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.

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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April 2017 Quick Lit

Flowers at Biltmore Estate

Flowers at Biltmore Estate

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 had a slow reading month in March, but I'm hoping the warm weather will get me back on track.

I thought the story in Girl Waits With Gun was a little slow, but I liked the characters so much I might give the next book in the series a try.

After I came home from North Carolina last month I had to read At Home in Mitford again. There are parts of this book that really get on my nerves - everyone is divided into two categories, evil doers and Episcopalians. Plus the only African American calls everyone "honey" and seems to spend all of her time cooking greens. But, there's something about this town that I find enchanting, and I keep coming back.

I picked up Bed and Breakfast because I needed something soothing to read on the metro. This fit the bill, but I wish I hadn't picked out a book about Christmas in April.

I also read A Clearing in the Distance and Appalachian Odyssey while on vacation. Read more about it here.

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April 2017 Audiobooks

Spring is here, and I'm spending a lot of time listening to audiobooks while I walk under flowering trees. I'm enjoying it as much as I can before summer starts, and I need to stay inside near my air conditioner! I live in DC, so probably about another two weeks.

I found Z for Zachariah in the kid's section of my library, but it freaked me the heck out, and I'm glad I didn't try to listen to it with my kids. It's an end of the world novel about a girl living alone on a farm after a nuclear war - until a man finds her.

I finished The Nature of the Beast, and am sad to say I only have one book left in the series until the new one comes out in August. I liked this one as much as I have liked the last few. That is to say, a lot. Plus there's physics! Yay physics!  Can anyone recommend a similar detective series that is good on audio?

I've also been busy reviewing books for The Armchair Audies.

Here are my review so far:

In Harm's Way

Paul McCartney

A Time to Die

Reviews for the last two in the category will be coming this month, and then I'll announce who I think should be the winner in the category.

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Life According to Steph

Homesick for someplace fictional

I'm sure I'm not the only reader who gets homesick for places they've read about in books, but don't actually exist. Walking around Asheville, NC last week made me come home and read a Mitford book. Sometimes I eat croissants and pretend I'm in Three Pines. I'm still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.

What fictional towns do you get homesick for?

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Vacation Book Review

This year was my first in memory that I tried to match my vacation reading to my location. Usually when I travel I pick something that's easy to read. I've been known to devour a whole trilogy in a week. I also have a thing for reading scary books by the beach.

Last week when I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina with my family I switched things up a bit, and matched my books with my vacation destination.

I've been meaning to read A Clearing in the Distance for years. It worked out well though that I got to read it in the same week I was visiting the Biltmore Estate.  Olmsted laid out Biltmore as an older man, and I got so much insight into the process by reading this book. I even got to read some of it while sitting on a bench in the gardens of the estate.

My husband downloaded all ten million hours of Fortune's Children for us to listen to in the car. This book was actually very funny, and gave a good background into exactly why someone would want to build a really huge house.

My husband bought me a signed copy of Appalachian Odyssey for Christmas, and I put it aside until our trip. I turn 40 this year, and appreciate stories about people who continue to hike past the age of 30.

How do you pick your vacation books? I liked this approach, but did kind of feel myself wishing for a novel at the end of some days!

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REVIEW: A Time To Die by Robert Moore

2017 was a good year for nautical disaster themed audio books. A Time to Die by Robert Moore continued the trend that In Harm's Way started. The blurb tells you the book is about the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk. You might think you're not interested in Russian submarines, but really, give it a try.

This book blew my mind in a number of unrelated ways. It pushed all of my history, science, conspiracy theory, and human nature loving buttons. I can't even write a coherent review because there were so many divergent paths of awesome. Here are a few bullet points:

  • When you have a submarine designed to avoid detection while at sea it's really hard to locate the sub when/if it sinks.
  • Russia had certain strategies for dealing with the media in 2000 that may sound familiar to you in the year 2017.
  • Russian pronunciations make for a fun audiobook. Great work by the reader.
  • The secrecy of the Russian military during rescue operations is enough to make you want to punch someone.

I would have never listened to this book if it wasn't in my Arm Chair Audies category, but I'm so glad I did. Really, give it a try.

This is my third 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.

2017 First Quarter Stats

I know it's not a contest to see how many books I read in a year, but I still love to track it. In case you're interested, here's how my reading year has been going.

Books read by month

Average books read per month in 2017 to date: 13

Average books read per month in 2016: 12

TBR by month

2017 Goal: To get my TBR list under 300 books

Books by type

How is your reading year going so far?

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

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