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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January 2018 Audiobooks

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So far, this has been a great winter for reading. Unfortunately I spent a majority of my audiobook time this month listening to Under a Pole Star, a long book that I thought would be about polar exploration in the early 1900's, but ended up being about a weird love affair. Anyway, here are the books I liked:

I thought Caroline by Sarah Miller was an excellent addition to the Little House books. I loved the way it made Ma seem a little more human and mad at Pa without changing her character. Genius. If you read these books as an adult, and shook your head at Ma the whole time, this book is a must read.

I re-listened to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe around Christmas time. This is a good story, and has so much good snow in it.

We couldn't help ourselves. We finished listening to book 7 in the car, and went to the library the next day and checked book 1 right out again. We love these audiobooks for the car.

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Life According to Steph

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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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 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 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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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.

UPDATE: The official results are in, and In Harm's Way won the Audie! Congrats to Doug Stanton!

All Audie Award Reviews:

In Harm's Way

Paul McCartney: The Life

A Time to Die

Valiant Ambition

The Year of Lear

[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]: 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 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

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.

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 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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Armchair Audies

I'm super excited to be a judge in the History/Biography category of this year's Armchair Audies. (Although since these are audiobooks maybe I should call them laundry time/driving to baseball practice/tedious work time Audies.)

Here are the books I will be listening to:

  • In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton, narrated by Mark Boyett
  • Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble
  • A Time to Die by Robert Moore, narrated by Pete Cross
  • Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick
  • The Year of Lear by James Shapiro, narrated by Robert Faas

These books are all brand new to me, and I'm excited to dig in.

If you'd like to be a judge too there's still plenty of time. Sign up here.

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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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.