January 2017 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

Hello readers! Happy New Year!

I read so many wonderful books at the end of last year, that it's no surprise that I'm in a bit of a reading slump now. I'm hoping now that new year work craziness has eased it'll pick back up again.

Here are the winners from late December and early January.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne - This is a World War II book told from a perspective you don't often hear. It's an interesting look at how power corrupts, and an example of just how Nazi Germany came to be.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - So, so good. Perfect for curling up with on a cold day. It's a fantasy book that is not a trilogy! Imagine that!

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner - I've been meaning to read more about the Cold War, and starting with this book really enhanced my interest. It's a non-fiction account of a family on both sides of the wall. Don't let the length or the subject matter worry you. This is a super engaging quick read. (Review copy from Library Thing)

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - I read this, oh , probably about 15 years ago. I wanted to read it again to see if it held up. I'm happy to say it did. It's a World War II book with touches of To Kill A Mockingbird. If you missed it when it first came out, it's not too late.

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January 2017 Audiobooks

Hiking the Delaware Water Gap, Jan. 1, 2017

Hiking the Delaware Water Gap, Jan. 1, 2017

Happy New Year readers!

I have finally broken away from my Inspector Gamache binge long enough to listen to a few new things and one audiobook that I have listened to a minimum of 1 billion times now. (Not Harry Potter. My Overdrive hold that I put on in November still hasn't come through.)

A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim - I have been meaning to read something about North Korea for a long time now, and this was my first introduction. This was a powerful story, but I think something was lost in translation. Not being allowed to watch TV was reported in the same tones as being forced to have a baby in exchange for room and board. Still, I recommend this book if you also want to learn more about life in North Korea.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach - I thought I would LOVE this book, but just found it so-so. Too much talk about poop and vomit, and not enough about space.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - Yes, again. I just listened to this last summer with my brother, and didn't say no when my husband wanted to listen to it on our New Year's trip. There's just something about hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail that makes you want to hear Bryson's take on it. Most of his books have worn on me, but this one still resonates.

Life According to Steph

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My new toy

In early December someone broke the window in my car and stole my work bag. They got my library book, some dirty tupperware, and unfortunately, my phone and wallet. They caused me many, many problems. (I can deal with financial issues, but I had to go to the library and tell them I lost a book! Besmirching my good name at the library is not cool.)

The only good part about all this is that I got a new phone with room for apps! I finally got to join Litsy! I'm Bookwormjillk over there if you're on too. I loved Instagram when I joined it earlier this year, but this may have it beat.

What other book related apps do you like?

The Election, My Changing Reading Tastes, and Little House

After the election my reading tastes changed. I know I’m not alone. I saw many tweets from my bookish friends talking about what they would read after the election, and the power of reading. They posted lists of books to read, and ways they would use reading to fight darkness, hatred, and oppression. I think a lot of us felt hopeless, and were doing what we could with the tools we had. For many of us, our best tools, the ones we know how to use the best, are books.

Read the whole post at Imaginary Book Club

My 2017 Reading Goals

Last year I had meticulous reading goals that I broke down by category. This year I'm exhausted, and don't feel like giving myself any kind of required reading. After all, I pretty much abandoned those goals half way through the year.

***This year, I'm keeping things simple***

In 2017 I have 3 goals in my reading life.

2017 Reading Goals

  1. Read down my TBR list. I spend way too much time lusting after the books I want to read instead of actually reading books. I need to spend less time on social media finding new books, and more time reading the books on my TBR. I'm starting the year at 363 books. By 2018 I want it down to 300.
  2. Complete both lists in Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading challenge, and complete a Books on the Nightstand BINGO square. (I'm assuming BINGO squares will still be available even thought BOTNS is no longer.)
  3. Finish reading through the Little House on the Prairie series.

Three goals, one year. Should be do-able.

Note: Since I first wrote this piece, I have added 2 books to my TBR.

Quotable 2016

One of my favorite things to do is to write down quotes from my favorite books in my reading journal. Here are some of the best from 2016.

She was upbeat and harmless as an educational toy, and it was never insincere - in fact, she was a one-woman plague of sincerity, the Patient Zero of earnest zeal.
— Kitchens of the Great Midwest
If we want to see people take risks, we have to be prepared to sometimes see them fail.
— Leaving Orbit
She had such a demanding relationship with her own reflection. Rosaleen challenged her looks, and they rose to meet her.
— The Green Road
The miracle was a quiet thing: I open my eyes and was given a chance to try.
— Left for Dead
Never discount the possibility of turning up an answer none of the current theories predicts.
— The Secret Keeper
Whatever else they may be, weeds are optimists.
— Plenty
Truth was never the point.
— The New Tsar
And the good news is that for most of us, most of the time, better times do come around eventually.
— Walking With Plato
‘Well,’ Mary said contentedly. ‘Now we can save the next part for tomorrow. Every day we can read one part, and that will make the stories last longer.’
’That’s my wise girls.’ said Ma.
So Laura did not say that she would rather read as fast as she could.
— By the Shores of Silver Lake
I don’t care who you are or who you saved, you are a constant curse on my family Harry Potter.
— Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The real gift of the holiday season, A.J. thinks, is that it ends.
— The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

What a good reading year! I can't wait to see what 2017 brings.

My favorites from 2016

Like a lot of people, for me 2016 just seemed like one bad thing after another. One of the few bright spots was all of the great books I read. Between reading for this site, my deeper involvement in the bookish community, and ridiculous delays on the metro I read more books than ever - 147 as I write this. 2016 is truly the year I embraced my inner book worm.

I broke my favorites down into categories over the past few days:

Favorite audiobooks from 2016

Favorite non-fiction from 2016

Favorite fiction from 2016

Naming my favorites was a fun exercise, but now I feel like it's time to name my favorite over all. I went back and forth on this a few times. My pride wants me to name something that has been deemed an IMPORTANT BOOK by the 2016 powers that be. Reality and book tracking reminds me that I still haven't gotten any of the IMPORTANT BOOKS from the library yet.

So, it comes back to favorites. What books had me waiting impatiently for them to be released? What books did I reserve from the library months before they came out, and then read in one big gulp?

So, when I thought about it, I realized my favorites of 2016 were actually two series. These are the books that I've gulped down one after another. I start one book, tell myself I'll take a break after this one, but then as soon as it ends I download the next because I WILL DIE OF I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

These two series are:

Both of these are more than the sum of their parts.

You can read more about the Bill Hodges series here and here.

I've talked about the Gamache series in the last few Show Us Your Books link ups here, here, and here.

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Life According to Steph

My favorite fiction from 2016

I read a lot of good books this year, books that had me ignoring my family, missing stops on trains, and hoping that my plane would be delayed just a little bit longer. Here are the stand outs.

End of Watch by Stephen King - This book, the last one in the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King, pushed all my good book buttons. I loved the rsolution, and the call backs to King's earlier books.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - It's been a long time since I felt like I was actually in a book, but The Farm took me to Sweden in the snow. This book had a great ending too.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne - Yeah, I know there's a lot wrong with the timelines, depction of the characters, etc. I just loved being back at Hogwarts.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - An amazing audiobook loved by my whole family. Would be great for a family road trip.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein - My favorite read out loud all year. Had us up reading way past bed time. The first book that ever made my son say "Just one more chapter, please???"

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry - The circumstances of this working mom's day to day were kind of far fetched, but I feel like this is one of the few books that got the details of my experience right.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - I just finished this not too long ago, and loved it. The only thing that made me give it 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 was that it dragged on just a bit too long at the end. Other than that, this is the kind of book that will make you want to curl up and just keep reading.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - A powerful story about a part of World War II you don't often hear about.

And some re-reads...

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King - A must read after a crazy trip to Maine - still good, and a trip down memory lane to the years before the Red Sox finally won the World Series.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder - My favorite of the series. I'm so glad I got to read it again.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume - I read this for a reading challenge, and it still holds up after all these years.

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My favorite non-fiction books from 2016

Earlier this year, I made a goal to read or listen to fifty non-fiction books. I read 47 - not bad, considering I'm in the middle of 3 non-fiction books right now, and I still have 11 days left to go in the year.

My non-fiction books look a lot different from my reading list I created at the end of last year. I managed to get through only 15 of 40 on my list. I can't decide if I need to read harder, or if I need to ease up a bit on my list. I have some very ambitious books on my list while my actual non-fiction reading leaned more towards travel memoirs and cook books. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Here are the non-fiction highlights from 2016. (Note, I'm talking about books I read in 2016, not necessarily books published in 2016.)

Best General Non-fiction from 2016:

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean - Makes you sad that you didn't pay more attention to the space shuttle program when it was around.

The Road Not Taken by David Orr - An in depth look at the poem everyone quotes without understanding.

When Books Went To War by Molly Guptil Manning - A testamnet to the power of reading.

Best travel memoirs from 2016:

Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery - Read this book if you want to feel weak (but in a good way.)

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden - An excellent walking book where the walkers don't end up fighting or divorced at the end.

Braving It by Ben Campbell - A father and daughter go to backwoods Alaska. What could go wrong?

Best Biographies from 2016:

Hissing Cousins by Marc Plyser and Timothy Dwyer - A great look at a historical rivalry.

Rosemary by Kate Clifford Larson - So sad, but extremely interesting.

Best Cookbooks from 2016:

100 Recipes by America's Test Kitchen - Everything in this book is amazing. I keep having grand plans of cooking through it.

Home Cooked by Anya Fernald - Another book of delicious food, but also a great book to curl up with on a stormy day.

Everyone is Italian on Sunday by Rachel Ray - No gimmicks in this book, just great food. Try the oatmeal.

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My favorite audiobooks from 2016

I put off naming my favorites until now because it always seems like December gets the short shift in terms of being able to add anything to a favorites list. Christmas is less than a week away though, and then it will be time to forget about 2016, and start setting goals for 2017.

Note, when I say favorites from 2016 it's favorites that I listened to in 2016, not favorites that were published in 2016. Also, great audiobooks don't necessarily mean great writing. It helps, of course, but the reader makes a huge difference too.

Here are my top five favorite audiobooks that I listened to in 2016:

 

1.

The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny - Hands down the best thing I've listened to all year. The stories are absorbing, the characters are wonderful, and I could listen to the reader talk all day long. I'm so excited I still have many more volumes in this series to go.

2.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - We listened to this in the car and my kids really got into the story (as did I.) It was a great book that led to a lot of discussion in our house.

3.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Read by Jim Dale, simply the best. A classic book read by one of the greatest voices around. Listen to it now if you can. It will get rid of any Scrooge like feelings you might have.

4.

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza - This isn't classic literature, but the CRAZY narrator had me rooting for the main character in a big way. Highly relate-able for those of us who are too old to sit at the cool young people's table at the company holiday party any more.

5.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - I listened to this again with my brother on our way to Mt. Katahdin this year. It's not the first time I've heard it, and the version narrated by the author is funny enough to shop up on my top five any year.

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December 2016 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

The holidays and the election have had an effect of the books I'm picking up. Books about the immigrant experience, cozy mysteries with clear cut endings, and books with families so dysfunction mine looks normal are all appealing to me right now.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I liked the first half of this book a lot better than the second half. The main character's thoughts on race and immigration were super interesting. However, I thought the love story felt forced. Most reviewers on amazon.com either loved or hated this book, but I was firmly in the middle.

Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon F. Ballard - I found this book when I was searching for novels about Thanksgiving. It's a fun, cozy WWII era mystery. I'll look for a few more in the series next time I'm feeling cozy.

Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith - Nothing ever happens in these books, but I enjoy them.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich - Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read this, but I am getting really annoyed by the Ranger/Morelli thing. It started cute, then hot, and now is boring. Maybe it's just me. Also not enough Grandma in this book.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - Psycho gymnasts. It was perfect for Thanksgiving weekend. Recommend.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - Last but not least, I think this will end up being one of my favorite books of the year. The ending was so vivid I was surprised to find myself on a metro train and not in rural Sweden. It's about a son who basically wants to hide his life from his parents, and in exchange ends up losing touch with theirs. So, it's a shock for him when he gets a call from his dad saying his mother has been hospitalized for mental health reasons. From there it's a roller coaster.

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December 2016 audiobooks

I have been tearing through audio books this month. It must be all of the cookie baking and laundry. It's really a great way to decompress after so many social gatherings. Manual labor and great voices telling me stories, it's good for the soul.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - I listened to the version read by Jim Dale and just loved it. I've seen the movie thousands of times, but this is the first time I've read the book.

I'm still binge listening to the Gamache mysteries. This month it was A Fatal Grace  and A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. I'm starting to like Peter about as much as I like Matthew from the Cormoran Strike books. That said, I'm so glad I stuck with these.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was a fun 1970's coming of age story with a little time travel thrown in. It's a middle grade book that I listened to in the car with the kids, but I think I liked it better than they did.

And of course, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling for the 500th or so time. Harry kind of drives me nuts in this one with all of his teenage angst, but still, I liked being in Hogwarts. I'm waiting impatiently for Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows to come in through Overdrive.

Life According to Steph

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Gift books under my tree

As should be expected in my house Santa leaves a lot of books under our tree. Here are a few I know he's bringing this year for my husband and kids (ages 5 and 8.)

For my son (age 8):

For my daughter (age 5):

For my husband (age unknown):

What's under your tree this year?

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Harry Potter season

For me this time of year is Harry Potter season. Most nights find me staying up late listening to the audio book versions and making cookies.

I still have to finish listening to It, and I have the next Inspector Gamache mystery in my playlist. However I know that soon though the spirit of the season will take over, and I'll need to listen to The Half Blood Prince. It wouldn't feel right not to.

Do you have certain books that you read or listen to at certain times of the year?

P.S. I brought the kids to see Fantastic Beasts this weekend and we loved it! It was funny and cute with a hint of scary. I never really liked the Harry Potter movies, but since I wasn't comparing this one to a book I was able to relax and enjoy it.

Cleaning up my TBR

My TBR (to be read list) has ballooned to gigantic proportions in the past month. It was clear I was never going to get through it. Last weekend I spent an entire afternoon when I should have been getting ready for Thanksgiving cleaning it out.

If a book met any of this criteria I deleted it. It was kind of heart wrenching, but I figure if it was meant to be the book will come back to me some day.

1) Anything that had vampires in it went. The thought of vampires makes me want to vomit so I didn't have a lot of them in there, but a few snuck through. I can't even drink tomato juice. There's no way I'd read a book about vampires

2) Books involving unsolved murders of elementary school age kids or murders of mom who leave young kids behind.

3) Books I included when they were new and promising, but now only have two star reviews.

4) Books that are on my list only because I feel guilty for never having read them.

5) If I was on the fence about it, and my library doesn't have it.

6) Books that I keep returning unread.

7) Books with endings that seem to infuriate people. Given the current climate in this country, I prefer solid endings.

8) Too many people call a book weird or experimental.

I was able to take my list from 499 to 345 books.

Do you ever clean out your TBR? What are your rules?

November Quick Lit

Reading in a tent, just a few short weeks ago.

Reading in a tent, just a few short weeks ago.

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

For three quarters of the year I am a very mindful, list driven reader. This time of year I use reading as a form of self-care, and pick up whatever feels good. This is what has felt good lately.

I really enjoyed Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry. It's about a woman working on Wall Street in 2008. I have never made $500k a year, or had anyone grab my butt at work, but other than that this book reflected my experience more than any other working mom book I've read. I loved the tangent at the end that seemed to say the financial crisis would have never been so bad if a few more women had been in leadership positions.

I'm getting ready to host a family Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, and Immoveable Feast by John Baxter really got me in the mood. It's about a family's Christmas feast in Paris, and the background of each of the courses. If you really love putting together huge dinners, and sourcing each ingredient, read this book.

My son and I are reading through this series by Lauren Tarshis, and we both love it. We started with I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980, and quickly followed that with I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic. My son claims to "hate reading" but he begs me for one more chapter each night for like five chapters. (I can't wait until I can hand him Into Thin Air!)

Lakeshore Christmas by Susan Wiggs wasn't the best book I've ever read, and I don't think I'd seek out anything else from this series, BUT when I needed something simple to read on a dark night it fit the bill. It's a classic bad boy meets good girl and she makes him believe in Christmas and fall in love type story.

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Books that give me hope.

So, that election was a surprise, wasn't it? So many people I know are scared and hurting right now. I couldn't find much to smile about on my way in to work, but then I checked Twitter. So many of my bookworm friends are vowing to read in the face of what we think is wrong. I love it!

Here's my two cents on books that will give you hope, if your political leanings have you wanting to read for hope right now.

To read about any of these books, click on the image and you'll go to amazon.com. These links are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

November Audiobooks

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

It's my busy time at work, and I've been cranking through audiobooks as I program my life away. I never used to listen to mysteries, because I thought I wouldn't be able to follow them. I gave a couple a try last month though, and now I have a whole new world open to me.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal was enjoyable enough. It's a World War II book with a bunch of twists and turns, but nothing too mentally taxing. I didn't realize it was part of a series when I started. I'm not sure I'll seek the others out, but wouldn't turn them away if they showed up on my doorstep. Has anyone else read anything from this series?

Foul Play by Janet Evanovich bills itself as a mystery, but really it was a romance that had a little bit to do with a missing chicken. Total fluff, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Everyone who told me that the Gamache books got better with time was right. This month I listened to The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, and loved every minute of it. I went out of order and read #3 before #2, and I'm hoping that doesn't mess things up too much. That's the risk when you depend on Overdrive!

Linked to:
Life According to Steph

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[REVIEW] A New Way To Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

I recently had the pleasure of curling up and reading A New Way To Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. This gorgeous cookbook by the brains behind Food52 is a collection of amazing recipes that are also family friendly. Best of all they are organized to knock out a week's worth of cooking in one afternoon!

After an hour or so of reading and drooling over the recipes and color photographs I was inspired to get in the kitchen and cook. Not only did I prep for a week's worth of bag lunches for my family, I made the Thai Steak Salad from this book. We loved it, and I can't wait to do a more organized session of a week's worth of meals.

Buy this book for yourself, and buy a copy as a Christmas present for your best friend. you both will thank me later!

Note: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging For Books.