REVIEW: Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman

This is my second review for The Armchair Audies.

This biography of Paul McCartney starts like a lot of biographies of stars starts - with a forward detailing the author's relationship to a star and his or her work. And so I will start this review. Like most liberal arts students I went through a Sergeant Pepper phase in college, but when I think of Paul McCartney I think of my Dad's music more than mine. That may have clouded my ability to listen to 30 hours and 44 minutes of the details of Paul's life on audiobook.

I enjoyed the history of the Beatles, and a more R rated view of their time in Hamburg that Malcolm Gladwell made famous in Outliers. I also really liked learning the backgrounds behind their songs. Fans had a tendency to make all of the songs about drugs. In many cases they were right (Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds), but they were also wrong sometimes (Fixing a Hole was about DIY, not heroin.)

But then things start to drag. The breakup, tax troubles, Yoko troubles, and drug use seem to go on forever. Many parts are repetitive as well. We must have heard about the meatloaf Linda McCartney used to make before she became an animal rights activist five times. By the end I was repeatedly checking the counter to see how much more I had to go.

I did love the narrator for this audio book. The accent was perfect. It sounded like someone who could have grown up in Liverpool with Paul.

I'd recommend this book if you're a super fan, but otherwise skip it.

March 2017 Quick Lit

Late winter means lighting candles.

Late winter means lighting candles.

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.

I read so many amazing books last month, which is possibly why I'm in a reading slump right now. I'm not sweating it, because these books need room to breath and percolate in my brain. If you're looking for something absorbing to read you can't go wrong with anything here.

Kindred by Octavia Butler - This is a story of Dana, a African-American woman who is sent back in time very time her distant, slave owning, white relative needed his foolish life saved. It's science-fiction mixed with historical fiction. Dana's trials had me on the edge of my seat. Before I picked it up, I was put off by the 1970's setting in this book, but really it read like it was written yesterday. Plus the main character was a time traveler, so she wasn't in the 70's much anyway.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly - It's funny that in the 90's when I was studying physics the story I was told is that not many women had done it before. Turns out NASA had hired many, many women physicists and mathematicians in the past, but they just didn't want us to know. Even if you don't have a physics degree read this book. It's very inspiring. If you liked Hidden Figures check out Rise of the Rocket Girls too.

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon - This was a quick read about a woman who got laid off around 2008, and the connection it gave her to her relatives that had to struggle before her. It was a sweet story, and it had recipes. Perfect for a winter's day.

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier - Two friends from slightly different sides of the track hang out in the cemetery with their friend a grave digger. It's not nearly as weird as it sounds. In fact, it's great. I read this one in less than a day because I was so absorbed in it.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - I put off reading this forever. Why? Jhumpa Lahiri is so great. This book is all about forgiveness told in only the way Lahiri can tell it. You feel like you're there.

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March 2017 Audiobooks

Happy Tuesday? Anybody else have a snow day today? We have about 2 inches of frozen sleet and more banging the windows as I type. I don't mind snow, but when there's ice I stay put. Time to figure out a snow day reading list!

How The Light Gets In and The Long Way Home by Louise Penny - This series. It just keeps getting better and better. How The Light Gets In had me close to sobbing in the metro station. Then The Long Way Home returned to some of the humor and lightness of the first few books. I'm so glad to see there's a new one coming in August, because the thought of coming to the end of these is grim.

Animal Farm by George Orwell - I was thrilled when I started listening to this and figured out that it was read by Ralph Cosham, the same guy who does the Inspector Gamache books. Anyway, I read this book in high school, but only remembered the bare outlines. I still didn't find it to be particularly engaging, but it felt right to revisit this year.

It Worked for Me by Colin Powell - This book (read by Colin Powell himself!) ranged between incredibly insightful to just plan weird. I care about his thoughts on leadership a lot more than about what makes a good clock for a hotel room. Overall, a worthwhile listen.

Life According to Steph

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REVIEW: In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton (Audiobook)

I didn't think I had heard of the story of the USS Indianapolis, and it's sinking during World War II. Then someone reminded me of the scene in Jaws.

Oh, yikes. That ship.

The audiobook doesn't start with Jaws. It starts with Captain McVay, the ship's commander, and his suicide. In a story that sounds like it belongs on the Podcast Serial we're told Captain McVay was in charge of the USS Indianapolis when it sank, and was court-martialed under some dubious circumstances.

This is one of those books that is non-fiction but reads like fiction. It's a horrific yet inspiring story of men stuck in treacherous water for five days without water, most with just a life vest on to keep them afloat. I mean, imagine being in the water so long that you have time to name the shark that wants to eat you.

By the time you get to the court-martialing, it's almost unbelievable that any body would dare bring to trial a man who went through all of that. They even had the Japanese commander of the submarine that sunk the boat as a witness against Captain McVay. I'll admit to tears of rage over the kitchen sink as I listened.

This is a great book. A powerful book made all the better by a steady narrator. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of other non-fiction World War II narratives such as Unbroken and Boys in the Boat.

armchairaudies.jpg

This is my first review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back for more reviews, and to see who I think should be the winner.

One Book Per Decade

I was reading something the other day, and got it in my head that I should pick one book per decade in the 1900's to read this year. Here is the list I came up with:

1900-1909

1910-1919

1920-1929

1930-1939

1940-1949

1950-1959

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1989

1990-1999

Note: click on any of the images for more information. Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Armchair Audies

I'm super excited to be a judge in the History/Biography category of this year's Armchair Audies. (Although since these are audiobooks maybe I should call them laundry time/driving to baseball practice/tedious work time Audies.)

Here are the books I will be listening to:

  • In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton, narrated by Mark Boyett
  • Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble
  • A Time to Die by Robert Moore, narrated by Pete Cross
  • Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick
  • The Year of Lear by James Shapiro, narrated by Robert Faas

These books are all brand new to me, and I'm excited to dig in.

If you'd like to be a judge too there's still plenty of time. Sign up here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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