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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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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Backlist Review: Cataloochee

Between the Civil War and the government’s creation of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park lives were lived in Cataloochee, a town in the mountains of North Carolina.

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You can visit when the roads are open. It’s a great alternative to the crowded main parts of the park. And if you do go read this book, because the multi-generational family saga is the perfect compliment to a day spent exploring the trails, crossing the creek, and exploring abandoned homesteads.

The book begins with gunshots. In the chapters that follow we go back and learn the story of Ezra Banks, and the years of hard work and darkness that brought the shots on. This book is everything I love in a novel. It’s a slow build of a multi-generational classic.

For fans of Cataloochee:

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January 2018 Quick Lit

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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'm posting my January Quick Lit under the category of better late than never. I would be tempted to just let it go, but I've read some really good books lately.

The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki -- I got interested in Benedict Arnold's wife after reading Valiant Ambition for the Armchair Audies last year, and this book was a very fulfilling accompaniment. This was an excellent choice for anyone looking for historical fiction; I'll be adding more by Pataki to my TBR soon.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden -- A perfect book for cold and snowy nights. I can't wait for the sequel. I recommend this if you liked Uprooted.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby -- I didn't think this story was the greatest, but I didn't love the descriptions of what it's like to live on the South Pole.

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September 2017 Quick Lit

From a road trip to Indiana -- seems like a nice place, but I was obsessed with finishing Glass Houses, so...

From a road trip to Indiana -- seems like a nice place, but I was obsessed with finishing Glass Houses, so...

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. Well, I've been in such a back to school slump that my list is a whopping two book long this month. But really there's only one that matters:

Glass Houses by Louise Penny -- I never buy print books any more (out of room in my house), but I made an exception for this one. It didn't disappoint. These books leave me so emotionally drained, but in a good way. This one had a little different format that previous books in the series - it switched between a trial in the present day, and a murder in the past. I don't always love it when authors tell a story that way, but it worked here.

Also, I love Ruth.

Summer At Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan -- Simple and predictable, just what I needed for reading in the car while my husband drove us along the PA turnpike.

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[REVIEW] The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

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I love a book about mountains, and when you combine mountains with historical romance you really can't go wrong. Hence I spent a pleasant day curled up with Karen Barnett's The Road to Paradise.

As I mentioned it wouldn't take much for this book to keep me entertained, but even so, the lovely vintage cover drew me in right away. And Margie's story was a good one too. Margie went to Mt. Rainer both to indulge her love of nature, and to escape her shady ex-fiance. Of course there's a hunky ranger on the mountain. I'm telling you; it's everything good for a cozy day of reading.

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

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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[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!

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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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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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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REVIEW: The Travelers by Chris Pavone

If you need some paperback entertainment consider Chris Pavone's The Travelers. This is a good old fashioned spy novel. It is in no way relate-able or possible, but it will keep you reading and guessing.

Will and Chloe are not exactly newlyweds, but they're not an old married couple either. Things are still new-ish, but they're starting to feel the strain of their poor financial decisions, infertility, and Will's debt. Then Will makes a mistake, and nothing is ever the same.

It took me about fifty pages to get into this book. There are a lot of characters, and it starts somewhat slow. But before I knew it, I couldn't put it down. This book would be perfect for vacation reading, and I'll seek out more of Pavone's books next time I take a trip.

Note: This book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair review.

The Election, My Changing Reading Tastes, and Little House

After the election my reading tastes changed. I know I’m not alone. I saw many tweets from my bookish friends talking about what they would read after the election, and the power of reading. They posted lists of books to read, and ways they would use reading to fight darkness, hatred, and oppression. I think a lot of us felt hopeless, and were doing what we could with the tools we had. For many of us, our best tools, the ones we know how to use the best, are books.

Read the whole post at Imaginary Book Club

My favorites from 2016

Like a lot of people, for me 2016 just seemed like one bad thing after another. One of the few bright spots was all of the great books I read. Between reading for this site, my deeper involvement in the bookish community, and ridiculous delays on the metro I read more books than ever - 147 as I write this. 2016 is truly the year I embraced my inner book worm.

I broke my favorites down into categories over the past few days:

Favorite audiobooks from 2016

Favorite non-fiction from 2016

Favorite fiction from 2016

Naming my favorites was a fun exercise, but now I feel like it's time to name my favorite over all. I went back and forth on this a few times. My pride wants me to name something that has been deemed an IMPORTANT BOOK by the 2016 powers that be. Reality and book tracking reminds me that I still haven't gotten any of the IMPORTANT BOOKS from the library yet.

So, it comes back to favorites. What books had me waiting impatiently for them to be released? What books did I reserve from the library months before they came out, and then read in one big gulp?

So, when I thought about it, I realized my favorites of 2016 were actually two series. These are the books that I've gulped down one after another. I start one book, tell myself I'll take a break after this one, but then as soon as it ends I download the next because I WILL DIE OF I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

These two series are:

Both of these are more than the sum of their parts.

You can read more about the Bill Hodges series here and here.

I've talked about the Gamache series in the last few Show Us Your Books link ups here, here, and here.

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Life According to Steph

My favorite fiction from 2016

I read a lot of good books this year, books that had me ignoring my family, missing stops on trains, and hoping that my plane would be delayed just a little bit longer. Here are the stand outs.

End of Watch by Stephen King - This book, the last one in the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King, pushed all my good book buttons. I loved the rsolution, and the call backs to King's earlier books.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - It's been a long time since I felt like I was actually in a book, but The Farm took me to Sweden in the snow. This book had a great ending too.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne - Yeah, I know there's a lot wrong with the timelines, depction of the characters, etc. I just loved being back at Hogwarts.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - An amazing audiobook loved by my whole family. Would be great for a family road trip.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein - My favorite read out loud all year. Had us up reading way past bed time. The first book that ever made my son say "Just one more chapter, please???"

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry - The circumstances of this working mom's day to day were kind of far fetched, but I feel like this is one of the few books that got the details of my experience right.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - I just finished this not too long ago, and loved it. The only thing that made me give it 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 was that it dragged on just a bit too long at the end. Other than that, this is the kind of book that will make you want to curl up and just keep reading.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - A powerful story about a part of World War II you don't often hear about.

And some re-reads...

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King - A must read after a crazy trip to Maine - still good, and a trip down memory lane to the years before the Red Sox finally won the World Series.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder - My favorite of the series. I'm so glad I got to read it again.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume - I read this for a reading challenge, and it still holds up after all these years.

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Harry Potter season

For me this time of year is Harry Potter season. Most nights find me staying up late listening to the audio book versions and making cookies.

I still have to finish listening to It, and I have the next Inspector Gamache mystery in my playlist. However I know that soon though the spirit of the season will take over, and I'll need to listen to The Half Blood Prince. It wouldn't feel right not to.

Do you have certain books that you read or listen to at certain times of the year?

P.S. I brought the kids to see Fantastic Beasts this weekend and we loved it! It was funny and cute with a hint of scary. I never really liked the Harry Potter movies, but since I wasn't comparing this one to a book I was able to relax and enjoy it.

Movies so good they should be books...

I'm not sure exactly how to word this post, so I'm just going to give you two examples.

Example 1:

My kids have to dress up as book characters at school for a parade that happens to be on Halloween, but definitely has nothing to do with Halloween because we don't celebrate holidays in this city. My husband suggested my daughter dress up as Annie, but of course that was never a book. A comic strip yes, but not a book.

"That movie was so good. how come it wasn't a book first?" he said.

Example 2:

I was watching the old school version of Twelve Angry Men last night. Earlier this year I served on a week long jury, and someone suggested this movie to me. I finally got it from the library. I loved it, but knew I couldn't stay awake for the whole thing. I figured I'd find the book version and listen to it on audio at work.

It was never a book either! Much like my husband I couldn't believe it.

Does anyone else think that all good movies are based on books? Am I just a book snob?

 

Little House Re-Read Part 1

I never read Laura Inglalls Wilder’s Little House series as a child.

I was into The Baby-Sitter’s Club and then Christopher Pike. I would have never taken the time for these way back people.

When I finally did get around to them as an adult I did something uncharacteristic for me. I started in the middle of the series. As a new mom searching mommy blogs for the answer to doing it all, doing it all well, and doing it all on a severely reduced budget I kept coming across references to The Long Winter. So one day I picked it up, and was amazed that Ma could do so much with so little.

I eventually read the whole series, but did so out of order. Reading the series that way left me with an incomplete picture of the Little House story arc. Why was Pa always making the family move? Did their story ever come out all right? Why did Laura marry Almanzo when Cap Garland seemed like so much more fun?

I decided it was time to read all of the Little House books in order, and see if I couldn’t get some of my questions answered.

Read my first installment here.