Show Us Your Books October

Free image from Unsplash. The water damage to the book upsets me, but the apple and book image suits my mood, so I’m trying to let it go.

Free image from Unsplash. The water damage to the book upsets me, but the apple and book image suits my mood, so I’m trying to let it go.

So, internet gremlins ate my first attempt at putting up a Show Us Your Books post, and I was ready to just skip this month because those types of things always happen when I have huge projects at work requiring all my brain cells. But September was such an amazing reading month I couldn’t not talk about it.

The best of the bunch

City of Thieves by David Benioff - This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Two men in Leningrad during WWII set off to find some eggs. It’s horrifying and sad, but also oh so funny. Highly, highly, highly recommend.

A Good Punch In the Guts

The Return by Hisham Matar - A nonfiction book about a man who returns to Libya to find his father who was imprisoned twenty-one years before. Very moving and educational.

American Fire by Monica Hesse - This book was fascinating. A deep dive into a series of arsons that occurred on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I’ve been recommending this to all my book friends this week.

The Kite Runner (Graphic Novel) by Khaled Hosseini - This leaves a few big chunks of the novel out, but still packs an emotional punch. I liked it a lot.

After the End by Clare Mackintosh - What happens when two parents don’t agree on the care of their terminally ill child? So many questions, so few answers. Once I started this book I couldn’t stop.

And A Little Adventure To Keep Things Fun

Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis - Jennifer Pharr Davis set the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago, but this is the hike before that one. Very interesting to see what she went through alone on the trail.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson - In this one Bill Bryson attempts to go all around England using public transportation. It’s not as bombastic as some of his later books, and I appreciated that. He reads the audiobook himself, which I also appreciated.

Life According to Steph

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REVIEW: Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice McFadden

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Every year I take myself to the bookstore on Christmas Eve, and buy myself a book. This was my Christmas Eve book last year, and I got around to reading it in early January. I started it in the morning, and all day I was very crafty about avoiding my to-do’s so that I could keep reading this book.

This book is a lot more hopeful than it sounds like. It’s the story of Abeo, a little girl in West Africa, who is left at a religious shrine by her father to atone for the crimes of his ancestors.

The subject is horrifying. Ritual servitude is basically sex slavery, and the tale starts when Abeo is only nine. (Not that it would be an easy subject to take at any age.) You know from the beginning that she eventually escapes, and Abeo’s journey from slavery to healing is truly unputdownable despite reading about the hard things she endures.

I highly recommend this quick and compelling read.

Non-Fiction Books For September

September is for new pencils, graph paper, and non-fiction reading.

September is for new pencils, graph paper, and non-fiction reading.

There’s something about seeing kids go back to school that makes me want to learn everything all at once. I’m sure I can’t be the only book worm reading my kids’ texts after they go to bed at night. With that in mind, here are 16 non-fiction books that will get you in the September back-to-school reading spirit.

Books That Teach You To Do Things

On Writing by Stephen King - Stephen King writes so much he makes it look easy. In this book though you get the background into the hours and hours he puts into his craft. Part how-to and part memoir of a great American writer, he reads the audiobook himself, and it it superb.

100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials By America's Test Kitchen - This book is exactly as promised. The best way to cook almost everything you’d want to cook. I love it, and check it out of the library at least once a year.

The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith - This book is a good antidote to my personal decorating style which is “It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be good enough.” Give it a try if you need a change in your house, but don’t have tons of time or money.

Random Facts About Things You May Never Have Thought Much About

A Clearing In The Distance by Witold Rybczynski - You may not think you care about the trials and tribulations of Frederick Law Olmsted, but this book is super fascinating. I read it when I was visiting the Biltmore Estate, but that’s not required to enjoy it.

The Residence by Kate Andersen - A look at the presidents that you won’t get anywhere else. You can have feelings about politics and campaign promises, but can you really trust a politician if they don’t teat their pastry chef well?

The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr - A deep dive into one of America’s most quoted poems. It’s a short book well worth the time.

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson - One of my earliest school memories was my teacher bringing in a glass jar of ashes from Mt. St. Helens. Then it seemed like I didn’t hear another thing about it until I read this really interesting book. Now I’m obsessed.

Leaving Home

Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery - This is a good one for East Coast hikers who are feeling their years. Anything you’re worried about doing, this lady in her 60’s did it in keds.

Walking With Plato by Gary Hayden - I liked the intermingling of philosophy and walking, and I really liked the relationship of the walkers. This is a nice, soothing book if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau - Everyone needs a quest, and this book will help you realize that. Plus it’s fun to read about what other people are doing in the name of pursuit.

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger - This is a great book about man’s first Moon orbit, and if you get the audiobook the recordings of the chatter between Houston and Apollo 8 will take your breath away. This was one of my favorite listening experiences ever.

Braving It by James Campbell - This father and daughter adventure story was sweet, and made me realize my kids are capable of more than I give them credit for.

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A Bookish Hike: Mt. Greylock

Tributes to famous authors dot the summit

Tributes to famous authors dot the summit

If you’re a bookish hiker and are looking for a fall foliage pilgrimage you can’t do much better than Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts.

Mt. Greylock has been an inspiration for many writers over the years. Nathaniel Hawthorne mentioned it in his short story Ethan Brand. Herman Melville was said to have decided to write about whales when he saw the snow covered slope of the mountain out his window. And more recently, J.K. Rowling set Ilvermorny, the North American school of witchcraft and wizardry in the there.

There’s an auto road to the top, but driving means you’d miss out on hiking a beautiful stretch of the Appalachian Trail. There is of course the foliage that New England is known for, but you also get to hike through the only taiga-boreal forest in the state. In English this means there are many beautiful pine and spruce trees.

The War Memorial on top of Mt. Greylock

The War Memorial on top of Mt. Greylock

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September Show Us Your Books

Our chief homework supervisor

Our chief homework supervisor

We’re back to school now, and I can already feel my reading life shifting. Luckily I had a great reading month in August to sustain me through all of the notices to be read and forms to be filled out ahead.

Here are my top nine from last month:

Best In Show (It’s a Tie)

A Better Man by Louise Penny - I love this series so much that I left my house after my bed time to be around other people. If you know me, you know this is a huge deal. See my book launch report here.

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag - This reminded me of a more feminine version of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. (I mean that in a good way; I didn’t really like The Road.) It starts slow, but then sucks you in. Not everyone liked the ending, but I did, a lot. I got an ARC from William Morrow, and my full review is here.

Sweet Romances Perfect for Hot Days

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali - This is the story of two Iranian kids who fall in love, but it’s also more than that. It’s about the revolution, living with mental illness, and what it’s like to move to a new country. It’s great as an audiobook.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer - I’m a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings, and this was no exception. I just didn’t know it was part of a series, and was frustrated when a whole new set of problems started right at the end.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys - A story about the daughter of a prostitute in 1950’s New Orleans. Hi-jinks ensue. An entertaining and easy read.

Non-Fiction For Fiction Lovers

Furious Hours by Casey Cep - This was about a series of suspicious deaths in Alabama told from the points of view of the suspect, a lawyer, and Harper Lee. I found it fascinating, and wanted to know more about each part, but could see why the author couldn’t give it to me. In a weird way the inability to tell the full story made me appreciate the Harper Lee section more. You’d have to read it to understand, and I suggest you do.

Dead Presidents by Brady Carlson - I visit a lot of presidential historic sites, so this book about traveling to presidential graves was right up my alley.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - I almost never recommend the abridged version of anything, but for this and A Walk In the Woods those are the only versions the author reads himself, and it adds so much.

I Finally Finished This Damn Book

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - This is a good book, a classic. It’s themes are still relevant today, and I’m glad I took time for a post high school re-read. But man, is it slow in parts.

Life According to Steph

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Out Past My Bedtime: Louise Penny's A Better Man

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Last week I made it out for a rare night on my own to see Louise Penny talk about her new book A Better Man. She was so kind, and so funny. If you ever get a chance to see her speak you should do it.

A few notes I wrote into my phone while trying to take it all in:

  • She didn’t write her first book until she was in her mid 40’s

  • She might be the only one who can get away with writing hopeful murder mysteries

  • Some of Ruth’s poetry is actually Margaret Atwood’s

  • Forgiveness is possible and goodness exists

  • It’s never a good idea to catch a falling knife

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I read the book itself in two days. She’s done it again. I’m not sure how, but Penny keeps up the momentum with these books, and I already can’t wait for the next one.

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A Bookish Vacation

An amazing sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park

An amazing sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last week we went on another adventure, and of course half the things I saw reminded me of books.

Kit Carson’s House in Taos, New Mexico

Kit Carson’s House in Taos, New Mexico

Taos reminded me of Willa Cather and her dreamy novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. Taos isn’t as in your face as Santa Fe; you have to work to find the heart of it. It’s worth the effort though, and nearby hikes in Cimarron Canyon State Park and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument only sweeten the deal.

View from Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma

View from Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma

Part of the reason I pushed myself to finish The Grapes of Wrath last month is because I knew this trip would bring me to Oklahoma, and through the Comanche National Grasslands. The government created the grasslands in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma in order to stop a dust bowl from happening there again. Oklahoma has a bad rep as a road trip destination, but the sights in the panhandle were stunning. Just get gas and pack snacks before you go. There’s not much out there!

The lights of Estes Park

The lights of Estes Park

Our last stop was Estes Park, Colorado which is the home of the Stanley Hotel, and inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. I looked into having dinner at the hotel, but my daughter had a stomach bug on this leg of the trip, so a fancy meal wasn’t in the cards. That’s okay, I’m afraid of ghosts anyway.

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REVIEW: After The Flood by Kassandra Montag

After The Flood by Kassandra Montag

After The Flood by Kassandra Montag

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag was one of those books that started slow, and then before I knew it I couldn’t put it down.

This is a powerful novel about a woman named Myra, and her daughter Pearl, and their struggle to survive in a world that has been ravaged by floods. When Myra hears that her other daughter, who was kidnapped by her husband before the floods, may still be alive far away in Greenland she makes the decision to risk Pearl’s life and her own to find her.

In a flooded world nothing is easy or straightforward, and Myra must cast her lot with a bigger group in order to make it. The twists and turns of the events that take place will take your breath away and keep you on the edge of your seat.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by William Morrow Books. It comes out on September 3rd in the United States.

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The Baby-sitters Club Is Available On Audible Today!

Audible.com is dropping audio versions of all 131 original Baby-sitter’s Club books today! I’m still hoping they’ll record Super Special #4 which was my very favorite childhood read, but that doesn’t mean I won’t indulge in a little Boy Crazy Stacey sometime soon. Dibble!

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REVIEW: Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

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Silver is 13 when her mother disappoints her for the last time. The plan had been for the two of them to go abroad and see the world. Instead her mother is taken in by Miller, and the three of them relocate to Hope Farm, a failing commune. At Hope Farm Silver sees things no 13 year old should, but also finds a friend, and finally starts to feel for the first time she has a home.

This book kept me on the edge of my seat, hoping that Silver would be okay. Although this book has very little actual violence the threat and fear is always there, and this story spoke to the mother and daughter in me. This is a powerful coming of age story, and I recommend it.

This book was provided in exchange for an honest review by Library Thing Early Readers. It comes out in the U.S. on August 20th.

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Goal!

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My Reading goal was 100 books this year, and some how I hit it a bit early. I’m really happy to be reading so much after my epic 2018 slump.

I think what’s working for me this year is reading a nice mix of what I feel like, and what I need to to meet reviewing and book club obligations. I have my mood reads for when I want to veg on my lounge chair, and my have to reads to keep me going when I might otherwise pick up my phone to play a game.

Writing Prompt: All Things Visible and Invisible

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Every time I hear the phrase “all things visible and invisible” in church I think about what a great book subject that would wake. In every given situation there’s so much we can see,and so much more we can’t see. On the bus there’s people riding the bus, and then there’s all the microscopic creepy crawlies left behind from the riders. Look at the ocean and you see the waves. Underneath there are all sorts of creatures ready to eat you. In a meeting there’s an agenda, and then there’s all the hidden agendas.

This is the non-fiction book I would love to read, but no one has written yet. If you write it please send me an ARC!

August Show Us Your Books

I spent hours reading The Stand on the beach last month. Life is good. (Still not finished though…)

I spent hours reading The Stand on the beach last month. Life is good. (Still not finished though…)

Summer reading is the best! I read sixteen books this month, and many of them were read on the beach, listened to in the car with my kids, or in my ears when I was taking a nice long twilight walk after dinner. Below are short descriptions of ten of the best.

Favorite

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - This was probably my fifth time reading this, but my first time on audio. It was a really good book to listen to. I got so into it one night when I was walking that when a squirrel ran out in front of me I jumped a mile thinking is was a t-rex or something.

Lived Up To The Hype

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff - Even though the love story felt forced to me, I still liked this book a lot. The truth is it would be hard to make me hate a WWII spy novel.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid - I had heard rave reviews of this one, so I was feeling the pressure to like this futuristic book about refugees traveling through mysterious doors. A totally weird story that resonates with stories you read in the news.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict -I was fascinated by this novelization of the early life of Hedy Lamarr, the early Hollywood star/torpedo designer/Nazi escapee.

Girl Power

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace - I always think poetry will be hard to read, and then am surprised when it isn’t. This collection was sitting on my shelf for months, and I found the strong and emotional poems to be just the right thing for carrying in my purse and dipping into when I had a few minutes.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire - Another book I finally got to. I obviously knew the ending, but was very interested to see how Maguire would make it come out.

The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Constantine Croke - The story behind the first giant panda captured for a zoo. Fascinating. I’ll never think the same way when I go.

Audiobooks That Took My Mind Off Walking and Driving

Things A Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone - I found this audiobook to be interesting and relatable. Even kajillionaire Twitter inventors have bad days at work, and I appreciated Stone’s take on them.

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham - vintage Grisham at his best. I hope to get to more of these over the summer.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid - The books from The Austen Project aren’t very good on their own, but I do enjoy reading them to see how contemporary authors will spin some of my favorite classics. I bought this when it first came out, and it sat in my audiobooks.com account for years. I’m glad I finally got to it.

Life According to Steph

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24b4Monday July Readathon

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The #24b4Monday Readathon starts tomorrow, and I finally got my stack together. I have so many half read books lying around that I decided to just gather them all up, and try to get through as many as I can. I also have a few half finished audiobooks for when I’m doing chores.

Time to reclaim some bookmarks!

Update: I read 16 hours last weekend, and finished three books. This is a really fun and low key way of spending a weekend.

Road Trip Audiobooks For Kids 8-12 and the Grownups Driving The Car

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I brought my two kids on an epic East Coast road trip last week, and as the only driver I really wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for audiobooks. The problem with family road trips though is you have to be selective about the books you pick. Here are several that have been acceptable for all the kids ages 8-42 in my family.

Leave recommendations for our next trip in the comments section!

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My Favorite Books About Space Travel

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True story: at the last minute before leaving for college I changed my major from chemistry to physics all because I had seen Apollo 13 and wanted to be an astronaut. So, I’m really loving all of the moon landing specials that have been on TV this week, and all of the books that have come out this year.

If you’re in the mood for a good space travel book, here are some favorites:


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Writing Prompt: Hebert Hoover and The Duke of Windsor Bromance

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In the 1950’s and 1960’s Herbert Hoover and The Duke of Windsor both lived in the Waldorf Hotel in New York City, and from what I read they were good pals. I would love to be a fly on the wall as the two disgraced leaders talked about their lives.

This is the historical fiction book I would love to read, but no one has written yet. If you write it please send me an ARC!

Background Reading:

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My Top 5 Reads of 2019 (So Far...)

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In 2018 I suffered a major reading slump that I didn’t come out of until somewhere around September. In 2019 I started reading again in earnest, and have read some really great ones this year. Of the 91 books I’ve read so far this year, these are the top five. I’m interested to see what will still be on my list at the end of 2019.

In no particular order…

50 Great American Places by Brent D.Glass — This book is solely responsible for bringing back my wanderlust and the many miles I’m planning on putting on my car this summer.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Graphic Novel) — I love that so many classics are being turned into graphic novels. I finished this and immediately handed it to my 11 year old history lover.

Betty Ford by Lisa McCubbin - You know when an intro makes you cry you’re in for a good book. I picked this up because Betty Ford and I have a neighborhood in common, but ended up being so impressed by Ford and what she accomplished in life. Highly recommend.

Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice McFadden - The most hopeful book about child slavery you will ever read.

the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur - Once I started reading this I couldn’t stop. I never thought of myself as a poetry person, but this book proved me wrong.

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Show Us Your Books July

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Summer reading season is officially here! I’ve been spending many hours on the porch drinking tea and reading books (and maybe eating a burger or two.)

When I first went to tally up my books, in my mind I hadn’t read much in June. But then I looked at the numbers, and I had actually read twelve books — 6 were paper and 6 were audio.

Favorite

Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl — This was a glorious audiobook read by the author. I thought I was signing up for tempting descriptions of food when I bought this, but there were so many other nuggets about working motherhood, corporate politics, and recovering from mistakes that I loved. I ended up taking many long walks the weekend I listened to this just so I could finish.

****

Great Beach Reads

Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid — This was excellent brain candy. It was reminiscent of a VH1 documentary, and I read it all in one sitting. I read the print book, but I heard the audio version is amazing.

****

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser — A thriller about a missing mom, and the aftermath of her disappearance. Did she flee on her own, or did someone take her? Was it the husband? What about the missing money? This was perfect for laying on the beach while my kids built sandcastles.

***

Moody Reads To Dwell On

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella — This is the book that Field of Dreams was based on, and I’ve been meaning to read it for years. It’s different from the movie, but it has that same dreamy and hopeful feeling.

***

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent — I read this for a book club, and it was perfect pick for that. I appreciated that the love affair I thought the author was building towards never happened.

****

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet — This book was without place or time, and it worked. I enjoyed the characters.

***

The Near and Distant Past

The Boat People by Sharon Bala — An important read considering what we’re facing in our country these days. This book gives a face to the refugee crisis. Wish I could make this required reading for all of America.

****

Tear Down This Wall by Romesh Ratnesar — A non-fiction audiobook that I downloaded from Audiobook Sync. I’m of the age where I can remember when the Berlin Wall fell, but had no real idea of what that meant at the time. I appreciate books that help fill in the gaps now. I’m going to recommend this one to my 11 year old as well.

***

The Future

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King — This book went on a little too long for my tastes, but the afterward at the end of the audiobook by the authors made up for it. I love getting a glimpse of what goes into writing books.

***

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — This was a re-read for me. I’m not a huge fan of this book, but I really liked the ending.

***

Audiobooks to Take Your Mind Off Things When You’re Home Alone and Cleaning For HOURS

(Or Maybe That’s Just Me)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling — My favorite of the series. I could listen to this audiobook again and again.

****

The Lost City of Z by David Grann — I liked this armchair adventure story, minus the description of all of the snakes and other creepy things that can kill you in the Amazon.

***

Life According to Steph

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