realize their was so much more to her. I can’t say I walked away feeling pity or sorry for her, or that I even liked her at the end. But, I ended the book understanding her a bit more.
I gave Wunderland 5 stars on Goodreads without hesitation.
In 2003 I went to an author lunch with a friend of mine. We went to a French restaurant on Lake Michigan and indulged in some truly delicious and memorable food. The author we saw was Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine. She was on a book tour promoting Gourmet magazine’s first cookbook. With the guidance of my dear friend Amy, I had only recently discovered that I appreciated foods that went beyond my midwestern roots. While I love a good casserole, I realized I also love salad with baked goat cheese, a perfectly roasted chicken or mushroom risotto. The world of food had been introduced to me.
Save Me the Plums, written by Ruth Reichl, tells the story of her years at Gourmet magazine as editor. It follows other books she has written, my favorite being Tender at the Bone. I highly recommend that one, the stories she tells about her mother are laugh out loud hilarious. Save Me the Plums gives the backstory to how she fell into such a great job, the politics of running a magazine, the personalities of the people she worked with and the ultimate dismantling of Gourmet magazine. I enjoyed the book, but it was not great, it had some flaws.
I found it hard to keep track of all the people. I understand that when you run a magazine, it is a team effort. But, there were just too many personalities to keep track of. I don’t know how she could have revised that aspect, but it was hard to follow. I also felt like she jumped over huge periods of time without a lot of detail. She goes from complaining about slumping sales, to bragging about robust sales very quickly without a lot of explanation as to why. That happened quite a few times throughout the book. It made it hard to follow. I was also disappointed in the ending. She devoted very little to explaining how and why the magazine came to an end. It felt like she purposely skipped a few facts?
That being said, having met her, she came across as a genuinely warm and kind person. I loved the stories about her interactions with her son. It made the story seem more genuine. She talks about the relationship with her husband, they come across as a happy couple. She talked about the tense relationship she had with her mother and her fondness for her father. Again, all things that made me like her, therefore, liking the book more than I would have had I not met her.
Save Me the Plums is an easy read, with some recipes included, which I plan on trying. I gave it 4, very reluctant stars, on Goodreads. I would recommend that if you want to read this, start with her first book and read them all first. By doing that, you will have a better idea of what happened in her life to bring her to the world of food.
Last night I finished the prequel to Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, Lost Roses. Like Lilac Girls, Lost Roses focuses on 3 women whose paths cross during pivotal points in world history. Lilac Girls took place during WWII and Lost Roses takes place during WWI and the Russian Revolution. I liked this book and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. In fact, I fall in the minority of people who did not like Lilac Girls. I like Lost Roses much more. I could tell that this was the author’s second novel. The writing is better in this one.
The characters are well developed with the loving families surrounding them. They all come from different backgrounds. The character, Eliza, is American. Sophya is a relative to the Russian tsar and Varinka is a Russian peasant. It is hard to imagine how these 3 will cross paths, but they do and the story is fascinating.
I personally love novels that take place in Europe, especially early 20th century Europe. There was so much social and political change going on at that time, it provides a never ending supply of fascinating novels.
That all being said, I had a couple issues with the book. These characters were not always likable. Varinka was actually pretty horrible through most of the book. Her back story gives an excellent explanation as to why. But, it didn’t make it hard to truly dislike her. I didn’t care too much if she survived the revolution. Sophya was a very likable character. However, she was part of the tsar’s family and given what we all know about how the tsar treated the majority of Russians, I believed that it was appropriate for her family to be forced back to reality. They were in the end and she endured. Eliza, the American, for the most part was a likable character. But, her interactions with her mother and daughter often left me wondering how they were able to put up with her. She was also very spoiled and had very high expectations of what she be given. She came across as more spoiled than the Sophya.
The story had a happy ending and they were able to go forward with their lives, no matter how different they were pre war. This will be a great, easy summer read
I think it is safe to say that 2019 is going to prove to be a great year for fiction. I recently finished My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing. In a word, WOW! It is, in my opinion, as good as Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Just a completely different genre of fiction.
In 2012, Gillian Flynn released Gone Girl. I think almost all of my friends read that book. Since that time, it feels like every author is trying to write the new Gone Girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love almost every single one of those books. I love a good mystery, no matter how predictable they have become. But, the key word there is predictable, we all know how they are going to end.
My Lovely Wife, in my opinion finally broke that mold. The summary claims this to be Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith. That description is semi accurate, but so much more. It’s the story of a couple who have decided to add a bit of excitement to their marriage. They are both certifiably crazy, you just don’t know until the end who is actually crazier. The author does such a good job of character development, that I found myself almost hoping that they wouldn’t get caught. That is until the end, then I did want one of them to get caught and wanted the other to walk away. I was not disappointed by the ending and did not see it coming. This is a great one for a day at the beach or in your hammock. Just leave enough time to read it in a couple of sittings, it is hard to put down.
I don’t want to give any spoilers so I will end here. If this book is any indication of what is coming in fiction for the second half of 2019, I better clear more time in my schedule for reading.