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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Bookish Gifts I'm Giving This Year

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It's no surprise that I give a lot of books for gifts. (Note: I rarely get books because everyone says I have read them all. My TBR says differently! Is this a common book worm problem?)

Here's what I'm giving this year:

For my history loving husband:

Grant by Ron Chernow -- I got him both the hardcover and the audio versions. It would drive me crazy to go back and forth, but this is his new preferred way.

For my reluctant reader son:

Guinness Book of World Records -- My son isn't a big reader, but he loves trivia. I think he'll love finding obscure facts (and might even try to break an obscure record or two!)

For my bookworm jr. daughter:

I know she is going to go nuts over this personal library kit. I predict a lot of playing library in my future. Let's hope she doesn't charge late fees! (She'll be getting several books as well, of course.)

For My Secret Santa:

Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman -- An illustrated history of food- doesn't it sound just perfect for snow day reading? I hope she enjoys it.

What are you gifting this year?

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Audiobooks December 2017

Hot buttered rum and reading by the fire pit = early winter

Hot buttered rum and reading by the fire pit = early winter

I've been taking a break from blogging since work's been flipping nuts, but I'm happy to say despite all that I've been reading and listening to some good ones lately. Nothing Earth shattering, but some good, solid reads. That wasn't my experience through most of the summer, so I'm optimistic that things are looking up in my reading life.

Here are some of the audiobook highlights since the last time I posted.

I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn -- This book didn't get the best reviews, but I listened to the audio over a couple of long nights of Thanksgiving baking. The contemplative nature of this book was perfect for that, like taking a walk with a friend who had to tell you a really long story.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys -- This World War II novel examines the history of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that not many of us know anything about despite its deadly past. Even if you think you've read so many WWII books that you never want to read another this one's worth the exception.

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman -- Thanksgiving books always seem to be so melancholy, and this one was no different. It's my favorite holiday, and one of the few times of the year that I don't feel melancholy, so I usually avoid Thanksgiving books. However this book had good characters, and I liked the ending, so I'll forgive a little bit of melancholy.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy -- When I was a young physics student I was under the impression that there just hadn't been a lot of women in the STEM fields. According to this book, and several others I've read this year, we've been there all along. We just haven't been acknowledged or written about.

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Life According to Steph

Audiobooks October 2017

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This hasn't been the best reading/audiobook year for me, so it always seems like a surprise when I get to these monthly wrap ups and see I actually do have a few things to talk about. Here are the audiobooks I surprised myself by listening to this month.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson -- This non-fiction book was fascinating. I found myself driving more just to listen. If you like reading about people and their weird ways give this one a try.

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand -- The fluffiest fluff when I needed it.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon -- All problems in these books are solved by Episcopalians and dogs. Despite that, and despite me being a huge cynic, I still love this town and the people in it.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton -- These books have been going since the early 80's, and there's only one more left. i really hope she doesn't die at the end.

Here's hoping for more focused reading next month!

Life According to Steph

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September 2017 Audio Books

Fall flowers

Fall flowers

Summer is officially over, and after running here, there, and everywhere for weeks I'm looking forward to some weekends at home puttering and listening to audiobooks! I haven't listened to much lately, but here's a few I did manage (mostly in the car.)

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson -- I read this book a long time ago, and decided to give the audio a try this summer. I like this one - it's more like A Walk in the Woods than some of his others that I find to be too judgey.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken -- Interesting to see how the sausage gets made. He wants to run for president right? That's why he wrote this book?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- Still one of my favorites, and I love it on audio. For such a short book, there's so much there. Beware of careless people.

That's all for this month! Hopefully next month I'll be back in the swing of things.

Life According to Steph

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Books About Travel Gone Wrong

After finishing The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware last week I remembered how much I enjoy reading about travel gone wrong. After going through my librarything.com account I saw that I had read quite a few books on that topic. Here are some of my favorites (both fiction and non.)

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

Around the World in 50 Years by Albert Podell

Do you have any favorites about travel gone wrong?

My Back To School Reading List

I used to love going back to school as a kid. Even now when I only get to put my own kids on the bus I get a big sense of anticipation. I just feel like conquering the world, you know? Even my reading changes. No more breezy summer reads - I'm ready for something deeper. Hence my back to school reading list.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

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

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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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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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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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

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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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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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