The Trouble With Theme Reading

This month I’ve been taking part in a reading challenge on Litsy. The goal is to earn points for my team by reading as many books about Halloween and dark and twisty mysteries as I can. It’s been fun, and I’ve met some great people, but boy am I tired of unreliable narrators and psychopaths. There are still 8 days left in October, and I’m not sure I’m going to make it to the finish line.

This isn’t a job, and my team will win nothing but bragging rights, but also I live in fear of letting people down. That said, if I read any more about murder I might never read again. (My solution- re-read the Baby-Sitters’ Club. Not a super good use of my time.)

Does anyone else have these problems reading on theme? Right now I can’t wait for it to be November so I can curl up with something cozy.

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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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 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

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

December 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.

The holidays and the election have had an effect of the books I'm picking up. Books about the immigrant experience, cozy mysteries with clear cut endings, and books with families so dysfunction mine looks normal are all appealing to me right now.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I liked the first half of this book a lot better than the second half. The main character's thoughts on race and immigration were super interesting. However, I thought the love story felt forced. Most reviewers on amazon.com either loved or hated this book, but I was firmly in the middle.

Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon F. Ballard - I found this book when I was searching for novels about Thanksgiving. It's a fun, cozy WWII era mystery. I'll look for a few more in the series next time I'm feeling cozy.

Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith - Nothing ever happens in these books, but I enjoy them.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich - Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read this, but I am getting really annoyed by the Ranger/Morelli thing. It started cute, then hot, and now is boring. Maybe it's just me. Also not enough Grandma in this book.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - Psycho gymnasts. It was perfect for Thanksgiving weekend. Recommend.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - Last but not least, I think this will end up being one of my favorite books of the year. The ending was so vivid I was surprised to find myself on a metro train and not in rural Sweden. It's about a son who basically wants to hide his life from his parents, and in exchange ends up losing touch with theirs. So, it's a shock for him when he gets a call from his dad saying his mother has been hospitalized for mental health reasons. From there it's a roller coaster.

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November Audiobooks

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

It's my busy time at work, and I've been cranking through audiobooks as I program my life away. I never used to listen to mysteries, because I thought I wouldn't be able to follow them. I gave a couple a try last month though, and now I have a whole new world open to me.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal was enjoyable enough. It's a World War II book with a bunch of twists and turns, but nothing too mentally taxing. I didn't realize it was part of a series when I started. I'm not sure I'll seek the others out, but wouldn't turn them away if they showed up on my doorstep. Has anyone else read anything from this series?

Foul Play by Janet Evanovich bills itself as a mystery, but really it was a romance that had a little bit to do with a missing chicken. Total fluff, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Everyone who told me that the Gamache books got better with time was right. This month I listened to The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, and loved every minute of it. I went out of order and read #3 before #2, and I'm hoping that doesn't mess things up too much. That's the risk when you depend on Overdrive!

Linked to:
Life According to Steph

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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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This month's audiobooks

I have been listening to audiobooks like no one's business lately. My rabid consumption has been driven by a combination of a huge pile of laundry from my kids' swim camp, and all of the time in the car spent driving them to said camp. Being a parent is giving me perspective into how much work my mom had to do so that I could be bored all summer. Oh well, turning lemons into reading time and all that. Anyone want me to throw in a load of towels for them?

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower was fascinating. I really liked getting a behind the scenes look at life in the White House. (But note: both of my kids complained endlessly about the narrator on this one. They said the voice gave them a headache.)

I had seen the movie version of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but I've never read an Agatha Christie book. The movie was pretty good, but the book was just so much more messed up. (In a good way.) Look for more Agatha Christie in my future reads.

The Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot was my solution when I was craving something light and funny. It was super predictable and stupid, and that made me love it all the more. Sometimes that's all you need.

Eruption by Steve Olson was a fascinating look into the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. I didn't know much about the eruption going into this book. I remember a teacher bringing a jar of ash to school, and all of us being like Mount St. Who? I was also vaguely aware that the state highpoints of Oregon and Washington were volcanoes. I was too young at the time, and too distracted since with my east coast problems to realize that there are volcanoes that have, can, and will explode in the Pacific Northwest. I can't decide if I should should rush out west to see them before they do, or stay far far away forever in case they pick my vacation week to come alive. There were some boring bits that I tuned out about the history of the lumber industry, but most of this audiobook took my breath away, much like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

Life According to Steph

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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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Why did I wait so long?

I finally read The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) this week. I don't know why I was convinced that I wouldn't like it, because I totally did. What's not to like about a fast paced British detective story where everyone has nicknames? The best part is I have two more books in this series to go!

(Spoiler alert: So many people complain because these mysteries by J.K. aren't anything like Harry Potter. Obviously they aren't, but I found similarity in the structure of The Cuckoo's Calling and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  In my mind John=Quirrell and Tony=Snape. Just saying.)

If you liked this series, you may also like:

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