February 2017 Quick Lit

The groundhog says six more weeks of winter hiking, reading under blankets, and wearing stretch pants and sweatshirts.

The groundhog says six more weeks of winter hiking, reading under blankets, and wearing stretch pants and sweatshirts.

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.

Where They Stand by Robert W. Merry - This might be one of the best books I read all year. Merry had so much to say about what makes a good president, and what makes a truly awful president. No matter where you stand on the current president (and the one before him) I think you'll find something here. That said, it wasn't a quick read. I've been reading this one off and on since December 2nd.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan - This book was a typical love story between people, but it was also a love story to books. It wasn't deep classical literature, but it was a cozy weekend read. I loved the Scotland setting. My wanderlust monitor was pinging after this one.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George - I read this out loud with my son (8), and we both enjoyed it. The kids in the story were likable, and the castle gave it a bit of a Harry Potter feel.

I also read a few books that have been saving my life lately, and did a review of The Travelers.

February 2017 Audiobooks

My February spirit animal

My February spirit animal

Twitter and political podcasts have been distracting me from reading and listening lately. Still I did manage to get in some winners (and some junk that I listened to with my kids and won't discuss here.)

A Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalin - A thriller that takes place during WWII and in the years after. A bit greusome in parts, but a pretty good story. It kept me guessing until the end.

A Trick of the Light and A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny - I'm still chugging along with these. Each time I start a new one I think "Oh really? Another body in Three Pines? Boring" and then before I know it I'm sucked in. As everyone who reviews these books says these books start with murder, but they're about so much more than the mystery. (To be fair A Beautiful Mystery doesn't take place in Three Pines.)

Bag of Bones by Stephen King - There was a part at the end of this book that almost made me stop listening. Up until then it was a near perfect audiobook. I kept going past that part, and I'm glad I did. Read by the author, and it contained music that added to the story. However I don't think I'll ever re-read it like I usually do with King's books. I know that's probably not very helpful to anyone trying to decide if they should read this book, but I'm not sure what else to say!

Also see Books That Are Saving My Life Right Now.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Life According to Steph

REVIEW: The Travelers by Chris Pavone

If you need some paperback entertainment consider Chris Pavone's The Travelers. This is a good old fashioned spy novel. It is in no way relate-able or possible, but it will keep you reading and guessing.

Will and Chloe are not exactly newlyweds, but they're not an old married couple either. Things are still new-ish, but they're starting to feel the strain of their poor financial decisions, infertility, and Will's debt. Then Will makes a mistake, and nothing is ever the same.

It took me about fifty pages to get into this book. There are a lot of characters, and it starts somewhat slow. But before I knew it, I couldn't put it down. This book would be perfect for vacation reading, and I'll seek out more of Pavone's books next time I take a trip.

Note: This book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair review.

Books that are saving my life right now...

I've been in a funk since December. Nothing major has happened to me personally, but there has been a churning persistence of drama that seems to follow me wherever I go.  I got robbed, I've been sick for weeks, too many nice people in my life have died, and then there is the news. Thank goodness I have books to keep me going.

I've been incapable of sticking to any sort of reading list. Instead I have been turning to some old favorites for escape.

The Martian by Andy Weir - I've been embracing the spirit of Mark Watney lately when faced with tasks that seem impossible. If he could get off Mars, I can get my work projects done.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - This is, of course, a pretty grim book. But McCourt tells it with a sense of humor, something I've lost, but am trying to get back right now.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani - I really like Ave Maria, the main character in this book. My favorite thing about her is that she doesn't see her life set in stone. She considers herself an old maid, but is willing to change it all. The audiobook read by the author added another layer of greatness to this book.

Any books saving your life lately?

Note: This post is linked to Modern Mrs. Darcy's mid-winter list of things that are saving her life.

Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support!

What happened when I tried to do a read-a-thon

Since I joined Litsy I've been reading about all sorts of intriguing book clubs and read-a-thons. I decided it might be fun to try the 24 in 48 read-a-thon, and since I live near DC I had a 3 day weekend for the Inauguration. The essence of the thing is you should spend 24 out of 48 hours reading. I figured since I had an extra day that weekend I could spend it reading.

Here's what happened:

Saturday:

4 am - My plans were dashed almost right away when I found out I would have to work on my 3 day weekend. Still I gave it a go with 103 minutes of audiobooks and programming before the kids got up.

7:30 am - After the kids were fed and the husband left for the day I spent 90 minutes reading on the couch

9 am - We had a ton of errands to run, so I spent 40 minutes in the car in between listening to audiobooks with the kids

1:30 pm - Husband is back home, we eat lunch, and putter around. I listen to more audiobooks while I clean, and spend some time on the couch reading a guide book. This amounts to 127 minutes.

5 pm - I cuddle in the bed downstairs and read out loud to the kids for 50 minutes.

6 pm - Our day is over, no one is hungry for dinner, and the kids are settled in with Minecraft. Now is when the real reading starts. I read for an estimated 300 minutes before I fall into a deep sleep and don't wake up again until the next morning.

I ended my read-a-thon though I realized that I probably needed sleep more than reading, and gave up tracking my reading time on Sunday. Still I enjoyed what reading I did do. By forcing myself to sit and read, I had a renewed energy the next day. Sleeping 13 hours might have helped too...

Books I read at least part of:

There's another read-a-thon in July. I think I'll do it again.

Have you ever done a read-a-thon?

Note: my computer keeps changing read-a-thon to read-a-thin. I wish!

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.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links.

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

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

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.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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.

Note: Link to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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.

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

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

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support.

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?

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support!

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.