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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Books That Take Place In 24 Hours Or Less

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Someone mentioned to me the other day that they enjoy books that take place in just one day. I had never thought of that as a thing, but then I decided I loved it. A google search, plus a look at my own TBR gave me this list of solid 24 hour books.

Any titles to add?

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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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My Back To School Reading List

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

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

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

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Austen in August

I am excited to take part in this year's Austen in August on the Roof Beam Reader blog. This is my first time taking part in this event, and I'm looking forward to immersing myself in all things Austen.

If you have a blog you have until July 31 to sign up. If you'd rather follow along on Twitter the hashtag is #AusteninAugustRBR.

This is a great way to wrap up summer reading, isn't it?

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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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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One Book Per Decade

I was reading something the other day, and got it in my head that I should pick one book per decade in the 1900's to read this year. Here is the list I came up with:

1900-1909

1910-1919

1920-1929

1930-1939

1940-1949

1950-1959

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1989

1990-1999

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[REVIEW]: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I put off reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier for years because for some reason I thought it was a re-telling of Jane Eyre from the 1980's. Rebecca, it turns out, is a gothic novel, but it has nothing to do with Jane Eyre.

It does, however, have that sense of something's just not right like Jane Eyre does. It's that creepy feeling we love to indulge in this time of year. It should be a dream come true- poor girl marries rich man and gets to live like royalty at an English country estate by the sea. But we all know it never turns out all right for the down trodden shy girl.

When the twist comes you kind of suspect it, but it still knocks the breath out of your body. And the ending. Oh, the ending. I don't want to give anything away here, but I dare you to read the ending without immediately going back to the front of the book to read it again. I'll just say it's not the romantic ending that we somehow feel dirty about because he kept his wife in an attic ending that we got in Jane Eyre.

I'm so glad I finally read Rebecca, and I can't rule out reading it again next year around this time.

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I linked this post to Jenn's Bookshelves Murder, Monsters & Mayhem -- a collection of creepy books perfect for this time of year.

September's Audiobooks

I listened to five audiobooks this month. Some awesome, some not so awesome.

The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey was full of quotable lines: "Parenting is more than a duty to make your kids happy." Wow. Something I always knew, but I appreciated the reminder via this audiobook. This was a great option for the weeks before my kids went back to school.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud was not such a great option. I don't recommend the mentally unstable 3rd grade teacher genre as an option for any parent's back to school reading. I probably would have stopped, but had a lot of laundry to do and nothing else to listen to.

I wasn't a huge fan of The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, but my son who "hates reading" couldn't get enough of this audiobook. As soon as we finished he started begging for the next one. I guess I'm in for a whole lot of Percy Jackson this year.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan was not a favorite for my kids, but I bawled through most of it. In a good way. Glenn Close was the narrator and I thought she did a great job.

I listened to the free version of O Pioneers by Willa Cather, and the story lost something from that. Still, this was a pleasant story that I would have never appreciated had I been forced to read it in high school.

Life According to Steph

 

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Halftime Reading Goals Progress

Can you believe it? 2016 is half over. Any resolutions I made to improve myself in January have been long abandoned, except for the ones related to reading. I'm still trying to meet my 2016 reading goals for non-fiction, reading out loud, and classics.

Goal #1:

Read 50 non-fiction books, at least 40 from a list I curated from my TBR.

Progress: I have read 28 non-fiction books so far this year, but only ten are from my list. I'm in the middle of a huge book from my list now, so progress will be made this summer.

Goal #2:

Read the 5 chapter books on this list out loud to my kids.

Progress: I have read three chapter books out loud to my kids (plus numerous story books), but none were from my list. Not to fear, we have started two books from the list, so this shouldn't be a total shut out.

Goal #3:

Read these 8 classics in 2016.

I've read 3/8, almost half of my list. I would have read Grapes of Wrath too, but for some reason I've been waiting for weeks for my library hold.

Reading Challenges:

Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading challenge:

I only have 2 books left for this one -- "A book chosen by your sibling, spouse, child, or BFF", and "A book that was banned at some point".

BookRiot's Read Harder Challenge:

I've read 10/24 books for this challenge. Time to step it up! I'm starting with my selection for 500+ pages - City on Fire.

Books on the Nightstand Summer Reading BINGO:

I am super excited for my BINGO card - this is my 3rd year doing this, and I think it's my best yet.  I usually try to read the whole square, and I usually get pretty close.

My TBR

I started the year with 400 books on my TBR, and am down to 383. Not bad, since I feel like I've added about a thousand books since summer reading lists started coming out.

Happy reading!

May 2016 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

I finally got around to reading Northanger Abbey, and liked it a lot. The ending was kind of meh, but the character of Catherine was crazy in an awesome way. I loved all of her wacky scenarios.

I'm still on my travel writing kick, hence, my impulsive use of an audiobook credit on Albert Podell's Around the World In 50 Years. This one grew on me. I didn't agree with all of "Big Al's" opinions, but I was fascinated by the logistics of traveling to every country in the world. I also appreciated that he seemed to spend a fair bit of time in every country. He wasn't just traveling to check things off his list; he really seemed to take time with each country.

Ever wondered what it's like to be Mormon in New York City? The New York Regional Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker was an interesting account of what seems to be a pretty big struggle. It was sometimes shallow, but also very sincere, and seemed very honest. I recommend it, but don't expect to find any life altering truths here.

I finally finished The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and now I finally know what everyone was talking about last year. This method is not really for me, but it did make me think about all the stuff we have. Some spring cleaning may be in order.

I listened The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury in my car. It was perfect for that. I found it entertaining enough to listen to, but didn't feel that I had to shut it off the second I picked up my kids. In fact my 8 year old even enjoyed a few of the stories while we waited for his bus. These are all short stories that are about the same things. It's kind of hard to explain, but very enjoyable, light science fiction. The only depressing thing was the astronauts from the future were born in 1986 - a full 9 years after me. I don't know when I got so old.

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Happy birthday, Gatsby

Last weekend The Great Gatsby turned 90. Now I don't pick favorite books, but if I had to Gatsby would be in consideration for top dog. I love the concise descriptions -  they tell you so much with just a few words.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
”Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.
They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
It takes two to make an accident.

REVIEW: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love story between a town and some books. Yes, actual people fall in love too, but the love story between people and books is more believable and satisfying. It's not that there's anything wrong with the person to person love stories. It's just that the example of a run down town that starts with almost nothing, but is completely transformed into a place people want to live once it gets a book store is so satisfying. It's economic and social policy that makes more sense than anything you'll see in a presidential debate.

The story starts off simply enough. A Swedish girl goes to visit her pen pal in Broken Wheel, Iowa. The only problem is she shows up just as her pen pal's funeral is ending. The town puts her up, because it's the right thing to do, and they take care of all her needs. However, it doesn't seem right to come all the way to Iowa only to let others make hamburgers for her and make her coffee. All alone, and without purpose, she decides to pay back the town's kindnesses by opening a book shop. The town is doubtful, but as all bookworms know, a small bookstore can solve everything.

If you love reading you'll love this book.

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Books that make me want to read other books

Everything I've read about Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir has been positive, but I've put off reading it because someone said it would cause me to add dozens more books to my TBR. Since my list usually hovers around 400 books, I'm a little scared to read a book that will add to it. So, I'm putting that one off until I can get my list down to 375 or so.

It wouldn't be the first time a book forced me to add to my TBR. It was Kelly Corrigan's Glitter and Glue that got me to try My Antonia, and Katherine Reay's books always have me tempted to spend my whole paycheck on Barnes & Noble Classics. So, it's not a bad thing that a book will cause me to read other books. I just need to put it off for a while. For the sake of my family. And my future employment prospects.

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Eight classics I want to read in 2016

I'm in the middle of a multi-year attempt to read all of the classics I missed (or didn't pay enough attention to) in high school. Here are the 8 I've assigned myself to read in 2016.

You can click on any of the images above to see a description on amazon.com.

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