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

A Better Man.jpg


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.

You might also like:

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My 2017 Five Star Reads

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I was looking at my 2017 reads, and it was really clear to me that I wasn't going to be able to pick a favorite. In truth, the books I ranked the highest in 2017 were mostly re-reads. I'm sure this is situational, and not a reflection of the books of 2017.

So, instead of a favorite I bring you all of my 5 star reads from 2017:

In Harm's Way and Apollo 8 were both non-fiction that read like the best on the edge of your seat fiction. A Piece of the World and How The Light Gets In both left me gutted, but in a good way. Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and The Martian all hold truths universally acknowledged, and are worth reading every few years. The Hate U Give is billed as a Young Adult book, but should be required reading for everyone in the country. I loved reading Ramona The Pest out loud to my daughter; we laughed and laughed.

Here are some honorable mentions (4 1/2 star reads.)

And two books I'm reading right now that I love, but didn't finish in time to include on any 2017 lists.

Happy New Year!

Life According to Steph

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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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June 2017 Audiobooks

Memorial Day meant a road trip to Cleveland. 

Memorial Day meant a road trip to Cleveland. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life According to Steph

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My Summer Reading List 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

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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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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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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

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 audiobooks from 2016

I put off naming my favorites until now because it always seems like December gets the short shift in terms of being able to add anything to a favorites list. Christmas is less than a week away though, and then it will be time to forget about 2016, and start setting goals for 2017.

Note, when I say favorites from 2016 it's favorites that I listened to in 2016, not favorites that were published in 2016. Also, great audiobooks don't necessarily mean great writing. It helps, of course, but the reader makes a huge difference too.

Here are my top five favorite audiobooks that I listened to in 2016:

 

1.

The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny - Hands down the best thing I've listened to all year. The stories are absorbing, the characters are wonderful, and I could listen to the reader talk all day long. I'm so excited I still have many more volumes in this series to go.

2.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - We listened to this in the car and my kids really got into the story (as did I.) It was a great book that led to a lot of discussion in our house.

3.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Read by Jim Dale, simply the best. A classic book read by one of the greatest voices around. Listen to it now if you can. It will get rid of any Scrooge like feelings you might have.

4.

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza - This isn't classic literature, but the CRAZY narrator had me rooting for the main character in a big way. Highly relate-able for those of us who are too old to sit at the cool young people's table at the company holiday party any more.

5.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - I listened to this again with my brother on our way to Mt. Katahdin this year. It's not the first time I've heard it, and the version narrated by the author is funny enough to shop up on my top five any year.

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December 2016 audiobooks

I have been tearing through audio books this month. It must be all of the cookie baking and laundry. It's really a great way to decompress after so many social gatherings. Manual labor and great voices telling me stories, it's good for the soul.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - I listened to the version read by Jim Dale and just loved it. I've seen the movie thousands of times, but this is the first time I've read the book.

I'm still binge listening to the Gamache mysteries. This month it was A Fatal Grace  and A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. I'm starting to like Peter about as much as I like Matthew from the Cormoran Strike books. That said, I'm so glad I stuck with these.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was a fun 1970's coming of age story with a little time travel thrown in. It's a middle grade book that I listened to in the car with the kids, but I think I liked it better than they did.

And of course, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling for the 500th or so time. Harry kind of drives me nuts in this one with all of his teenage angst, but still, I liked being in Hogwarts. I'm waiting impatiently for Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows to come in through Overdrive.

Life According to Steph

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