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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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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Quicklit December 2017

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We moved our furniture to put our tree in a different spot, and I must say reading within view of it is rivaling back yard reading, and reading by the firepit as a new favorite place to park myself with a book. Cozy nights=Merry Christmas.

Here's what I've been reading lately:

The Purple Swamp Hen And Other Stories by Penelope Lively -- I'm not usually a short story person, but I think someone on The Readers podcast talks about her a lot, so when I saw this on the new releases shelf at the library I picked it up. These short stories were great- engaging and satisfying. They were like a mix of F. Scott Fitzgerald and O. Henry. I predict that several Penelope Lively books will appear on my TBR in 2018.

11/22/63 by Stephen King -- This was a re-read for me, brought on by the release of the Kennedy files in early November. I still love this book as much as I did originally, even if it is a gigantic doorstop that was hard to carry on the metro!

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall -- It's not weird to relate to a polygamist man right? Because that was my reaction to this book. Oddly sympathetic.

It's been a few months since I've linked up with Quick Lit, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been reading.

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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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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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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

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 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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October 2016 Audiobooks

Life According to Steph

This time of year seems like a constant sprint/marathon combined. Meaning I have to go to meetings and practices a lot and talk to people. Meaning I am not able to dream away my time while listening to audiobooks as I would prefer. However I did make my way through two mysteries.

I always thought I wouldn't be able to follow mysteries on audiobook, but turns out I quite like them. Just goes to show you're never too old to try new things.

X is the latest in the Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton. This wasn't the best in the series, but I liked how this book continued the story of some of the characters from the previous book.

With only two letters left in the alphabet I'm strongly considering starting over again at 'A' before the series ends. These books started in 1982! Can you believe it?

When I tried to read Still Life by Louise Penny in print I didn't get past the first 15 pages. I heard so many people rave about these books though I decided I needed to try again, this time on audio. I'm so glad! I'm not sure if it was the country setting on the back drop of a fall hurricane, or the delicious way pastries are pronounced with a French accent, but I too am now in love with these books. I'm anxiously waiting for it to be my turn to listen to the next one on Overdrive.

I started listening to It by Stephen King this month as part of a spooky Halloween reads challenge. However it is 44 hours long, so I may not have a review until next Halloween!

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My Five Star Summer Reads

I read a bunch this summer, and I'm happy to say I had six five star reads - pictured above. Click on any of the images to see a description on amazon.

I'm trying to think if there's any common theme among them, and can't come up with anything. They're just awesome books.

What was the best book you read this summer?

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REVIEW: End of Watch by Stephen King

I finished End of Watch by Stephen King while I was on the train, and it was all I could do to keep myself from sobbing.

And I should stop you right here and let you know that this review might be considered spoilery by some people. I'm not going to tell you what happens at the end, but I'm going to talk a lot about my feelings at the end. You've been warned.


The first book of this trilogy, Mr. Mercedes was billed as a detective story, and it worked. I liked it a lot, and even compared it to Robert Galbraith's Strike series. The second book wasn't as great, but it was still good. It was a good story, but Bill Hodges didn't show up until about 2/3 of the way through, and I like Bill Hodges. Plus the ending was weird. Brady is still alive, and maybe can move things with his mind? What does that have to do with criminals that are obsessed enough with books to murder for them?

On to the third book. I had to wait a few weeks for my turn on the library wait list, and when I got it I was almost afraid to read it. Stephen King has sucked me into a series before only to crush my bookworm heart.

But start it I did. This book is in high demand, and the library only gave me two weeks to get through it. In fact I started it on the 11 hour ride back from Cape Cod last week. Were my kids screaming the whole way? I don't know. I was reading.

End of Watch was not the greatest story ever told. But the characters were some of King's best, and when taken together this trilogy is greater than the sum of its parts because of it. By the end you really care about them.

And the end. The end is about facing what life throws at you instead of escaping from it. It was about living every day to the fullest on your own terms. And it crushed me. In a good way. There were no loose threads or unrealistic conclusions. It was kind of perfect. And, I hope I'm wrong about this, but it almost seemed as if Stephen King himself was telling us a few things he learned over his life. It felt like he was saying he's getting to end of his watch. And that's what crushed me the most.

If you're waiting for the next Robert Galbraith book...

Maybe you're like me and have read all three of the Robert Galbraith mysteries. Maybe not having a new one has left a hole in your reading life. For me, the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King has been filling that hole a bit. THESE ARE NOT HORROR STORIES! They're mysteries, and they remind me a lot of the Strike series. Do not let your preconceived notions of Stephen King stop you from giving these a try.

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I forgive you Stephen King

Warning: This post contains minor spoilers from books that came out about 10 years ago. If you are strictly spoiler free on The Dark Tower and Harry Potter this is not the post for you.

I started reading The Harry Potter series during a trying time in my life. It was 2006, and all of the books had been released but the last one. Harry & co. were pretty constant companions during that time. I was easily able to get used copies of the first five, waited a while but finally got the 6th, and pre-ordered the 7th one to arrive at my house on release day like every other muggle I knew. I sat on a blanket under the holly tree in my back yard and read the whole thing at once. I loved the series, when it came to the ending I was underwhelmed.

Eventually I decided to re-read the Harry Potter series. I re-read them twice actually - once for each time I was pregnant. There's something about Harry Potter that suits the mind numbing exhaustion of pregnancy. Then my kids were born, and I began to rely on audiobooks. That's when I met Jim Dale, and listened to the whole series again. Somewhere along the way I changed my mind. I decided that the ending was amazing. It just took me a few reads to slow down, and realize how it all fit together.

I'm not sure what made me go back and re-read a series when I knew I didn't like the ending. But it's reflection on Harry Potter that made me go back and start re-reading Stephen King's Dark Tower Series.

During my misspent youth I used to steal my Dad's Stephen King books, and hide them under my pillow to read late at night. He must have eventually caught me, but I don't think he was mad. (The Stand isn't really suitable for hiding under a pillow.) He even suggested that if I really wanted to read something amazing by Stephen King I should check out The Dark Tower. There were only four books at the time, but he said they were worth reading even if they were unresolved. Being of an age where I wasn't prone to take my dad's advise I didn't pick them up right away.

A few years later I was lonely while studying abroad, and picked up a copy of The Gunsliger at an Oxfam shop. I read the first four books while in England, and waiter eagerly for King to write and release the last three. I have a vivid memory of getting up early the day after my wedding so I could go outside and read Song of Susannah. Like Harry Potter, I got the last installment of the series on the day it came out and read it all in one huge gulp. When I finally got to the end I threw the book across the room. Then I picked it up to make sure I hadn't missed something. Then I threw it again.

My reaction to the ending was so violent that I'm amazed that I had the emotional energy to start reading the Harry Potter series just a few years later. Who knows, maybe that's why I put off reading Harry Potter when everyone else in the world was. When a book breaks your heart, you don't easily set yourself up to let it get broken again.

Last year I realized that just like with the ending to Harry Potter, my tendency to binge read might have made me miss the true genius of The Dark Tower series. So I started again. I made my way through the first four - the original books my Dad had told me about. Then I took a break before I started the last three. I finished Wolves of the Calla last week.

I forgive you Stephen King. I haven't yet gotten to the end of the series in this re-read, but I forgive you. The way you weave in the early 2000's into this book while remaining true to the original characters amazed me. Your world building and weaving ways astound me. Even knowing what's coming I am impressed. I'll keep reading with an open mind and a glad heart, and I promise not to throw anything when I get to the ending this time.

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