August 2017 Quick Lit

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My summer of amazing reading continues! I usually try to keep my posts to three great books, but I could only narrow it down to six this month.

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. Here are the best of them:

Three Books That Gutted Me

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline -- If you have ever felt like you're invisible, or taken for granted by the people around you, I think you'll really feel for the main character in this book. (Even as she makes bad choices.) I appreciated that this wasn't the usual artist has affair with muse story.

Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy -- Yes, another World War II novel. BUT this one is set in Wales, so it's different. Well, not really, but if you can take one more World War II book this should be it. This book was as heartwarming and hopeful as a book about war can be.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman -- One hundred pages in I was like "I am not going to finish this book. Too much hockey." One hundred twenty pages in I was like "NO ONE TALK TO ME UNTIL I FINISH THIS BOOK." I thought about rating this one five stars, but had to knock it down to 4 1/2 because of the hockey at the beginning.

Books That Were Just Plain Fun

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier -- I didn't like this one for the story, but more for the fun Tracy Chevalier had with making Shakespeare her own. Of course I would probably read the telephone book if Tracy Chevalier wrote it.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal -- I was smitten by the characters in this book. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but that was okay. It was a little romance, some coming of age, a bit of mystery, and some naughty parts involving fruit. Not too many naughty parts though, and they're all in italics so you can skip them if they bother you. Did get some weird looks reading this on the metro though.

Sometimes I'm So Smart I Almost Feel Like a Real Person by Graham Parke -- Harold was another character I liked a lot. Read my full review here.

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August 2017 Audiobooks

The world may be ending, but my flowers look great this summer!

The world may be ending, but my flowers look great this summer!

I can't believe it's August already. Summer is almost over, and I'm turning 40! No worries. In my head I'm maybe 32.

Anyway summer always leads to good audiobook listens. Here are some of my favorites from the last month.

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger - I LOVED this book, especially the recordings of the astronaut's chatter with mission control at the end. Audio added so much to this book. It's about, as you may have guessed, the flight of Apollo 8. Apollos 11 and 13 get a lot of attention, but this one was truly groundbreaking. I'm glad to know more about it.

Song of Susannah by Stephen King - This is a re-read for me. I first read it on my honeymoon, and my memories of it mostly included our balcony in Mexico. This time I paid more attention to the book, well aware of what's going to happen at the end. It's weird that Stephen King wrote himself into the book, but I appreciated the technique more this time.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan - This book about the Dust Bowl is so interesting. I highly recommend it if you enjoy non-fiction that reads like fiction.

Happy reading friends!

Life According to Steph

[REVIEW] Sometimes I'm So Smart I Almost Feel Like a Real Person by Graham Parke

This book started off as a funny workplace memoir similar to The Rosie Project and ended up as a poignant reminder that you never know what someone's going through on the inside. Harold is a cubicle worker who lives with his mom, and runs a dating advice Youtube channel at night. He's a severe introvert, and has rules for everything. Even eating a burger requires precise finger placement.

Things begin to unravel in Harold's carefully planned life when he begins trying to date Emma, the cute girl who works at the nut shop in the mall. As someone who works in an analytical field, and who has met more than my fair share of Harolds I really enjoyed watching him break out of his comfort zone. (Note: I may also be a Harold.)

If you like quirky humor and nerds give Sometimes I'm So Smart I Almost Feel Like a Real Person a try. It's even free for Kindle Unlimited users right now!

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Austen in August

I am excited to take part in this year's Austen in August on the Roof Beam Reader blog. This is my first time taking part in this event, and I'm looking forward to immersing myself in all things Austen.

If you have a blog you have until July 31 to sign up. If you'd rather follow along on Twitter the hashtag is #AusteninAugustRBR.

This is a great way to wrap up summer reading, isn't it?

July 2017 Quick Lit

Not to brag, but I have not read a bad book all month. It has been a great reading summer so far, and we've only just begun!

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. Here are the best of them:

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- This book was everything I love: a coming of age story set in an far away location. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a genius, and I can't wait to read more of her books.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey -- This book was billed as Station 11 meets The Martian, which it wasn't, at all. Those books had a lot of action, and this one mostly took part in the astronauts minds. Still, I liked most of the characters, so I liked this book.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith -- A perfect summer read. Two creepy people meet each other on a train with murderous results. I liked this one a lot.

The Shining by Stephen King -- I HAD to re-read this after driving through Estes Park, CO.  I had forgotten how different it was from the movie. When I finished I was so creeped out I jumped at my husband's shadow. That doesn't usually happen to me.

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July 2017 Audiobooks

I have been indulging in all sort of things this summer: swimming, prickly pear cocktails, ice cream, and BOOKS! I have just been reading and listening to whatever I want, and it has been blissful. I'll have to go back to my reviews soon, but for now I'm living the good life.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett -- I read this book when it came out, but have always wanted to listen to the audio. I finally got around to it, and loved it just as much as the print version. The multiple voices really added to the story in the audio version.

At Home In The World by Tsh Oxenreider -- People who aren't afraid to travel with children are my kindred spirits. People who travel around the world with children are my heroes. I loved this book for that reason.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker -- I liked this middle grade book, but not sure it was appropriate for my kids. It talks a lot about loss, evil parents, and war. It sailed right over the head of my six year old, and made my 9 year old sad. I should have waited, or listened alone.

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2Q2017 Reading Stats

This quarter my reading life included a lot of audio for the Armchair Audies, a youth sports induced reading slump, and the start of summer reading. Here are my stats:

34 books read between April and June.

That's 5 fewer than in Q1.  Not bad for a busy season.

My TBR is up to 357.

I wanted to get it down to 300 this year, but it actually keeps creeping up. Oh well, that's the price I pay for taking part in reading round ups.

Favorites from 2Q17:

It's interesting to me that these are all audio books. My brain might have just been too tired for print last quarter.

I average 2 non-fiction books a month.

However, that number keeps getting lower as we ease into summer.

How has your reading year been going?

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[REVIEW]: Footsteps

Over the past month or so I've been savoring The New York Times' Footsteps. It's an awesome collection of pieces on literary pilgrimages that have been printed in the Times over the years. The short stories are perfect for dipping in and out of in between phone call or while on a train. My only complaint about this book is that it's adding to my already too long to-be-read list.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

June 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.

The weather has been very rainy, but I'm starting to get a few chances to do summery things like read outside by the fire. I haven't even bought our pool pass yet, but I'm looking forward to reading by the water soon.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk -- I really liked losing myself in this long book about a family on the cusp on World War II. I'll admit to skimming some parts about military history though. Beware if you read this; it ends on a cliff hanger. Don't do it unless you want to commit to the doorstop of a sequel as well.

Margaret from Maine by Joseph Monninger -- I would describe this book as thought provoking. There's so much there about today's veterans and their families, marriage, motherhood, and life.

Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods -- This was a good travelogue about the National Parks. It's not a I did this and then I did that kind of book. It's a this is what the parks mean to me kind of book.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan -- This short book was good, but I wish I had read it around Christmas time.

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June 2017 Audiobooks

Memorial Day meant a road trip to Cleveland. 

Memorial Day meant a road trip to Cleveland. 

Once the Armchair Audies ended I went on a podcast binge, and have only recently found my way back to audio books. I am a huge fan of history books on audio, but listening to so many of them in a row was a bit much. I had fun, but I'm glad it's over.

Here's what I've been listening to since I stopped listening to Audie books.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner -- I was surprised that this book was written in the 1980's. The slow building story of adult friendships reads more like a classic. If you need something soft and gentle to read in your hammock, pick this one up. It's lovely.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman -- I listened to this book about a grumpy old man for the Imaginary Book Club. It had been on my TBR forever, and I was so glad for the push to get to it. It's great on audio if for no other reason than to get the correct pronounciation of Ove.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spere -- I loved this book. I got it out of the library to listen to with the kids, and ended up listening ahead after I had dropped them off. I don't know how I never read this one growing up, but I'm glad I got the chance now.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny -- Another winner by Louise Penny. I was on a train with co-workers when I got to the end; I hope they didn't see me crying.

Life According to Steph

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My Summer Reading List 2017

I can't wait for summer reading. Is there anything better than books that smell like sun block?

I'm expecting good things this summer. My kids are both independent swimmers now, and we got a pass to the local water park. There is a chair there somewhere with my name on it. (Hopefully it's in the shade, and hopefully it stops raining soon.) Here are some of the books I plan on slipping in my bag (other summer bag essentials: sun block, band aids, cheeze its, and sun glasses.)

Song of Susannah by Stephen King -- I lost steam in my re-read of the Dark Tower series until I started seeing posters for the movie version coming out this summer. Suddenly I got interested again.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan -- I've read most of J. Courtney Sullivan's books, and I'm excited she has a new one for this summer.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (release date 8-22-17) -- I really hope Kinsey doesn't die at the end of this series. Been reading these since I was a young teen.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (release date August 29, 2017) -- I'm about 1/3 of the way through book 12. I'm so glad there's another book in this series on the horizon for when I finish that one!

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

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The Best Road Trip Audiobooks for Adults

One of my favorite parts of road tipping is listening to good books with my husband while the kids snooze in the back seat. We've never been people to read the same paper books, but we can usually find plenty of audio books to amuse both of us. Here are some of our favorites.

Fortune's Children by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II -- The history behind the Vanderbilt family is fascinating, and the gossipy parts are fun too.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman -- There are two types of people - those who have read A Man Called Ove, and those who have it on their TBR. If you haven't got to it yet, a road trip would be a great time to listen to this wonderful story.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard -- James A. Garfield is a forgotten president, and was so glad I had the opportunity to learn more about him in this fascinating audio book.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- You can't go wrong with a classic, especially when it's read by Sissy Spacek.

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin -- I loved this baseball memoir. If you grew up in a baseball family you'll relate.

What's your favorite road trip audio book?

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And The Armchair Audie Goes To...

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is my pick for the 2017 Audie Award in the History/Biography category.

This was a hard decision, but in the end this was the book that stuck with me the longest.

Audie Awards are announced on June 1. Follow @ArmchairAudies on Twitter to see if my pick matches up with the real thing.

UPDATE: The official results are in, and In Harm's Way won the Audie! Congrats to Doug Stanton!

All Audie Award Reviews:

In Harm's Way

Paul McCartney: The Life

A Time to Die

Valiant Ambition

The Year of Lear

May 2017 Quick Lit

Making my way through The Winds of War on my hammock last weekend. A long book read outdoors=Heaven.

Making my way through The Winds of War on my hammock last weekend. A long book read outdoors=Heaven.

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.

This is my busy season - things are crazy at work, and my kids are both playing sports while trying to complete their year end commitments for Scouts and Religious Education. Each year I say I'm not going to let them leave everything until the end, but each year we have the same situation. I am practically living out of my car at this point. Hence I need to fill my library bag with cozy, fluffy reading material.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick - I never watched the web series it was based on, but still enjoyed this cute modern Pride and Prejudice. In this retelling Lizzie and co live in California and work in tech.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter - This book about a Hollywood starlet in a backwater Italian town was funny in a subtle way. I enjoyed it a lot. Perfect summer reading.

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie - I'm slowly making my way through this series. These are always reliable, good, short books I can read over a weekend.

What have you been reading lately?

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[ARMCHAIR AUDIES] The Year of Lear - DNF

My final book for the Armchair Audies was The Year of Lear by James Shapiro. I loved the premise - what was going on in England when a seemingly washed up William Shakespeare came out of no where and wrote three of his best plays (King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.) I just couldn't slog through this one though. This is a book for Shakespeare scholars, not amateur historians like me. I gave up after about hour 5.

This is my final review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back next week to see who I think should be the winner.

[REVIEW]: The Underground Culinary Tour By Damian Mogavero and Joseph D’Agnese

The Underground Culinary Tour by Damian Mogavero and Joseph D’Agnese appealed to me because it combines two of my favorite things: food and data. I love the idea that restaurants can collect data on their business, and use it to come up with insights that will improve their operations.

The business of data collection takes place on the backdrop of The Underground Culinary tour, a marathon of eating that allows CEOs of chain restaurants to taste what's new and edgy in New York City. The only catch is they have to pace themselves because all of the eating takes place in about 48 hours.

I enjoyed this book, but don't have a culinary background. I'll admit I skimmed large parts that seemed geared to restaurant professionals. However the basic background of the software that the author invented, and the tales of the Underground Culinary Tour made this book worthwhile for me.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

May 2017 Audiobooks

Camping near the Chesapeake Bay

Camping near the Chesapeake Bay

I've been everywhere this month which means plenty of time for audio books. I've found some winners too. Everything I've listened to has been 4 or 5 stars.

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King - I listened to this book for project I'm working on thinking I would grin and bear it. I ended up loving it! It's a super interesting account of building the dome on the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence.

The Outermost House by Henry Beston - I grew up near Cape Cod and still go back every year. The Cape Cod that Beston wrote about when he lived there after World War I was a lot different than the one I know! I really enjoyed this narrative ofyear in a place that I love more than anyplace else.

It by Stephen King - 44 hours! That's how long this audiobook was. I think Stephen King is a better writer now, but I still enjoyed my re-read of one of his earlier gory works.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - This book took my breath away. Any description I give it won't do it justice, so I'll just say: read it, even if you don't think you like young adult fiction.

Life According to Steph

The Best Road Trip Audio Books For Kids

I've just completed two lengthy road trip with my kids and lived to tell the tale. How? Audio books of course!

Here are three audio book suggestions for kids that parents will also enjoy during that oh so quality time when you're all trapped in the car together.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

[REVIEW]: Valient Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick is my 4th review for the Armchair Audies. I'll admit before I even get started that even though I minored in history at a fine liberal arts school, anything to do with war battles goes right through my head. So, there were large parts of this book where my only thought of substance was "Ugh, why is Washington trying so hard to take Trenton?" (I spent a large part of last week on the New Jersey turnpike, and that may have clouded my thoughts a bit.)

HOWEVER, I know a lot of people, like my husband, really enjoy that type of thing. Those parts of this book were very well written, but just not for me. I will seek out more of Nathaniel Philbrick's writing after this one, but won't seek out anything else by any author that includes battles for a long time. I almost DNF this one, but I kept on, and I'm glad I did.

Along the coast of Lake Champlain, an Arnold hang out.

Along the coast of Lake Champlain, an Arnold hang out.

On to the part I liked. This last quarter or so of this book was about Benedict Arnold in comparison to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. My previous knowledge of the two was skin deep. Cherry trees, house tours, wigs, traitors, and that episode of the Brady Bunch where Peter was in a play. That kind of thing. Philbrick goes deeper though to show how two men who were subject to similar circumstances reacted in different ways. If you're into personality studies you will love the last section of this book. Also, I feel like if you are a CEO you should read this book. There's a powerful example here of why you should pay attention to your people.

The narration of this book was very good, and kept things moving even during the battle scenes.

I recommend this audio book to history lovers, CEOs, and anyone who loves to take a deep dive into what makes people tick.

This is my fourth 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.

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