Saturday, December 31, 2016

* Top Ten (2016)

Top Ten Books of Past Years:

10.) Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

9.) Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

8.) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

7.) Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

6.) The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

5.) The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

4.) A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

3.) The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig

2.) All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

1.) The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

See all of the books that I read in 2016 on goodreads.  I read 58 total books this year and only missed by goal of 60 books by 2.  Pretty good considering how busy the year has been: started a director job at the library in October, finished my MLS in grad school, and we will be welcoming Baby Smith #2 at the end of February next year!!  

You can see what we're been up to here.  Isabelle and I have been busy reading and finishing her 1000 Books Before Kindergarten and I've also been attempting to make it to the Evening Book Club at the library every month.  

Happy Holidays!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

"At some point, the family you create is more important that the one you were born into."

This was an important novel that dealt with family relationships and cultural traditions.  Spanning across several decades, it looks at two different stories that are connected by a mother's decision and the love of a daughter that she will never know.  I really enjoyed learning about India and the novel's realistic conclusion.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg (audio)

"If you say something over and over again, it begins to lose it's meaning...Say anything enough times and it becomes gibberish."

This novel had an interesting premise and follows the storylines of several classmates as they attend their 40 year high school reunion.  Each had various expectation of the reunion and insight is given to their lives in the present and their experiences in high school.  A good reminder that some people change and others simply can't or choose not to and that your experiences in high school do not have to define the rest of your life.  The novel was entertaining enough,  but I felt sorry for most of the characters and (with a few exceptions) didn't like most of them all that much.  I was glad that some of them were able to find happiness in the end.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart


I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did, but I could not put it down!!  It tells the story of three sheltered sisters whose lives are turned upside down when there buggy is hit by rich factory owner.  It wasn't the most well-written or insightful book I have ever read, but it was funny and addictive and I haven't been that excited to finish a story in a long time - and for that it gets 5 stars.  Full of wit, charm, and family secrets this provided a much needed change for all of the heavy novels I have been reading lately!!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (audio)

"The world spins.  We stumble on.  It is enough."

This was one of the most interesting novels that I had read in a long time.  Filled with interwoven story lines, it features a host of unique characters and powerful insight to the connects that we make on a daily basis on how they effect our lives.  I very much enjoyed the audio version and the different narrators made the story even more intriguing. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

★★★ 1/2
"Fear is good.  In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves.  But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living.  Fear is our boon companion, but never our master."

This was a really unique and interesting story of a young girl's experience growing up in Moloka'i - an island in Hawaii where those diagnosed with leprosy were sent in the late 1800s.  Rachel's story is tragic in so many ways, yet she finds a new live in Moloka'i and is able to create a future for herself.  The writing was so-so, but I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel and all of the characters that were able to find hope in the midst of a horrible disease.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

★★★★ 1/2
"Don't be afraid.  There's the two of us now."

I don't know what to say about this book that hasn't been said before, but I FINALLY was able to get through the first 100+ pages and finished it.  I guess I shouldn't try to read such a huge book right before I have a baby or start a new job or be in the middle of grad school, but those things keep happening lately and I honestly had to start this book at least three times.  I knew it I would love it once I did - and I was right.  A perfect mix of history and romance and - time travel.  Didn't see how that combination could possibly work, but it did.  I would love to read the rest of the series...someday.  But for now I am very excited to FINALLY be able to watch the TV show!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (audio)

"People said Ove saw the world in black and white.  But she was color.  All the color he had."

A charming story about a man called Ove after he loses his wife to cancer.  I loved Ove's unique character and his simple view on the world  I enjoyed seeing how he developed over the course of the story, especially his friendship with his neighbors and relationship with his wife.  This novel was full of heart and humor and I loved all of the quirky scenes and people that came in and out of Ove's life and we learn about his past.  I had some issues with the general premise, but it was generally an enjoyable book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

★★★ 1/2
"The readers are in love with shipwrecks and terrible disasters.  And they make it sound very tragic...but also...wonderful.  I don't know how they do it."

This novel tells the story of Anne Shirley before we meet her in the Anne of Green Gables books.  I grew up reading the first books and some others and loved the character of Anne!!  It was interesting to think about what Anne's life might have been like - as it wasn't really discussed in great detail in the original books.  It was filled with tragic circumstances, but had a lot of hope as well.  I read the first novel to my almost two-year-old daughter when she was a few months old and plan to read the other books in the series someday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

"In the end, the details weren't about beauty or status.  They never had been, for me.  They were about feeling at home in the world.  And Joan hated these details."

A wonderful story about friendship between two women and the challenges they face living very different lifestyles in the 1950s.  I really enjoyed the setting and historical aspects of the story - even though I didn't always like that characters, but they were well-written and interesting.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sharp Object by Gillian Flynn (audio)

"The face you give the world tells the world how to treat you."

Another quick-paced and suspenseful novel from Gillian Flynn.  Filled with interest twists and one dark story after another, this story explores shocking family relationships and flawed characters.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Three Sisters, Three Queen by Philippa Gregory


Another entertaining historical fiction novel from Philippa Gregory - I don't think I've missed a single one of her books since I started reading them several years ago.  I'll admit, many of them have started blending together, but I still enjoy them.  This novel tells the stories of three different queens: Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tutor, Queen of France, and  Margaret Tutor.  Gregory has touched on these women in various degrees in her previous novels, but this gave a new perspective of no only their individual lives, but the connects that they had with one another.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling

"Those we love never truly leave us, Harry.  There are things that death cannot touch."

After growing up with Harry Potter and reading the novels more time that I'd like to admit, I had mixed feelings about a "new" Harry Potter book coming out after all these years.  While it wasn't the same as reading the original books, I did enjoy this one.  I think the aspect that I missed the most was the descriptive characters and magical world that J. K. Rowling created.  This was a screen play and a different format entirely, and I felt like some of the magic that I have grown to love from the books didn't come across.  It was really interesting to see Harry and his friends grown up and having children of their own and I loved the scenes from the original books that were revisited.  And, of course, I would love to see this brought to live on stage!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (audio)

"They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense.  But now I knew that every mad word was true."

This was a unique combination of mythology and a retelling of the classic fairytale, Beauty and the Beast.  I have read several "retellings" over the past year or so and this one was one of the best that I have read in awhile.  It was filled with so many unique and unexpected aspects and had me hooked from the very beginning.  I loved the description of both the characters and the world that the author created.  I'm still not sure how I felt about the ending, but I very much enjoyed the book none the less.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

"Push yourself.  Don't settle.  Just live well.  Just LIVE."

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time - especially over the past few months with the sequel and then the movie coming out.  I enjoyed this book.  It was modern and centered on an unlikely romance between the two main characters.  The characters were perfectly written - I loved them and hated them at the same time.  They were quirky and a little crazy, must mostly real.  I kept hoping that ending would be different than I thought, but I knew it wasn't.  And of course I cried at the end, even though I told myself I wasn't going to.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin (audio)

★★★★ 1/2
"Never would I allow my size to define me.  Instead I would define it."

I wonderfully written and unique story about Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump - the women who would one day become Mrs. Tom Thumb.  I loved everything about this story: the descriptive setting, the interesting characters, and the extraordinary storyline of a women who would have a life beyond anything that her family dreamt of for her.  A novel full of heart, tragedy, and passion.  I have loved everything that I have read by Melanie Benjamin this year and this novel was no different.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)

★★★★ 1/2
"Don't waste your energy on hate.  That will kill you sure as anything."

Another wonderfully written novel focusing on the events of World War II.  I enjoyed the unique perspective of an all-women concentration camp and different point of views.  This novel tells the story of three women from very different backgrounds - a wealthy American women, a German doctor, and Polish political prisoner.  It was beautifully written, well-researched, and filled with memorable characters and powerful insight on a tragic part of the past.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

★★★ 1/2
"You could jump so much higher when you have somewhere safe to fall."

I couldn't wait to read this new book by Liane Moriarty - it didn't end up being anywhere nearly as good as her other two novels I read (Little Big Lies and the Husband's Secret), but I enjoyed it none the less.  A complex story of friendship, parenthood, relationships, and everything in between and what can happen when tragedy strikes.  I thought it took way too long to find out the tragic event that had happened, but the little girls provided a lot of entertainment and I enjoyed reading about all of the interwoven relationships between the characters.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Hurricane Sisters

★★ 1/2
"We were an imperfect family.  I knew that.  But at last we were on each other's side, dug in with a new and more profound commitment.  Our happiness was hard won, it was ours and I was determined to keep us whole."

This was the first book that I have read by Dorothea Benton Frank.  It was a decent, light read, but it didn't really go anywhere.  The characters all seemed sort of a like and I couldn't force myself to really like any of them.  I guess this book was exactly what I was expecting - a good beach read - but not much else.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

★★★★ 1/2
"Poor girls.  The world fattens them on the promise of love.  How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.  The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like 'sunset' and 'Paris.'  Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at this girlfriend on the bus."

It seems like I have been waiting forever to read this book!!! The writer's portrayal of fourteen-year-old Evie is precise and the insight into her young mind is beyond solid and one of the most realistic I have read in a very long time.  The language was beautiful and horrifying and gut-wrenchingly real.  I felt like I was in Evie's head the entire time and the general feeling of the book kept bringing me back to my teenage years.  The novel could have easily been classified as Young Adult if it wasn't for the very mature subject matter.  And that bring me to Evie's ultimate involvement in unspeakable crimes that I couldn't stop thinking about from the very first page.  She seemed so young to be caught up in a world completely unknown and foreign to her.  There was a part of me that didn't want to keep reading, but I couldn't put the book down.  A brilliant work of fiction by an amazing new author.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The House Girl by Tara Conklin (audio)

"Over the years she had learned to fold down rising emotion just as she would fold the clean bedsheets, the sheet growing smaller and tighter with each pass until all that remained of the wide wrinkled expanse of cotton was a heard closed-in square."

This debut historical-fiction novel by Tara Conklin intertwines two stories.  Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell is a slave on a failing tobacco farm in Virginia in 1852 and Lina Sparrow is a young lawyer in New York in 2004.  The two women are connected with Lina becomes involved in a class action lawsuit against slavery and beings to research Lina and her descendents.  It also comes to fact that Lina might have been a famous painter and that her art was passed off as having been created by her owner.

I enjoyed this story - especially that of Josephine in the 1850s.  I thought she was an extraordinary women that had to endure circumstances beyond her control.  I found myself losing focus a little when reading about Lina in present-day.  I really liked description of Josephine's artwork (and would have liked to see more development of this), but the lawsuit seemed out-of-place to me.  I felt like it was just placed there as an after thought to better connect the novel, but it felt a little disorganized and unrealistic.  Even so, I found myself fascinated with the book.  I loved the author's use of Josephine's thoughts in the beginning of the story and thought that the incorporation of letters and art critiques added a lot of interesting aspects to the novel.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (audio)

"Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time."

Cinderella meets sci-fi / cyborgs / Beijing in fairy-tale retelling and the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer.  I wanted to like this book more, but there was just too much going on and not enough development.  The main problem I had was with the characters - especially in Cinder, the main character.  Her actions seemed very inconsistent and I often thought her decisions were based more on adhering to the "Cinderella" storyline and were not realistic.  I kept hoping that she would develop more as a character, but she didn't.  I also would have liked to see more detail and history in the world that the author created.  I did, however, enjoy the author's creative take on a classic fairy-tale and was interested in where the book would go.  Overall, it was moderately entertaining and worked well as an audio book.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick


A year after Arthur's wife dies, he finds a mysterious charm bracelet in her closet.  Having never seen the bracelet before, he begin a search to find out not only about the charms, but about his wife's life before their marriage.  This book was fun, easy to read, and just plain "charming."  I loved going on Arthur's journey with him and really enjoyed how much he developed and changed through out the story.  It was so neat seeing him deal with the things that he learned about his wife and seeing him reconnect with his children and others in his life.  A great reminder not to take life's simple moments for granted!

Thank you so netgalley, Harlequin, and Phaedra Patrick for an ACR of this book!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (audio)

"Maybe that's what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place."

I liked this quirky and funny and highly original novel - it was just so much fun to read! Bernadette was such an interesting character, but ultimately it was her 15-year-old daughter Bee that won me over.  When Bee's mother disappears shortly before that family's scheduled trip to Antarctica, Bee is determined to find her.  The book consists of numerous documents including emails, letters, and secret corespondents leading to the story's dynamic ending.  The last half felt a little flat for me at times, but the novel had a lot of really great moments and I loved that it highlighted a charming mother-daughter relationship.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

★★★★ 1/2

Nearly every family has some sort of dysfunctional aspect, but the four sibling of the Plumb family seem to sum this up to a tee.  Each child was promised a large amount of money from the "Nest" - a trust fund established by there now deceased father that they will have access to after Melody's (the youngest) quickly approaching 40th birthday.  Theres Leo who made A LOT of money after he sold his Internet company and hasn't really done anything thing since.  Jack is a mostly failing antique dealer has borrowed one against his beach house that he share with his husband Walker to keep his shop running.  Once a semi-famous short story writer Bea is doing better than the other siblings, but she can't seem to finish her long overdue novel and is stuck at a dead-end job.  And then there's Melody - the mother of teenage twin girls and hoping to pay off their way-to-expensive-house and have money left over to send her daughters to college.  

This pretty much says it all:

"A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives."

This book started with a hand-job gone horribly wrong and ended with a family birthday celebration.  Between these event we go to know a cast of characters - both members of the Plumb family and others - that were all so different and yet all connected in various ways.  The book was narrated by each character at various points and I really enjoyed getting a glimpise into each ones mind - if only for a short while.  I loved the connections between the people in this novel.  I loved their ability to make horrible decisions without even trying and I enjoyed seeing each of them grow as the book progressed.

When I started this book, I went through various stages of slight and extreme dislike for most of the characters, but by the end I found myself really liking and caring about (most of) this crazy family and there various acquaintances.  This story and these characters seemed to go together and a way that I can't quite seem to describe.  Their lives in New York Society were so far beyond my comprehension, but I was still able to connect to the characters in different ways.

I completely agree what all the hype is about and I totally agree with all of it.  This book isn't for everybody and requires a certain mind-set, but it just worked on so many different angles.  The writing was fun and witty and the story was unique and interesting and extremely addicting.  My only complaint was that there were so many narrator's that I sometime had trouble keeping them straight.  I listened to audio book and there wasn't a lot of time between each narration change though so it probably wouldn't have been an issue if I had read the actual book.  But, even so, this book was so, so good and can't wait to see what else this author has for us in the future.  I haven't read a book like this in a long time and couldn't get enough of these characters and Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's brutal and realistic honesty.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Herbie's Big Adventure by Jennie Poh


Herbie is a little hedgehog who is more than fine just staying home, but one day his mother tells him he can go on his first forging trip by himself.  Herbie is a little worried, but soon finds himself liking the freedom of being able to explore the world outside of his home.  He travels farther and farther away, he suddenly finds himself in a snow covered area.  Will Herbie be able to make it home to him mom?

This is a great story about a very cute little hedgehog.  It teaches about the four season, exploring nature, and love between a mother and her baby.  The story was good, but my favorite aspect about this book was the beautifully colored illustrations and changed throughout the story.  I loved how Herbie and his surroundings really stood out on the page due to the color schemes that were used and the details were wonderful!!!

Thank you to netgally, Capstone, and Jennie Poh for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

The Storybook Knight by Helen Docherty

"Leo was a gentle knight in thought and word and deed.While other knights liked fighting, Leo liked to sit and read."

Leo is a young mouse from a family of knights - his parents expect him to grow up to fight dragons but Leo has other ideas.  He wants nothing more than to sit home and read book.  When a ferocious dragon is starts causing destruction to the town, Leo is sent off to save the day.  He meets a handful of creatures before finally facing the dragon.  He brings a sword and a shield, but his most helpful weapon is an arm-full of books! 

This is very cute story about a mouse who is a little different than everyone else.  Instead of knighthood, he wants to read books - and his reading ends up being what saves the town from the dragon.  'The Storybook Knight' has everything that makes a great picture books - bright illustrations, fun text, and a wonderful story.

Thank you to Netgalley. Jabberwocky, and Helen Docherty for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin (audio)

"A woman's life, always changing, accommodating, then shedding, old duties for new; one person's expectations for another until finally, victoriously, emerging stronger. Complete."

This is a fascinating historical novel about Anne Morrow - wife of the famous Charles Lindbergh and his record breaking journey across the Atlantic.  I didn't know much about the Lindberghs before reading this story - aside from what is "written in the history books" - and I learned a lot while at the same time reading an extremely entertaining book.  

I didn't always like Anne's decisions (and I disliked the author's portrayal of Charles more often than not), but I liked her character and found her life so interesting. They were a famous couple from the start of Charles's flight and their lives were affected by it. Anne continually tried to live a "normal" life and was constantly in the spotlight.  I was heartbroken by their loss of Charles, Jr. at such a young age and how it impacted both of them, especially Anne, throughout the rest of their lives.  

Anne seemed like such an ordinary person at the beginning of the novel, but she ended up living such an extraordinary live.  From the start of the book, I could tell that she was going to be a character that was different.  She wasn't as pretty or popular as her sister and didn't have any desire for fame or fortune.  The result of her marriage to Charles was not exactly what she wanted in life, but she tried and tried to make it work.  Anne was extremely loyal to Charles for many, many years at the start of their marriage and was always trying to live up to his unrealistic expectations.  

I found myself really relating to her constant struggle to balance her role to be a wife, a mother, an author, and (much later on in her life) her own person.  This novel was essentially about Anne and Charle's marriage, but it was more about Anne's journey through different stages of her life.  She was constantly adapting and changing into what her husband or children or the press wanted and needed her to be.  And she was successful through all of it.  She was always know as the "aviator's wife" and I was glad to get a glimpse into many other parts of her life.  I'm not sure how accurate the book was to her true thoughts and emotions, but I was happy that she was able to find contentment at a later stage in life.  This was a wonderful book by a very talented author.  I loved the story and the characters and the emotions that it brought up, but what made the book amazing for me was the writing and the historical aspects that went into this book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary


I loved reading Beverly Cleary's books when I was growing up and read this one to my daughter for the Kindred Spirits goodreads book group.  And it was during Beverly Cleary's 100th birthday celebration.  I love these books and how the author is accurately able to portray children in their daily lives.  I remember these characters being so easy to relate to and can't wait to read more of these books with Isabelle.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (audio)

"Who does ever get what they want?  It doesn't seem to happen to many of us if any at all.  It's always two people bumping into each other blindly, acting out old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings."

The premise of this book was unique - a widow asks her neighbor (who also lost his wife several years ago) to spend the night with him.  Not for romantic reasons, but so she can have someone to talk to and spend time with.  And so the two form a friendship that gets strong and stronger each night.  As they share their past with one another, they also find themselves more and more involved with each other's lives until they can't imagine not having one another.  The story is simple, but the writing and characters is what made this book brilliant.  It was touching and more than a little big sad at time, but it was also charming and sweet and wonderful.  The story of two people finding companion in the mostly unlikely of times in their lives.  And a story that grows with you as you turn each page.  I loved every bit of this amazing little book.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (audio)

"Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is is conscience.  There is no such thing as a collective conscious."

I have been meaning to read this book for quite sometime - I can't remember a book in recent memory that has gotten so much press and was interested to see what Harper Lee had waiting for us. Due to her huge success with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' I was always curious why she never wrote another book. Reading this book put a lot of things in perspective and I later found out that this was actually a very early manuscript for 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' I wouldn't say that I necessarily enjoyed this book as a whole, but I did enjoy certain aspects of it - such as Jean Louise booking back at her childhood and her feelings of being torn between her adult home and the home of her childhood. Overall, the book seemed a little disjointed and slow, but it was worth reading for it's historical aspects and connections to the previous book.  What kept me going was Reese Witherspoon as the narrator of the audio book version and I couldn't help being constantly reminded of 'Sweet Home Alabama.'

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (audio)

"But why, why, why can't people just say what they mean."

Don Tillman is a genetics professor in his late 30s.  His life is full of routines and he plans everything to the minute.  He has been on a few dates, but has so far not been very successful in relationships.  In fact, he has pretty much given up on them altogether.  But, when his friend comments that he would make a good husband, Don decides to start what he calls "The Wife Project."  He creates a test to weed out incompatible partners and feels that this will ultimately lead him to his "perfect wife."  Then he meets Rosie - who fails Don's questionnaire and is deemed complete unsuitable for him.  Rosie has a project of her own she needs help with and Don starts to wonder why he likes spending time with her even though she is in no way suited to be his wife.

I might be going against the norm on this one, but this book was just ok for me.  I found it really predictable and thought that it could have been better developed.  I generally wanted Don and Rosie to get together, but I didn't feel that crazy, emotional connection to the characters that I usually do.  I thought Don's life was really unique and interesting, but I had a hard time believing that he was able to change so many of his daily routines and rituals that he had had for years and years.  Being "in love" would not normally allow a person to change nearly every aspect of how a person acts and thinks.  These things are changeable, but they take time.  A lot of time.  Maybe I'm just being too picky, but I tend to over analyze behaviors like this. I didn't mind reading this book and some parts were charming and funny, but it felt a lot to me like a typical romantic-comedy movie - nice to watch at the time, but no something I will likely think about when it's over or watch again.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (audio)

★★★★ 1/2
"The New York of the plays, the movies, the books: the New York of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair and Vogue.  It was a beacon, a spire, a beacon on top of a spire.  A light, always glowing from afar, visible even from the cornfields of Iowa, the foothills of the Dakotas, the deserts of California.  The swamps of Louisiana.  Beckoning, always beckoning.  Summoning the discontented, seducing the dreamers.  Those whose blood ran too hot, and too quickly, causing them to look about at their placid families, their staid neighbors, the graves of their ancestors and say - I'm different.  I'm special.  I'm more.  They all come to New York."

In this wonderful novel, Melanie Benjamin portrays the story (and ultimate betrayal) between Truman Capote and his "swans" - famous New York socialites of the 1960s.  These women were basically well-known because of their marriage to rich and successful men.  There jobs were basically to look gorgeous, socialize with the right people, and spend lots and lots of their husband's money.  The favorite of Capote's swans was Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder Bill Paley and the story centers around her, but intertwines the story of the other women as well.

I did not know much about these people (or this time period) before reading this book, but Benjamin brought it to life with such energy and showed not only the glamour, but the ambition and loneness and betrayal as well.  These women's lives were so far from my comprehension, but I found them extremely intriguing.  I thought that the novel was not only beautiful written and well-research, but entertaining and addicting as well.  I read it in only a few days (which is rare for me at this point in my life) and cannot wait to go back and read the author's previous novels.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (audio)

★★★ 1/2
"Books are more than doctors, of course.  Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues.  And some...well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful voice.  Like a short, torrid love affair."

Monseiur Perdu owe a floating bookstore along the Seine - a bookstore that he has owed for years and years and one where he considers himself to be a "literary apothecary" where he prescribes books to his customers.  It's along the same lines as the "the perfect books for right person at the right time" moto that is seem in countless novels focusing on books or bookstores or libraries or whatever.  Even though Monseiur Perdu seems to be able to heal his patrons with a single volume, he cannot seem to fix himself.  We quickly find out that he is still in love with a women who left over twenty years ago and his life seems to be stuck and he can't get over the one true love of his life.

I enjoyed this book.  It had so many wonderful "bookish" quotes and details and I absolutly loved the idea of perscribing books for customers - a very similar line of giving library patrons that books that they need.  But Monseiur did it with such charm and in such a unique way.  Plus the book was set in Paris, which is always a major plus.  I really enjoyed the beginning, but once Monseiur started traveling, I found myself losing interest in the storyline.  I kept wanting to love the book, but the writing and overall shape of the novel just felt a little lacking to me.  The cover and the title were so charming that I I guess I was expecting something a little different from this book.  But I'm ultimately glad I read it and it was overall charming and entertaining.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro (audio)


Alizee Benoit is an American painter from France who is working on the WPA (Works Progress Administration) mural project in New York City when World War II breaks out.  Even though she is far away from the war, she worries constantly about the rest of her Jewish family living in German-occupied France.  As she tries to get visas for her family to come to the United States, she faces other personal and political obstacles.  And then she suddenly disappears and her family and friends never hear from her again.  

Seventy years later, her great-niece Danielle is still looking for answers.  Also an artist, Danielle finds a series of paints that she thinks may have been done Alizee.  Dealing with her own problems in her personal life, she connect with the story of her great-aunt and is determined to find the truth that she is looking for.

I have read a lot of books about World War II and the holocaust and am always surprised when I read one that looks at a new aspect of the war.  For this book, it was the obstacles that European refugees faces in order to obtain visas to immigrate to the United States.  I'm not sure how many of the details were completely accurate, but the author told an interesting and unique story of a women's struggle to save her family when she was 1,000s of miles away with essentially no power to do so.  I was struck by Alizee's families letters about the treatment of the Jewish people and their desperation to leave the country.  I also really liked the incorporation of art and the WPA and the story was very compelling.

The main reason I gave this book 4 instead of 5 stars was because it was way too predictable.  I figured out end of the story from pretty much the very beginning and there were a lot of details that seemed to fit too perfectly together in order to make the story to work.  I found myself rolling my eyes a few too many times (especially towards the end), but it was all-in-all a very enjoyable book.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

★★★ 1/2
"Her favorite summer memories were not of events themselves, of picnics, sea bathing, tennis afternoons and cricket matches, but of watching Hugh and Daniel enjoying them and locking into memory the delight in their faces and their open hearts."

This historical novel is set in Rye, a small town in East Sussex of England, in the year 1914.  It is, essentially, the "summer before the war" and everything is going as usual: Hugh Grange has returned for the summer from his medical studies to live with his Aunt Agatha and Uncle John.  His cousin Daniel is trying to publish his poetry.  The town is in the process of hiring a new Latin master.  And in the mist of everything, the country may be going to war.

And then Beatrice Nash arrives with her bicycle and crate of books and her free-thinking spirit soon takes the town by surprise.

I loved the author's first book, 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' and was looking forward to this one as well.  Unfortunately, this one just didn't work they way I expected it to.  The beginning had the same wonderful small-town charm of 'Major Pettigrew' and I loved the character of Beatrice, but then the novel started to go off in all different directions.  There were too many new characters introduced and I felt that the focus drew further and further away from Beatrice and Hugh.  The book dragged on and on and then the ending felt far too rushed and I found myself not caring as much about the characters as I should have.  

That being said, I still enjoyed a lot of aspects of the book.  I really liked the description of Rye and the feeling of pre-war England.  The Belgian refugees also added a very unique aspect to the books and created a lot of comparisons to later periods of history.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (audio)

"But it occurred to me, on occasion, that our memories of our loved ones might not be the point.  Maybe the point is their memories - all that they take away with them."

'A Spool of Blue Thread' is the second book that I have read by Anne Tyler (the first one being 'The Amateur Marriage' last month) and it will not be the last.  This was a wonderful book by an amazing author.  

The book tells the story of four generations of the Whitshank family.  There's Red and Abby and their four grown children and we slowly get to meet the rest of the family.  As details are revealed, the family becomes more complicated, but also more understandable.  I love how the story unfolded and we found out more and more about each character.  Anne Typer has a unique ability to incorporate of the everyday details into the realistic lives of her characters.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I absolutly loved it and didn't want it to end!!  It was the perfect combination of emotion and character development and I can't wait to read more from this author!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

American Housewives: Stories by Helen Ellis (audio)

★★★ 1/2
"I fix myself a hot chocolate because it is a gateway drug to reading."

I don't usually read a lot of short story collections, but I kept hearing about this one and it sounded interesting.  The stories usually entertaining and were filled with irony and humor.  Most of the  featured "housewives" were a bit overkill, but they did the trick and had me laughing more than a few times.  I also enjoyed the focus on literary and publishing themes.  Some of my favorite stories included "Hello! Welcome to Book Club," "How to Be a Patron of the Arts" and "My Novel is Brought You to By the Good People at Tampax."  

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig (audio)


I have to admit that it if wasn't for book club the month I probably never would have picked up this book.  This isn't normally the type of book I usually read.  I wasn't expecting to love it (or even like it all that much), but love it I did and it consumed my thoughts for the last couple of weeks.  Even when I wasn't reading it, I would find myself constantly thinking about the characters as I went through my day.  This is the kind of book that stays with you long after you turn the last page.  It was the tenth book in the author's Two Medicine Country series (none of which I have read), but the author provided enough background that wasn't lost starting towards the end of the series.

The Bartender's Tale is the story of a bartender and his son and the small town image where days went by a little bit slower and everything seemed a just a little less complicated.  The narrator is an older man named Rusty taking place sometime in the present.  He takes us back to the year of 1960 when he was twelve years old living with his father, Tom, as he ran Medicine Lodge, a small-town bar in Montana's Two Medicine Country.  Rusty's mother took off when he was a baby and, after spending his first six years with relatives in Arizona, he came to live with his father.  They live a simple life of having tomato soup for breakfast and fishing on Sundays.  Tom runs the bar while Rusty spends his time in the backroom reading and making paper airplane models.  But, this summer things are about to get a little more interesting.  The diner down the street gets new owners and their daughter, Zoey, becomes Rusty's new "partner in crime."  And then Proxy, a dance from Tom's past, shows up with her daughter Frances and everything Rusty thought he knew about his past is about to change.

This book was wonderful in every possible way.  I loved the description of small-town life in the 1930s.  The imagery and mood was spot-on and the author was able to capture it perfectly.  I loved the relationships between the characters.  Specifically between Rusty and his father, but also between Rusty and Zoey.  Rusty and Tom had such a unique relationship since there was not mother-figure involved.  Tom's love and concern for his son comes though on every page, even though he didn't always know how to handle a situation.  Even though Rusty was young, Tom confided in him and I could feel their mutual respect for one another.  They grew up with only each other and figuring things out as the came and as a team.  The dialogue was quirky and real and the audio version made this even more so.  I also loved the portal of the Rusty's age.  Looking back, twelve seems so young, but it's such as unique age where you feel like you own the world and are, at the same time, starting to see the world differently for the first time.  I so enjoyed Rusty's twelve-year-old perspective on the storyline, even though he was telling the story as an adult.  

The ending wasn't sad, but I found myself bawling after it was over.  I can only count on my hand the number of books that have made me cry.  It was a perfect way to end the story, but I grew to love these characters so much and wanted nothing more than to keep reading about their lives and dreams and interactions with each other.  I was sad to learn that the author had pasted away in April of last year, but I will definitely be reading more of his books in the future - especially the ten other Two Medicine Country novels.