Porch_Reader (Amy) Reads in 2015 - Part 2

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Converses75 Books Challenge for 2015

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Porch_Reader (Amy) Reads in 2015 - Part 2

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abr. 9, 2015, 8:33pm

Welcome to my 2nd thread for 2015! It seems like I haven’t been getting that much reading done lately, but I have read quite a few good books in 2015. Here’s some of my favorites so far:

Station Eleven
Deep Down Dark
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Dept of Speculation
We Were Liars
Whale Tale
The Empathy Exams
Gillespie and I
Claire of the Sea Light
The Memory of Love
The Bone Clocks
The Summer Guest
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
At the Water's Edge

Editat: abr. 9, 2015, 8:34pm

I think that spring is finally here, and that’s a big part of the reason that my reading has slowed down. I’ve started running again. Here’s a picture of my younger son Matt and me getting ready to run.

Matt is running track and playing soccer this spring, so needless to say, he’s running a few more miles than I am! My older son Ben is taking driver’s ed two nights a week, but he runs with us on Monday nights.

Editat: abr. 9, 2015, 10:48pm

Book #27: The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters - Finished April 9, 2015

Category: Tournament of Books
Pages: 568
Rating: 4.6

The commentaries about this book in the Tournament of Books piqued my interest. Set after World War I, Frances and her widowed mother must rent out rooms in their house to make ends meet. At first, they remain distant from Mr. and Mrs. Barber, a young couple who is happy to move out of Mr. Barber's parent's house and into a house in a posh London neighborhood. But gradually, barriers break down. As they get to know one another, we spend time in the day-to-day life of the house that the two families share and slowly get to know them as well. This was my favorite part of the book. Although the pace picks up a bit when a crime occurs that changes the lives of all concerned, this part of the book felt a bit more forced, and by the end, the climax felt a bit anti-climactic. But this is a small issue. In the end, I enjoyed watching Sarah Waters exhibit her craft.

abr. 9, 2015, 10:46pm

Happy new thread, Amy. You have read some good books this year, several of which are on my wishlist. I've heard so many varying opinions of The Paying Guests -- I think I'm going to read other Waters first.

abr. 10, 2015, 2:08am

Did I tell you I really liked Station Eleven? Can't remember. I did. I liked it.

abr. 10, 2015, 7:16am

Happy New Thread, Amy! Love the photo of you and Matt!

abr. 10, 2015, 10:16am

Fun photo! And such a great list of favorite books of the year... many of them are on my radar or on my shelves.

Have a great weekend, Amy.

abr. 10, 2015, 10:28pm

Happy new thread, Amy!

abr. 11, 2015, 1:14am

Hi Amy - nice new thread and that's a lovely photo of you and your son!

I followed the Tournament of Books a little bit but lost track of who's won - was it All the Light? I saw it got back in on the zombie round. I hope it won! I haven't read any Sarah Waters yet, but have Fingersmith in a box somewhere.

I still haven't read Station Eleven and am starting to feel like the lone LTer...but I won't be in the mood for post-apocalyptic anything till the end of the school year.

abr. 11, 2015, 4:36pm

Love your list of faves so far. A colleague was telling me earlier this week that I have to read The Memory of Love. I own it, and seeing that it's one of your favorites, too... well.

I'm glad spring is arriving in Iowa. We are in full tulip swing and well on our way to irises. :-)

abr. 11, 2015, 6:03pm

Happy new thread, Amy!

abr. 16, 2015, 6:09pm

>4 BLBera: - The Paying Guests was my first by Waters, Beth, but I have The Little Stranger on my shelf too. I think some people have liked that one better than The Paying Guests. I liked the journey with The Paying Guests, but would have liked a bit more satisfying ending.

>5 nittnut: - Station Eleven is one that has stuck with me, Jenn! I read it right at the beginning of the year - I remember without even looking because we were in an airport at the time, which was somewhat appropriate. And I still think about it now and then. Glad you liked it too!

>6 scaifea: - Thanks, Amber! Matt is still young enough to not mind taking selfies with me!

>7 katiekrug: - Thanks, Katie! It's been a good year, reading-wise. But I'm looking forward to summer break so that I have a little more time to get to some of my TBR books.

>8 thornton37814: - Thank you, Lori! Hope you are well.

>9 cushlareads: - Station Eleven won the Tournament of Books, Cushla. It came back as a Zombie too, and it beat All the Light We Cannot See by quite a lot. I probably would have gone the other way, but I liked both of those books a lot!

>10 EBT1002: - Ellen - I think The Memory of Love would be right up your alley. I don't know why I let it sit on my TBR shelf so long. Tulips and irises sound lovely. The yellow jonquils on the Iowa campus are in full bloom.

>11 MickyFine: - Thanks, Micky!

abr. 16, 2015, 6:27pm

Book #28: Benediction - Kent Haruf - Finished April 13, 2015

Category: series
Pages: 258
Rating: 4.9

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Kent Haruf earlier this year. With Plainsong and Eventide, he became one of my favorite authors. His ability to capture the details of small town life and especially the voices of the residents is unparalleled. In Benediction, we return to the small town of Holt, Colorado. The story is primary centered around Dad Lewis, who is dying. As his wife and daughter work to make his final days comfortable, he reflects back on his life. Although he is a respected businessman in Holt, he has some significant regrets, but he also is surrounded by a number of people who love him. What results is a very real picture of a life nearing its end.

I cannot say enough about Haruf's unpretentious writing. The story is described as a meditation on its back cover, and that is exactly what it reminded me of - a meditation, a prayer of sorts, a look inside a life.

abr. 16, 2015, 6:27pm

HI Amy

What a great photo of you and your son. Good luck with your exercise program.

abr. 17, 2015, 1:33pm

Absolutely love Kent Haruf's books and was saddened by his death. We lost another of my favorites, Ivan Doig, this week. *aigh*

How cool that you are running with your boys, Amy. I took up tennis when my kids were older, and they loved practicing with me and making me chase the ball!

Starion Eleven is our book club's pick for early May. I didn't like it as much as you and others. After a discussion, though, I expect my opinion to change for the better as it frequently does.

abr. 18, 2015, 2:41pm

>13 porch_reader: Oh, I'm glad you liked Benediction so much, Amy. Me, too. For me it ran a close second to Plainsong.

abr. 20, 2015, 12:56pm

I'm trying to get audio and e-books lined up for this summer's travels and love getting recommendations from you because I so often end up agreeing. Hope you're having a good spring :)

abr. 22, 2015, 6:22am

Benediction is on my pile. Great review. Makes me want to get to it sooner. It is sad to think there won't be any more from Kent Haruf.

maig 7, 2015, 9:29pm

Oh my, it has been a crazy few weeks. The end of the semester is always busy, but this one has been especially crazy. I've been getting very little reading - of books or of threads - done. But next week is finals week, so things should calm down soon.

>14 Whisper1: - Hi Linda! Thanks for stopping by. I'm still running, not very far or very fast, but it's progress!

>15 Donna828: - Donna - Haruf and Doig are both favorites of mine. It's sad to lose them both so close together.

>16 jnwelch: - I preferred Plainsong too, Joe, but just slightly. I loved the brothers who were featured in Plainsong.

>17 RebaRelishesReading: - I haven't listened to a lot of audio books lately, Reba, but one that I enjoyed earlier this year was Crooked Letter Crooked Letter. It really held my attention as an audio book.

>18 nittnut: - Jenn - I think you'll enjoy Benediction. I believe that Haruf will have one more book that comes out this summer. He's definitely an author that I will miss.

maig 7, 2015, 9:52pm

Book #29: We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Finished April 2015

Category: nonfiction, essay
Pages: 64
Rating: 4.8

This is a beautifully written essay by Adichie, adapted from her TED talk. In it, she unpacks all of the baggage that comes with the word feminist and eloquently argues that despite this, we must all be feminists. We must change culture to ensure the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

maig 7, 2015, 10:01pm

Book #30: The Confessions of Max Tivoli - Andrew Sean Greer - Finished April 2015

Category: fiction, audio
Pages: 288
Ratings: 3.8

Max Tivoli is born looking like a tiny 70-year-old man, but inside he is an infant. As he ages inside, his body grows younger, and this causes problems for Max, whose family does not want him to reveal his secret. Set in the late 19th and early 20th century, this story reveals the challenges that Max faces in relating to others throughout his life. Although this was an interesting premise, I wished there had been more layers to Max's life. Perhaps because I listened to this story, it felt like it moved a bit slowly to me, with too few interesting twists and turns.

maig 7, 2015, 10:07pm

Book #31: Taft - Ann Patchett - Finished April 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 273
Rating: 4.6

This is Ann Patchett's second novel, written before Bel Canto made her one of my favorite authors. In it, she takes us to Memphis, where ex-jazz musician John Nickel manages a bar. When Fay Taft walks in to apply for a job as a waitress, we join Nickel in knowing almost nothing about her that can be observed from her exterior. But gradually we learn about the tragedies that she and her brother Carl have faced. Nickel, whose life is also in upheaval, comes to care deeply for Fay, and over the course of a few weeks, they make an enduring mark on each other's lives. While nothing compares to Bel Canto, this is a well-told and compelling story.

maig 7, 2015, 10:10pm

April Summary
Books Read = 5
Fiction = 4
Non-fiction = 1
Off-the-shelf = 2

Best Fiction of the Month: Benediction
Other Good Reads: We Should All be Feminists, Taft, The Paying Guest

maig 10, 2015, 6:24am

Happy Mother's Day!

maig 19, 2015, 9:12pm

Thanks, Jenn! Happy Mother's Day to you too!

maig 19, 2015, 9:52pm

Book #32: The Truth According to Us - Annie Barrows - Finished May 18, 2015

Category: early reviewer
Pages: 486
Rating: 4.6

Annie Barrows was the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Truth According to Us, which goes on sale June 9, reminds me a bit of that book. Set in West Virginia during 1938, The Truth According to Us introduces us to a wide cast of characters from the small town of Macedonia as well as one outsider. Layla Beck is the daughter of a Senator who has been sent to Macedonia to write its history as a part of the Federal Writers Project. It is through her eyes that we come to know the Romeyn family, who have gone from being one of the town's pre-eminent families to taking in boarders and engaging in questionable business practices. As Layla untangles the history of Macedonia, she gradually learns the secrets of the Romeyn family as well. But the truth is a slippery commodity, and Barrows does an excellent job of showing her characters from multiple perspectives. Even the characters themselves are kept guessing about nuances of the town's history. Twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, who is wise beyond her years, adds an extra layer of insight to the story and is definitely my favorite character in this book, but her aunt Jottie is another character that I'll remember for a while. This was a great read with which to start the summer!

Editat: maig 19, 2015, 9:56pm

Oh I loved Taft, but I read it so long ago, I don't remember anything about it. Thanks for the reminders!

Have you read The Magician's Assistant? It's a favorite of mine.

Eta >26 porch_reader: oh yay! I have an ER, too. Glad you liked it!

maig 25, 2015, 12:59am

Hi Amy - love the photo of you and your son! How's driver's ed going? I'm getting used to Callia driving. We're currently looking for a car for her, or more specifically, a car for the family that she may use:)

maig 25, 2015, 5:55pm

>27 Copperskye: - Joanne - I loved The Magician's Assistant. That was one of my favorite Patchett books. I'll be watching for your thoughts on The Truth According to Us. I was ready for a good story like that!

>28 AMQS: - Anne - My son passed driver's ed. He still has to have my husband or me with him for now, but when he starts high school in the fall, he can drive to school and back. We're trying to figure out the car situation too. I'm hoping that he'll take over my car, and I'll get a new one!

maig 25, 2015, 6:22pm

Book #33: Among the Ten Thousand Things - Julia Pierpont - Finished May 21, 2015

Category: early reviewer
Pages: 322
Rating: 4.2

This book begins with a letter from Jack Shanley's mistress to his wife Deb. The letter accompanies a box of correspondence (texts and instant messages) that Jack's mistress has printed out after Jack broke up with her. The problem is that the box ends up in the hands of Jack's children. The story unfolds from there, as Jack and Deb attempt to figure out how to rebuild their lives.

This is Pierpont's first novel, and at times, I was impressed with her beautiful language, the keen observation of details and feelings. She also captured the distinct perspectives in the novel, the reactions of Deb, Jack, and their children. Although I enjoyed the writing, the topic didn't completely resonate with me, but I'll definitely watch for others by Pierpont.

maig 25, 2015, 6:37pm

Book #34: The World Below - Sue Miller - Finished May 24, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 275
Rating: 4.6

This book tells the intertwining stories of Georgia Rice and her granddaughter Catherine Hubbard. We meet Georgia in Maine in 1919 just after her mother has died. Georgia falls into the role of caregiver for her husband and two younger siblings. Years later, Catherine, who has just gone through her second divorce, inherits her grandparents house. Returning to the East Coast, where she spent summers as a child, Catherine learns more about her grandmother's life. As Catherine tries to sort out her own life, we follow both women as they deal with the challenges of their day.

I've read a few of Sue Miller's novels, and she is a good storyteller. In this book, it struck me how many details that could have filled a whole novel were told in just a paragraph or two. She told two lives and their intersections with rich description in some places and brief nods in others. It was a great book for a holiday weekend.

juny 3, 2015, 7:52pm

Book #35: Epitaph - Mary Doria Russell - Finished May 29, 2015

Category: favorite author, historical fiction
Pages: 592
Rating: 5.0

Mary Doria Russell tells the story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you've read Doc, that may be all that I need to say to entice you to read this book. Once again, Russell paints the picture of the Old West beautifully, transporting us to Tombstone, Arizona in the 1880s. We learn what's happening with Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers, the women who live with them, and the other characters. The tension builds in Tombstone as the gunfight nears. But Russell doesn't leave the story there. She follows the characters after the event, showing the long-term implications of those few minutes of conflict at the O.K Corral.

Although tales of the Old West are often peopled by those wearing white hats and those wearing black ones, Russell draws her characters with more complexity. It is because of this that the story rises from the page. A wonderful read!

juny 9, 2015, 6:26pm

May Summary

Books Read = 4
Fiction = 4
Non-fiction = 0
Off-the-shelf = 1

Best Fiction of the Month: Epitaph
Other Good Reads: The Truth According to Us, The World Below

juny 9, 2015, 6:37pm

Book # 36: The Goddess of Small Victories - Yannick Grannec - Finished June 4, 2015

Category: audio
Pages: 464
Rating: 4.0

This novel is told in two interweaving strands. In 1980, shortly after famous mathematician Kurt Gödel's death, Anna Roth, daughter of two Princeton mathematicians, is given the difficult job of convincing Kurt's widow Adele to donate his papers to their institute. She visits her in the nursing home and gradually breaks through her skeptical shells. Through flashbacks, we learn more about Kurt Gödel's life through the eyes of his wife. Kurt and Adele came from different worlds, and she often felt left out of his life. He was a reclusive, troubled man, and Adele was often his connection to the real world. Their life together is made even more interesting by their cadre of friends - Einstein and Oppenheimer among them.

I listened to this book on audio, and because of that, I didn't progress through it very quickly. I occasionally lost the thread of the story. Although the topic was interesting, the characters were at time somewhat flat - especially Anna, whose story paled in comparison to that of the Gödels. It was Adele, with her matter-of-fact nature and her clear love for the difficult Kurt, who made the story pop.

juny 9, 2015, 7:12pm

Book #37: Church of Marvels - Leslie Parry - Finished June 5, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 320
Pages: 4.8

I picked this up at Prairie Lights after reading some intriguing early reviews of it, and I was not disappointed. Set in 1895 in New York, Church of Marvels tells the story of Belle, a contortionist and knife swallower in her family's show at the Church of Marvels on Coney Island. But after the Church of Marvels burns down, she disappears, leaving her sister Odile behind. Meanwhile, a man cleaning privies behind tenements in New York City rescues an abandoned baby, and a woman wakes up disoriented in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. These stories are told in alternating fashion until their paths begin to cross. Secrets are gradually, but steadily revealed, and that was one thing that I liked about this book. Just when I thought that all was resolved, another twist was revealed, right up through the epilogue.

This is a well-crafted story. Although it is Parry's debut, I felt as though I was in the hands of a pro. Perhaps because of the subject matter, it reminded me a bit of The Night Circus, but it also has elements of a good mystery. I'm glad I read this one!

juny 9, 2015, 7:24pm

You got me with Church of Marvels. Sounds great. I've already got Doc and Epitaph in the pile. :)

juny 10, 2015, 10:10am

Hi Amy - Church of Marvels sounds good. It's always nice to discover strong first-timers.

juny 20, 2015, 7:10pm

Hi Jenn and Beth! Glad to be able to pass along the Church of Marvels recommendation. Not only is this a debut novel, but the author is also an Iowa Writers' Workshop grad, so I get to promote new, local talent!

juny 20, 2015, 7:16pm

Book #38: Early Warning - Jane Smiley - Finished June 16, 2015

Category: series
Pages: 476
Rating: 4.9

This is the second book in Jane Smiley's trilogy about the Langdon family. Each chapter covers a year in their lives, spanning in this book from 1953 to 1986. As the children of Walter and Rosanna Langdon grow up and leave the family farm in Iowa, the book becomes more sprawling, chronicling lives that couldn't be more different, but that are still linked by their family ties. Despite the number of lives pulling the story forward, Smiley manages to keep them all in check, weaving in and out from year to year. As with the first volume, the historical events of the day provide a backdrop for the story, but it is the family's own struggles that take center stage. I enjoyed this one as much as the first, and I'm looking forward to visiting the Langdon family again soon.

juny 20, 2015, 7:26pm

Book #39: Paper Towns - John Green - Finished June 18, 2015

Category: YA
Pages: 305
Rating: 4.8

This was a re-read for me. It was the first John Green book that I read, several years ago, and since the movie will be coming out this summer, I decided to revisit it. I'm a fan of John Green's, mainly because he is able to capture teenagers in a way that feels real and non-judgmental. The main character in Paper Towns, Quentin Jacobsen, known to his friends as Q, is about to graduate from high school. He's a good student who hangs out with the band kids, even though he's tone deaf. His parents are proud of him, and he makes good decisions. Although he was friends with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, when they were kids, they've since grown apart, as she has become one of the popular kids. But one night, Margo shows up at Q's window and asks for his help. And from there, Q and his friends Ben and Radar are pulled back into Margo's life and are faced with unraveling her secrets.

Q is one of my favorite characters of all time, but the other characters pop off the page as well. While reading, I was often left with that uneasy feeling that I was happy to (mostly) leave behind in high school. The problems facing Q loom large, and he is often thrown into the deep end before he's ready. But Q is definitely a character to root for, and that's what kept me turning the pages.

juny 20, 2015, 10:25pm

Hi Amy - Some good reading here. I liked Early Warning a little less than you did. For some reason, it took much longer to capture me, and although I ended loving it, it felt like more work. Maybe because there were more people to keep track of?

I haven't read John Green, but many of my students are big fans, so I imagine I should check him out? Any favorite?

juny 21, 2015, 7:53pm

Beth - I did find myself wondering whether I would have liked Early Warning better if there were a few less people to keep track of. I was impressed with Smiley's ability to keep them all moving forward, but I did find myself wanting to know some of the characters more deeply.

I think John Green has gotten better with time, so The Fault in Our Stars is probably my favorite!

juny 23, 2015, 11:41am

>41 BLBera: TFiOS is good. I'm also very fond of An Abundance of Katherines.

jul. 6, 2015, 4:47pm

Oh my goodness! The summer is going too fast. I've been trying to get lots of work done because we have a 2-week vacation planned at the end of summer, but work is cutting into my reading and LT time. I'm going to do some quick comments on my last three books, in an attempt to catch up.

Book #40: Great House - Nicole Krauss - Finished June 25, 2015

Category: off-the-shelf
Pages: 289
Rating: 4.7

This one has been on my shelf for a while, and I'm glad I finally picked it up. In it, Krauss tells several stories that are loosely connected by a writing desk. With links to World War II, the Spanish Civil War, and Pinochet's brutal regime in Chile, the desk connects people who have dealt with serious losses, yet continue searching for ways to make their lives whole. The writing is subtle and beautiful. This is a book that would benefit from a re-read at some point.

Editat: jul. 6, 2015, 5:00pm

Book #41: Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures - Emma Straub - Finished June 29, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.4

Laura Lamont was born Elsa Emerson in Door County, Wisconsin. She finds an escape in acting at the Cherry County Playhouse, owned by her family, after tragedy strikes her family. But soon she realizes that she needs an even greater escape, boarding a bus to Hollywood. The story starts a bit slowly, but soon I became immersed in Laura's life as a Hollywood actress and in the struggles that she faces in blending her new life and her old. There are moments in this book when Laura jumps off the page, especially in times of grief. It had been a while since I read a book about an entire life, and Straub does a nice job of providing close-ups within the long span of Laura's life.

jul. 6, 2015, 5:00pm

June Summary
Books Read = 6
Fiction = 6
Non-fiction = 0
Off-the-shelf = 3

Best Fiction of the Month: Early Warning, Church of Marvels
Other Good Reads: Paper Towns, Great House

jul. 6, 2015, 5:12pm

Book #42: A Nice Little Place on the North Side: A History of Triumph, Mostly Defeat, and Incurable Hope at Wrigley Field - George Will - Finished July 6, 2015

Category: audio
Pages: 224
Rating: 3.8

Wrigley Field is a place with a storied history. Despite the challenges that the Cubs have faced throughout the years, they have a loyal fan base, due in part to this "nice little place on the north side." George Will has a lot of material to work with in writing a history of Wrigley Field, and I have to admit that I enjoyed many of the anecdotes that he puts together in this book. Some I had heard before. (As a Cardinals fan, the story of the Cubs trading away Lou Brock to the Cards never gets old.) But many others were new. Who knew that Cubs pitcher Dickie Noles was once traded to the Detroit Tigers for a player to be named later, and then was sent back to the Cubs to finish the deal, making him one of only 4 players to be traded for themselves. While these facts were entertaining, but the book felt a little choppy to me, galloping from one story to the next without much of a sense of narrative coherence. Perhaps this impression was partly because I was listening to the book on audio, but I would have liked a more focused story.

jul. 6, 2015, 6:17pm

>44 porch_reader: Your comments reminded me how much I loved this one, thought it was beautifully done. Hope that she publishes another one soon.

jul. 6, 2015, 6:42pm

Hi Amy! Just passing through and wishing you a happy summer.

jul. 6, 2015, 9:09pm

Hi Amy - Both the Staub and the Krauss just went onto my list... Thanks. Any news about the book festival yet?

jul. 7, 2015, 2:42pm

>48 charl08: - Hi Charlotte! I'm hoping that Krauss has a new book soon too. I also loved A History of Love, which I read a few years ago. Have you read any of her other books?

>49 AMQS: - Hi Anne! Happy Summer to you too! I feel like it is going way too fast.

>50 BLBera: - Glad to add to your list, Beth! I'm not making much progress on my stacks of unread books this summer. It seems like good ones are coming out faster than I can read the ones that are already on my shelves!

And I'm so glad that you asked about the book festival. I'd been stopping by their website every so often, and hadn't seen anything new, but this time, I found the beginnings of a list of the authors who will be coming. They usually announce these slowly and then put together a specific schedule as the date gets closer. But here's what I know now:

The book festival is October 1-4 in Iowa City. Usually, there is not much happening on Thurs. There is usually a big kick-off event on Friday night, lots of readings on Saturday, and then a few activities on Sunday.

The list of 2015 authors so far is here:. I'm excited to see Bonnie Jo Campbell on the list. I loved Once Upon a River. I'm intrigued by Bryan Stevenson. I've been wanting to read his book Just Mercy. I've read one of Robert Goolrick's books, A Reliable Wife, and I have Heading Out to Wonderful on my shelf. I've heard good things about Tim Johnston's Descent too. I don't know much about Rebecca Makkai or Stuart Neville. Sara Paretsky is a familiar name, but I haven't read any of her detective novels.Robert Reich looks like he has a new political book coming out that he'll be talking about. So, for me, this is a pretty good list so far, although I'm not sure that they'll be able to beat Marilynne Robinson and Jane Smiley from last year.

jul. 7, 2015, 5:01pm

My first reaction was 'she's only written two' but LT not only tells me that I'm wrong, but three reviewers say nice things about Man walks into a room so I'll add that to my wishlist!

jul. 7, 2015, 6:16pm

>52 charl08: - I thought she'd only written two as well. It looks like Man Walks into a Room was her debut. It sounds like an interesting one, and I just love the way she writes. It's going on my Wishlist too.

jul. 20, 2015, 8:07pm

Book #43: Children of God - Mary Doria Russell - Finished July 18, 2015

Category: favorite authors
Pages: 438
Rating: 4.6

The sequel to The Sparrow pulled me right back in. Emilio Sandoz is still recovering physically and mentally from his trip to Rakhat. But just as he thinks he's getting his footing, more challenges arise. Yes, that's a truly awful summary, but I don't want spoil anything. Suffice it to say that there are more secrets to be learned about the Runa and the Jana'ata on Rakhat. This sequel doesn't quite live up to The Sparrow. It is difficult to recreate the surprises from the first book, and this one drags a bit in the middle. But even "not quite as good" is an enjoyable read from Mary Doria Russell.

jul. 20, 2015, 8:13pm

Book #44: Captain America Rebirth - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - Finished July 19, 2015

Category: comic book
Pages: 63
Rating: 4.0

I have the Marvel app on my iPad, so I tried it out with this collection of comics. I like the Captain America movies, and it was fun to revisit the stories in this more traditional way.

jul. 20, 2015, 8:40pm

Book #45: Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee - Finished July 20, 2015

Category: new fiction
Pages: 288
Rating: 4.5

I am one of the thousands of people who love To Kill a Mockingbird. So I knew that I had to read Go Set a Watchman, a manuscript that was written before To Kill a Mockingbird was published. It was only after Lee's publisher suggested that she rewrite the story from the perspective of Scout as a child that To Kill a Mockingbird was born. Since Go Set a Watchman is set in Maycomb and features a grown Jean Louise (Scout) and her father Atticus, it is hard not to make comparisons. It was only when I stopped comparing the two books and read Go Set a Watchman as its own story that I was able to enjoy this book. Jean Louise is still a great character, strong with a mind of her own. The story is much less rich than To Kill a Mockingbird. Nothing much happens except for Jean Louise's visit to Maycomb, where she is surprised by the way that things changed since she left.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the portrayal of Atticus, a much-beloved character. I was surprised by this, especially because it was such a focus of the book. The story felt like a mechanism to talk about ideas and as a result was a bit underdeveloped. But I'm glad I read this one. It was fun to imagine how To Kill a Mockingbird grew from this book.

jul. 20, 2015, 8:46pm

Nice reviews, Amy. I hope to get to Go Set a Watchman later this month. And I still haven't read Russell. She's been on my list for a while.

jul. 21, 2015, 10:38am

I enjoyed those reviews, too, Amy. I had the same reaction to Children of God; not quite at the level of The Sparrow, but very worthwhile, and I liked the new perspectives on what happened in the first book.

jul. 21, 2015, 4:58pm

Hi Amy - hope you're having a good summer! I think somewhere above you mentioned a family vacation during the summer. We have one coming up in August as well and I can't wait!
I felt the same about Children of God - terrific but didn't quite live up to The Sparrow. I'm getting a lot of reading done but nothing fantastic since A God in Ruins which will likely top my best of 2015. I'm currently trying to read through the shortlist for the Walter Scott Historical Fiction prize.

jul. 21, 2015, 6:23pm

I am happy to have read your review of Go Set A Watchman before reading it. I think it will help me to think of it as the book that To Kill A Mockingbird grew out of. To Kill A Mockingbird is such an amazing book. If I were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take one book...

jul. 23, 2015, 6:26pm

>57 BLBera: - Read Doc, Beth! It is my favorite of Russell's books - although I've liked all of hers.

>58 jnwelch: - Yes, that was my favorite part of Children of God too, Joe. I saw many of the events in the first book slightly differently after reading it.

>59 vivians: - Vivian - Our vacation starts next week! I'm attending a conference in the middle of it, so we'll actually be gone three whole weeks. We are driving, so hopefully I'll at least get some audiobooks in!

>60 nittnut: - Jenn - I think that I would have really struggled with Go Set a Watchman if I hadn't read a little of the backstory. Rather than being disappointed by this new release, I am in awe of the amount of improvement from Watchman to To Kill a Mockingbird. It's a testament to the power of revision, for sure.

Editat: ag. 24, 2015, 6:59pm

Book #46: Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace - Anne Lamott - Finished July 22, 2015

Category: essays, audio
Pages: 304
Rating: 4.4

Anne Lamott tells it like it is. She doesn't sugarcoat situations, but it is clear that she has spent a lot of time thinking about faith and friendships, family and failures. In this series of essays, she continually finds a fresh approach to the challenges with which we all deal. Bird by Bird will also be my favorite of Lamott's book, but I enjoyed Small Victories too. She reads the audio, so I felt like she was in the car talking to me throughout this book.

Editat: ag. 24, 2015, 6:59pm

Book #47: The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power - Kim Ghattas - Finished July 23, 2015

Category: nonfiction, audio
Pages: 369
Rating: 4.2

Kim Ghattas, a BBC Foreign Correspondent who covered the State Department during Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State, grew up very aware of American foreign policy. As a child in war-torn Beirut, the decisions made by the U.S. affected her directly. She brings that perspective and an awareness of the Middle East to this book about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and it caused me to view the U.S. foreign policy through a different light. The book sometimes feels as though it is a loosely-related description of trips to foreign countries. At times, I would have liked more of a cohesive narrative and more analysis. However, the behind-the-scenes detail made it an interesting read.

jul. 23, 2015, 11:27pm

>57 BLBera: >61 porch_reader: Beth, I'm seconding Amy's suggestion to read Doc!

>62 porch_reader: I love listening to Anne Lamott read her books. It really is like she is sitting next to me in the car. I mentioned to her at a book signing last year how much I loved her narration. She honestly sounded surprised and thanked me, saying she didn't like the sound of her own voice.

jul. 26, 2015, 11:16pm

Hi Amy! I just finished Claire of the Sea Light. It was wonderful. :) Thanks for the BB.

jul. 27, 2015, 9:10am

I loved Claire of the Sea Light, too. I gave it as a gift to someone recently. Thanks for the even-handed review of Go Set a Watchman. That's one I'm going to take a pass on.

ag. 19, 2015, 7:14pm

Hi Amy! Just playing catch-up, and wanted to wish you a happy end-of-summer!

ag. 24, 2015, 6:57pm

Hi Everyone! Thanks for keeping my thread alive while I've been gone. I had a work conference in Vancouver, so we took a long family vacation around that, basically driving across America and Canada. We logged 6,000 miles, but we sure saw a lot of beautiful places. If you are interested, we've posted some pictures on our blog.

I'm just going to post short updates on my reading to get caught up!

ag. 24, 2015, 7:03pm

Book #48: Fin and Lady - Cathleen Schine - Finished July 27, 2015

Category: fiction, off-the-shelf
Pages: 273
Rating: 4.6

An interesting story about 11-year-old Fin, who has been recently orphaned and is being raised by his half-sister Lady in NYC. Lady is anything but a traditional guardian. As Fin helps her find a husband, she teaches Fin the ways of the world in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Fin and Lady's relationship isn't prototypical, but it's filled with warmth.

Editat: ag. 24, 2015, 7:11pm

Book #49: Calico Joe - John Grisham - Finished July 29, 2015

Category: audio
Pages: 208
Rating: 4.5

I tried to find some audio books that my husband would like for the trip. (He's not much of a reader.) Calico Joe differs from Grisham's typical legal thriller. Instead, Grisham recounts the early career of Calico Joe, a baseball player who lit up the lineup of the Chicago Cubs, and an aging pitcher, whose career is headed in the opposite direction. Told in flashbacks, Grisham tells a good story, and his books always work well for me on audio.

ag. 24, 2015, 7:12pm

July Summary
Books Read = 8
Fiction = 5
Non-fiction = 3
Off-the-shelf = 2

Best Fiction of the Month: Children of God, Fin and Lady
Best Nonfiction of the Month: Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace

ag. 26, 2015, 8:33pm

Book #50: Paddle Your Own Canoe - Nick Offerman - Finished August 15, 2015
Book #51: Yes, Please - Amy Poehler - Finished August 15, 2015
Book #54: Bossypants - Tina Fey - Finished August 24, 2015

Category: audio, humor
Pages: 352, 352, 272
Rating: 4.0, 4.6, 4.6

Three more audio books that my husband and I listened to on our vacation. Because these comedians have worked together, it was interesting to hear about their shared experiences from different perspectives. I read Bossypants when it came out a few years ago, and I knew that Tina Fey was laugh-out-loud funny, but Poehler's book is equally hilarious. She talks as much about her family life as about her career. My husband is a huge Offerman fan, so he enjoyed the tales of Offerman's childhood in rural Illinois. The stories about how he met and fell in love with Megan Mullally were surprising sweet as well. All three audio books were read by the authors, which worked well.

Editat: ag. 26, 2015, 8:46pm

Book #52: Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky - Finished August 15, 2015

Category: YA
Pages: 324
Rating: 4.4

Sara Paretsky is coming to the Iowa City Book Festival, so I decided to try her V. I. Warshawski series. This first book in the series not only introduces us to Private Detective V. I. Warshawski and several of her friends, but also presents an interesting murder mystery with a few twists and turns. This was a great vacation read, and I'm glad that I've got many more books in this series ahead of me.

ag. 26, 2015, 8:44pm

Book #53: The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky - Finished August 19, 2015

Category: YA
Pages: 213
Rating: 4.6

We learn about Charlie's freshman year in high school through letters he writes to an unnamed friend who he has never met. Charlie struggles to fit in in high school. His older brother is off to play football at Penn State, and his sister is a popular senior, but Charlie tends to observe events from the outside, rather than getting involved. But when he meets Sam and Patrick, and they show him some kindness, he begins to find his way. He doesn't fit in, but he begins to find his way. Told from Charlie's point of view only, we are somewhat limited in understanding how others feel because Charlie doesn't always read feelings well himself. Chbosky does a good job of putting us inside Charlie's head.

ag. 26, 2015, 9:16pm

Nice reading Amy - which reminds me, I need to get some reservations if I am coming to the Book Festival. I just finished Total Recall in the Warshawski series, so I also have a few to go.

ag. 26, 2015, 11:54pm

Nice to see you back, Amy! I've got Paddle Your Own Canoe on hold (the audio version) so I'm glad to see you liked it. We're big P&R fans at our house.

ag. 27, 2015, 12:53am

Nice reviews. I ought to get Calico Joe for my husband. He loves baseball, and doesn't read much...

Loved looking at the blog. I am just a little bit homesick now. What a fun trip. I love those marathon trips. A couple of times we've done a marathon National Park trip sort of like that. We were talking the other night about some of the places we'd like to take the kids when we move back to the states. Our oldest has been to Yellowstone, but the younger two haven't. We'd really like to take them there and to Glacier National Park.

ag. 27, 2015, 7:31am

>72 porch_reader: I've read and loved all of those, too. I'm a big fan of all three actors.

ag. 29, 2015, 6:57pm

>75 BLBera: - Hi Beth! They finally put up most of the schedule for the Iowa City Book Festival here. I don't think that the lineup is quite as strong as year's past. I'm excited for Bonnie Jo Campbell - she's one of my favorites!

>76 Copperskye: - Joanne - I like Parks and Rec too. My husband loves Nick Offerman, and I think Amy Poehler is one of the funniest people on TV.

>77 nittnut: - Jenn - My husband was pleasantly surprised by Calico Joe. It isn't terribly long, and there is a little suspense. I highly recommend Glacier National Park. We don't have our pics from there up on the blog yet, but it is gorgeous. We hiked a trait that went right beside a cliff!

>78 scaifea: - Hi Amber! The comedy books really helped pass the time on our long drives. We were laughing out loud!

ag. 29, 2015, 7:02pm

Book #55: Restless: Because You Were Made for More - Jennie Allen - Finished August 26, 2015

Category: spiritual
Pages: 240
Rating: 4.5

Jennie Allen is a Christian writer who writes devotionals and books designed for group study. This one is focused on how to figure out God's purpose for you. Allen talks about how to weave the threads of what you know about yourself into an understanding of your purpose and encourages you to move forward even if you aren't certain what your purpose is. I listened to this on audio, but there were a number of writing prompts after each chapter. To get the most out of it, I'll probably need to read the paper version and fill in the exercises.

ag. 29, 2015, 7:08pm

Book #56: Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor - Finished August 27, 2015

Category: YA
Pages: 439
Rating: 4.8

I've had this book on my Kindle for a long time, but just picked it up last Sunday when I was looking for something to pass the time until the new Three Pines book came out. I don't know why I waited so long. I tore through this fantasy about a girl named Karou, who runs errands around the world to collect teeth for an otherworldly creature who raised her. She knows little about where she came from or the creatures who are raising her, and we are kept in suspense for much of the book as well. But as the secrets unfold, it is clear that her past is much more complex than it seems and her future is much more uncertain. This is the first of a trilogy, and I will definitely be reading the others soon.

ag. 29, 2015, 7:44pm

Thanks for the link to the conference. I won't be able to make it this year. The Sara Paretsky talk was the one that most attracted me, and I just found out that a committee I'm on is meeting on Oct. 2 from 2-4, so I wouldn't be able to get there in time. So, I'll give it a try again next year. :(

ag. 29, 2015, 8:56pm

That's too bad, Beth! I'd love to see you again. But I agree that the Paretsky talk is one of the highlights. Too bad it is on Friday evening.

ag. 29, 2015, 9:17pm

Well, maybe we can have a meet up some other time.

ag. 30, 2015, 4:40pm

Amy, I enjoyed following your family travels on FB. It sounds like all the driving was worth it. I'm sad Beth won't be able to make the Iowa City Book Festival, but I'm still planning on it and look forward to meeting you and Julia. There are several authors I'm interested in, but think my LT friends and their lovely city is the big draw for me. I also look forward to visiting Prairie Lights as I've heard many good things about it.

ag. 31, 2015, 4:50pm

>84 BLBera: - Absolutely, Beth! Prairie Lights is always here (along with Julia and me), so anytime is a good time for a meet-up in Iowa City. I'd love to come your direction sometime as well!

>85 Donna828: - That's great news, Donna! Let me know as you decide on your travel plans. My mom always comes up for the Iowa City Book Festival, and I think that we are planning on going to the Friday night session with Sara Paretsky. I also just got Kitchens of Great Midwest, and I see where the author of that book, J. Ryan Stradal, is reading with Robert Goolrick on Saturday. Of course, a visit to Prairie Lights can take hours. I just stopped in there yesterday with my kids, but lucky for them, I was looking for a specific book (Just Mercy) and not browsing!

ag. 31, 2015, 5:01pm

Book #57: The Nature of the Beast - Louise Penny - Finished August 30, 2015

Category: mystery, series
Pages: 376
Rating: 5.0

August is a bit of a rough month in my house. Not only does the heat and humidity reach its peak, but it is also the end of our lazy summer schedule and the return to homework, routines, and a packed schedule. But lately, August has redeemed itself. When I turn over the calendar to August, I start to anticipate the next book in the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mystery series. Lately, I've taken to buying each new addition to the series for my Kindle so that my mom and I can both read it as soon as it comes out.

I don't know how she does it. I keep thinking that there will be one book in the series that isn't quite as engaging. One book that I can put down for longer than a few minutes without wondering what happens next. But so far, each one is as good as the last. The Nature of the Beast combines a satisfying mystery with excellent writing and continued character development, especially for Inspector Gamache. If you haven't read any of Louise Penny's mysteries, I recommend starting with at the beginning of the series because the characters grow and develop over time. Also, if you haven't read any of Louise Penny's mysteries, I'm a bit jealous because I would love to have this whole series stretching out in front of me. As it is, I'll just have to wait for next August to revisit my friends in Three Pines.

ag. 31, 2015, 5:24pm

^ Yay! I've got The Nature of the Beast, and it'll be next after I finish two I'm in the middle of. I don't know how she does it (and keeps doing it) either.

ag. 31, 2015, 5:25pm

Amy - I'm happy to hear that the latest Penny is great. It's next on my list; I just picked up my library copy.

set. 1, 2015, 11:14am

>80 porch_reader: My women's group did the Bible study/workbook on Restless. I thought it was fantastic, and I should probably look for the book itself.

Glad to see you liked The Nature of the Beast so much! It's waiting for me at the library, and I'm hoping to pick it up on my way to the airport today.

set. 2, 2015, 6:13pm

Joe and Beth - You are in for a treat with The Nature of the Beast. I can't wait to see what you think of it!

Mary - I think that I would like to go through Restless with a group. I bet it generated good discussion! Enjoy the new Louise Penny!

set. 2, 2015, 6:14pm

August Summary
Books Read = 8
Fiction = 4
Non-fiction = 4
Off-the-shelf = 1

Best Fiction of the Month: The Nature of the Beast
Best Nonfiction of the Month: Yes Please, Bossypants

set. 2, 2015, 6:24pm

Book #58: The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us-And How They Don't - Nick Yee - Finished September 1, 2015

Category work
Pages: 248
Rating: 4.3

Millions of people play massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), taking on new identities in virtual worlds. Nick Yee studies how behavior in these virtual worlds is surprisingly similar to behavior in the real world. For example, superstitions develop in virtual worlds much as they do in real life. However, in some cases, virtual worlds and the rules by which they are designed can influence our behavior in surprising ways. For example, the height of our avatars may influence how others react to us. Using lots of examples and quotes from interviews, Yee explores this paradox and discusses the implications for interactions in an increasingly online world.

set. 2, 2015, 6:37pm

Book #59: Rising Strong - Brene Brown - Finished September 1, 2015

Category: psychology
Pages: 301
Rating: 301

In Brown's previous books, she encourages vulnerability, authenticity, and wholehearted living. She sums up the message from The Gifts of Imperfection as "be you" and the message from Daring Greatly as "be all in." But in achieving those goals, it is likely that we will fall and doubt ourselves. So, Rising Strong is about how to rise back up after you fall. Using examples from her own life and examples from her research participants, she discusses the importance of being curious about your emotions and the importance of "rumbling" with the stories that you are telling yourself after you fall. Picking up on themes from her previous book, Brown goes even further in providing tools to help us brave our falls and rise strong.

One of my favorite quotes: "The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable. But our wholeness - even our wholeheartedness - actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls."

set. 2, 2015, 7:33pm

Book #60: The Fine Art of Fucking Up - Cate Dicharry - Finished September 2, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 230
Rating: 4.4

A university on the brink of being flooded, a school of visual arts scrambling to save a valuable Jackson Pollock painting. I have to admit that I had a feeling a deja vu while reading this book. Cate Dicharry lives in Iowa City and her story of the evacuation of the School of Visual Arts clearly uses the 2008 flood of the Iowa River as its jumping off place. But from there, Dicharry tells a story that is a humorous and increasingly wacky, yet oddly believable. An enjoyable campus novel.

set. 3, 2015, 5:59pm

Hi Amy - I'm going to look for the Dicharry - it sounds like a fun read.

set. 6, 2015, 2:56pm

Trying to get caught up so random thoughts from the last couple of months on your thread. Given the similarity of our reading tastes, I'm not surprised by how much I agree with your comments on Go Set a Watchman. I'm so sorry our original travel plans have been changed by the necessity to take care of a bunch of things in Florida because we could probably have fit the Book Fair into our trip back from Chautauqua to CA since we were timing it to be in Oregon on Oct. 17. Drat!!

set. 6, 2015, 8:49pm

>96 BLBera: - Beth - I love humorous campus novels, especially the ones that are so close to the truth. This one gets pretty absurd, but there were definitely moment when I thought, Yep, I can see that happening!

>97 RebaRelishesReading: - Reba - I've been enjoying following your travels. I'm know that your friend appreciates you coming back to San Diego early to support her during her husband's illness. But it would have been great to have you at the Book Festival. Maybe it will work out another year. The Book Festival is usually in early October! Safe travels!

set. 6, 2015, 9:04pm

Book #61: Heading Out to Wonderful - Robert Goolrick - Finished September 6, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 292
Rating: 3.8

When Charlie Beale arrives in Brownsville, Virginia in the summer of 1948, his background is a mystery. All that we (and the townspeople) know is that Charlie is trained as a butcher. He goes to work for Will Haislett at the town's only butcher shop and gradually is accepted by the townspeople and by Will's family, especially his 5-year-old son Sam. But a series of events, some caused by Charlie and some outside of his control, set Charlie and the whole town on a path that will upset the delicate balance of their lives.

This story kept me turning the pages of this book, but I felt that more could have been done to develop the characters and make their motivations clearer. I was especially disappointed by the ending, which didn't seem to fit with the characters actions up to that point.

set. 7, 2015, 8:55pm

Book #62: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption - Bryan Stevenson - Finished September 7, 2015

Category: narrative non-fiction
Pages: 349
Rating: 5.0

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that defends the wrongly convicted and those without access to adequate legal representation. In Just Mercy, Stevenson tells the stories of the people he has defended, focusing especially on the story of Walter McMillian, an Alabama man who is on death row for a murder he did not commit. Through these stories, Stevenson shines a light on the problems with the criminal justice system and helps us understand the challenges and triumphs he has faced in fighting those problems. This book is narrative nonfiction at its best, and Stevenson's message is an important one. I highly recommend this book.

set. 18, 2015, 6:59pm

Book #63: Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood - Finished September 11, 2015

Category: audio, post-apocalyptic, series
Pages: 389
Rating: 4.8

I read Oryx and Crake in 2012, but never read the other two in the trilogy, so I decided to refresh my mind by listening to this one. Atwood creates a post-apocalyptic world that is only gradually revealed to us in a series of flashbacks by a character named Snowman. The post-apocalyptic world is starkly different than our own, but the steps to get there seem eerily plausible. The revelation of what happened to Snowman's world is perfectly timed, never rushed, but always driving forward. The narrator was quite good as well.

set. 18, 2015, 7:06pm

Book #64: Kitchens of the Great Midwest - J. Ryan Stradal - Finished September 11, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 320
Rating: 4.5

A series of linked stories in which Eva Thorvald is the common character. Born to a chef and a sommelier, Eva is exposed to exquisite food from the beginning and develops a palette that serves her well as she develops into a chef in her own right. Family turmoil and secrets follow Eva throughout the book, but in several chapters, she appears only as a minor character. When Eva's story is interesting, these side stories are tautly told with interesting characters in their own right. Although there are times will plot coincidences seem too convenient, overall this debut novel held my interest and made me wonder what's next from Stradal.

set. 18, 2015, 7:14pm

Book #65: Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear - Finished September 17, 2015

Category: mystery, series
Pages: 342
Rating: 4.8

This is the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and it may be my favorite yet. Maisie gets involved in a case involving a young girl who has been accused of murder, while also seeking to learn what happened to two soldiers who were lost in World War I. As she follows the clues, her life is threatened. I continue to love Maisie and her no nonsense manner. The supporting characters continue to develop as well. This is a series that I will definitely continue on with.

set. 21, 2015, 12:33am

Hi Amy, Your last three books are ones I want to read. I can't believe that I STILL have not read Oryx and Crake!

set. 22, 2015, 12:31pm

You're tempting me as usual, Amy :)

set. 22, 2015, 8:30pm

>104 Copperskye: - Joanne - Oryx and Crake is a must-read! I can't wait to get to The Year of the Flood, but I made a trip to Prairie Lights this weekend, so I have a lot of books vying for the top of the TBR pile!

>105 RebaRelishesReading: - I feel like I've done my job, Reba!

set. 22, 2015, 8:50pm

Book #65: The Martian - Andy Weir - Finished September 18, 2015

Category: science fiction
Pages: 387
Rating: 4.9

I know that this book already has lots of fans, but based on what I knew about the book, I wasn't sure that it was for me. The book sounds like a prototypical science fiction story. Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when the rest of his crewmates leave him for dead, and this is the story of his attempts to survive. But I was only a few chapters in when I realized that this book is much more than that. First, Mark Watney is an awesome character - smart and funny, optimistic and a problem-solver. I can't imagine many people who wouldn't have reached rock bottom when facing the challenges he faced. But I had no doubt that Mark could survive. He's the kind of character that you root for. The book also appealed to the geeky side of me. Weir does not spare us the details of the challenges that Mark faces. How to create water, grow food, communicate with earth from Mars - now I know. But even with all of the technical detail, the plot races forward. I could not put this book down. Even if you aren't a science fiction fan, I would recommend giving this one a try!

set. 22, 2015, 9:17pm

Book #66: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs - Matthew Dicks - Finished September 20, 2015

Category: favorite authors
Pages: 225
Rating: 4.8

My mom came up this weekend for my older son's confirmation, and we managed a trip to Prairie Lights. She bought several books, which made since because she doesn't live near a bookstore. I walk by Prairie Lights almost every day, but I still managed to buy four books.

Matthew Dicks is one of my favorite authors. He writes quirky, imperfect characters who are ultimately so endearing. Caroline Jacobs is no different. A middle-aged wife and mother who rarely sticks up for herself, Caroline doesn't seem like your typical protagonist. But when she sticks up for another mom at a PTO meeting, something inside her snaps. Together with her teenaged daughter, Caroline goes back to her hometown for a long overdue confrontation with her one-time best friend. The plot is clever and moves the story forward, but this book is about Caroline and her relationships. She grows throughout the book, but does so in a way that allows her to stay true to herself. I think that my favorite moments are when Caroline is interacting with her teenaged daughter. Their relationship is rocky at best, but when Caroline opens up to her daughter, things begin to change. I love that Dicks seems to respect each of his characters and I love the interesting details that he sprinkles throughout the story. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is still my favorite Dicks' book, but The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is definitely worth a read.

set. 23, 2015, 9:57am

Yay for The Martian! Love love love that one.

set. 23, 2015, 7:21pm

Amy - Your comments on The Martian make me think, as a non-SF reader that I might like this one. Onto the list it goes.

set. 27, 2015, 6:43pm

>109 scaifea: - Amber - I knew that lots of people loved The Martian, and now I see why! Such a good book.

>110 BLBera: - Beth - You should definitely add The Martian to your TBR. I think it is definitely a SF book that non-SF fans can appreciate.

set. 27, 2015, 6:48pm

Book #67: The Jesus Cow - Michael Perry - Finished September 24, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 283
Rating: 4.6

The quiet town of Swivel, WI is suddenly not so quiet anymore. A calf born to Harley Jackson on Christmas Eve has the face of Jesus Christ on its side. Harley tries to keep it quiet, hiding the calf from his new girlfriend and the rest of the town, but it is hard to hide anything in a small town like Swivel. This is an excellent small-town novel with a great supporting cast and more to the storyline than meets the eye. I had read and enjoyed Perry's non-fiction book, Population: 485, and I enjoyed his fiction just as much.

set. 27, 2015, 7:00pm

Book #68: The Water Museum - Luis Alberto Urrea - Finished September 27, 2015

Category: short stories
Pages: 258
Rating: 4.8

My favorite thing about Urrea is his ability to pull me into a world that is so distinct from mine. In Into the Beautiful North, we start in a Mexican village threatened by drug traffickers and from there travel north to the U.S. In The Hummingbird's Daughter, we are transported to a Mexican village in the late 19th century where the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy rancher is believed to be a saint. Through dialogue and description, Urrea gives these worlds texture, but in The Water Museum, a collection of short stories, he is challenged to create multiple worlds in only a few pages, and he does. Each of these stories is told from a different perspectives. Several take us to the border town of Tres Camerones, but one is set in Iowa and another traces a road trip from Massachusetts to the west. One story, Carnations, is only two pages, yet still leaps off the page with texture and emotion. I have to admit that I prefer Urrea's novels, but I admire his ability to richly layer character and place in short stories as well.

set. 27, 2015, 9:48pm

Amy - Nice comments on the Urrea. That reminds me that I want to read Into the Beautiful North sometime this year.

set. 28, 2015, 5:34am

Hi Amy! So many books!

I've just got The Martian from the library. I've seen so many good reviews, and I think that I will like it, though I fall in the category of not a huge fan of science fiction. Or maybe just Picky about it. :)

>112 porch_reader: The Jesus Cow sounds like an entertaining read. I'm adding it to the list.

oct. 8, 2015, 11:49pm

>107 porch_reader: Loved the book, and will be checking out the movie soon. Science fiction is a much broader genre than many people realize.

oct. 9, 2015, 11:22am

I'll be interested to see what you think, Amy, because your taste and mine are very similar. I've been seeing the trailers for the film on TV and thinking "not for me" but maybe I'm wrong.

oct. 9, 2015, 7:01pm

>114 BLBera: - I love everything that Urrea writes, Beth. But Into the Beautiful North holds a special place with me!

>115 nittnut: - Jenn - My mom just finished The Jesus Cow too. We both thought it was better than we expected. I wasn't sure if Perry could pull off a whole book based on a cow when markings in the shape of Jesus, but it ended up being a great small town story.

>116 ronincats: - I want to see the movie too, Roni! I like the idea of Matt Damon as Mark Watney.

>117 RebaRelishesReading: - Reba - If you are curious about The Martian, you might try it on audio. I listened to the first half of it, but then it was the weekend, and I couldn't wait to see what happened (I listen to audiobooks on my way to and from work), so I finished reading it. I thought it was a great story!

oct. 9, 2015, 7:11pm

OK, I am way behind on reviews. My mom came to visit last weekend for the Iowa City Book Festival. She also got to see my older son all dressed up with his date for his first homecoming dance! Then I left on Monday to drive to Chicago and fly out for a business trip in Singapore. But while I was in Chicago, my sinus pressure and headaches got bad and I blacked out in a bookstore, so I decided it was better not to travel. I've been spending the week trying to get healthy again, which has given me some good reading time.

So tonight, I'm going to try to get all caught up while watching the Cardinals-Cubs playoff game. I'm a lifelong Cardinals fan, but I've got a soft spot for the Cubs too.

oct. 9, 2015, 7:12pm

September Summary
Books Read = 11
Fiction = 8
Non-fiction = 3
Off-the-shelf = 1

Best Fiction of the Month: The Martian
Best Nonfiction of the Month: Just Mercy
Other Great Reads: The Water Museum, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, Oryx and Crake, Rising Strong

oct. 9, 2015, 7:19pm

Book #69: Queen of America - Luis Alberto Urrea - Finished October 2, 2015

Category: favorite authors
Pages: 512
Rating: 4.8

A follow-up to The Hummingbird's Daughter. Young Teresita Urrea, the Saint of Cabora, is in America with her father after having escaped their home in Mexico. Pursued by assassins, Teresita travels into the heart of America, struggling to deal with the hordes of pilgrims and the people who want to exploit her. Urrea tells a compelling story, creating a multi-layered character in Teresita and surrounding her with a cast of fascinating companions.

oct. 9, 2015, 7:27pm

Book #70: House of Secrets - Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini- Finished October 9, 2015

Category: middle great, fantasy, audio
Pages: 490
Rating: 4.0

In this middle grade novel, the Walker family buys a new house that once belongs to novelist Denver Kristoff. But when they move in, unusual events begin almost immediately. Brendon, Eleanor, and Cordelia find themselves separated from their parents and inside three of Kristoff's novels. They must use all of their wits to stay alive and return to present day San Francisco. This worked well on audio, and the Walker children are admirable protagonists. At times, I wished the storyline felt a little repetitive, but overall this was a good read.

oct. 9, 2015, 7:41pm

Book #71: The Hundred-Year House - Rebecca Makkai - Finished October 7, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 338
Rating: 5.0

Rebecca Makkai is teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop this year, and she was at the Iowa City Book Festival (although I didn't get to see her). So this novel was featured prominently at Prairie Lights and found my way into her stack. I expected a good read, focusing on a 100 year old house at four different points in its history. But this book far exceeded my expectations. The book begins in 1999 as Zee, a young English professor, and her husband, an unemployed academic who is working on a book about poet Edwin Parfitt, find themselves living in the carriage house of her parent's estate. The estate was once an artist's colony where Parfitt stayed in the late 1920s. But Zee's family has secrets of their own, which are gradually revealed during this first section of the book. But the house does not give up all of its secrets in this first section. Through three flashbacks, we learn more about what happened in this house that is filled with ghosts and secrets. The story is intricately layered. I can definitely see this one benefiting from a re-read, if only to try to figure out how Makkai created this complex story. Makkai is also a beautiful reader, bringing me up short with her sentences. Highly recommended!

oct. 9, 2015, 7:57pm

Book #72: The Vacationers - Emma Straub - Finished October 8, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 294
Rating: 4.7

The Post family and their friends spend two weeks in a borrowed house on Mallorca. What seems like it could be a relaxing, slightly boring vacation is made much more interesting because everyone comes on vacation with their relationships in a state of upheaval. Parents Franny and Jim have been married 35 years and recently hit a bump in their relationship. Their older son Bobby joins them from Miami with his girlfriend Carmen, with whom he has never developed a close bond. Younger daughter Sylvia is heading to college in the fall and trying to figure out who she is in her family and without them. Friends Charles and Lawrence have the most stable relationship, but are introduce a new wrinkle into their relationship. This small group of characters is almost constantly in conversation, gradually dealing with their problems in a way that seems utterly real. Straub explores all angles of relationships, bringing an eye for detail and nuance that sets her novels apart.

oct. 9, 2015, 8:32pm

Hi Amy - I hope you are healthy. Sorry I missed the Festival. Next year! You got me with both the Urrea and the Makkai. I have Into the Beautiful North on my desk, which puts it into the "read soon" pile.

oct. 9, 2015, 8:41pm

Book #73: Landline - Rainbow Rowell - Finished October 9, 2015

Category: fiction, audio
Pages: 319
Rating: 4.7

Georgie McCool has the opportunity to write the sitcom that she and her writing partner Seth have always dreamed of writing, but she has to have four episodes ready in a week, and that means skipping a Christmas trip to Omaha with her husband Neal and her two daughters. Amidst this story, Rowell explores the challenges of keeping a marriage fresh while pursuing a career. The characters are believable. When conflicts arise, there are no easy answers. As someone who is familiar with the challenges of managing work and life, I often found myself nodding my head in agreement with Georgie's dilemmas. That alone would make this a strong novel, but Rowell also throws in some magical realism that bring issues of what might have been to the forefront and propels the plot forward. Overall, an extremely enjoyable story.

oct. 9, 2015, 8:49pm

>125 BLBera: - Beth - I was sorry that you weren't able to make the festival too. My mom and I loved Sara Paretsky's talk. We saw a couple of other good readings too, but overall, the lineup wasn't quite as strong as last year. I'll keep my eyes open for news of next year, or for other interesting Iowa City events. I'd love to see you anytime! I hope that you like the Urrea as much as I did. If you ever get the chance to see him read, you should go! I saw him last year. He's a great reader and a really interesting guy. He's at the University of Illinois - Chicago, I think, so he's been to Iowa City a couple of times lately!

oct. 9, 2015, 8:51pm

Thanks Amy - I was sad I missed the Paretsky talk. It all turned out well, though. I got to meet Kim and Katie in Mpls.

oct. 9, 2015, 8:57pm

Book #74: Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf - Finished October 9, 2015

Category: favorite authors
Pages: 179
Rating: 5.0

Kent Haruf's last novel, published posthumously, is a slim volume. Haruf takes us back to Holt, Colorado, but focuses on two characters, Addie and Louis. Neighbors who have both recently lost their spouses, Addie and Louis begin sleeping together just for the company. They are people of few words, but in those words, they speak volumes about the lonely of losing a spouse and the difficulty of finding oneself in the world that remains. Addie's grandson, Jamie, makes an appearance as well, coming to stay with Addie when his parents separate and showing that loneliness is an issue that spans ages. Holt has become one of my favorite authors, creating characters that are so real that I'm sure I've met them on the streets of my small town. He leaves a legacy of book that mark a place and a way of life.

oct. 9, 2015, 9:05pm

Hi Amy! Wow, you're reading a lot of wonderful books lately, many of which I have had my eye on!

I've had Our Souls at Night on my shelf ever since it first came out. Silly, but I hate to read it because I know it's the last one.... I know I should get over it. I know I'll love it.

oct. 9, 2015, 9:12pm

>128 BLBera: - Beth - I just hopped over to your thread, and I will definitely have to check out Birchbark Books next time I'm in Minneapolis. You also hit me with some book bullets. I have A Spool of Blue Thread and Fates and Furies both on my TBR pile.

>130 Copperskye: - Joanne - I know what you mean. I was sad to read Our Souls at Night, although I still have some of Haruf's early books to read. Did Haruf know he was ill when we was writing it? He creates that sense of the complex feelings that come at the end of life so well. My mom bought it when she was visiting a couple of weeks ago and read it in one night, while the rest of us were watching the Iowa Hawkeye football game. She lost my dad just a couple of years ago, so I know that it hit close to home for her.

oct. 9, 2015, 9:14pm

Let me know when you're in Minneapolis, Amy. I'd love to meet in BB books.

oct. 9, 2015, 9:36pm

>132 BLBera: - Will do, Beth! It is not that far to Minneapolis, and I love the Twin Cities!

oct. 9, 2015, 9:51pm

>131 porch_reader: He knew he was dying when he started it, Amy.

oct. 10, 2015, 2:06pm

Wow, you give The Martian "best book of September". Interesting you started it on audio because that almost all I've done this year. I'm thinking about it because I usually love the books you like but...still...can't imagine it for me. We'll see.

oct. 10, 2015, 8:10pm

>134 Copperskye: - Wow, that makes Our Souls at Night even more affecting, Joanne. What a gift to leave for his readers!

>135 RebaRelishesReading: - I agree that The Martian is different from the books that you usually read, Reba. So that makes it hard for me to know if you will like it. But the main character - Mark Watney - is an outstanding character. He made the whole book work for me. There's a lot of geeky scientific problem-solving, which I was also fascinated by, and I can imagine that those parts might not be for everyone. I'm trying to convince my mom to read it. (It's also not her typical kind of book.) So I'll let you know what she thinks if she reads it!

oct. 11, 2015, 11:31am

It'll be interesting to hear what she has to say. The book and movie are certainly getting a lot of "buzz" but the trailers of the movie leave me cold...still, you really like the book...

oct. 13, 2015, 5:20pm

Thanks for sharing your blog! My husband and I did the Lewis and Clark trail many years ago and your trip brought back wonderful memories. I am ready for another cross country trip!

And you are reading great books, too!

oct. 15, 2015, 12:15pm

>119 porch_reader: Amy, I'm sorry to hear about your blackout in the bookstore. At least you were among friends…and by friends I mean fellow readers! I was also sorry to miss the Book Festival because of interference from family and friends. Real Life intervenes once again! I am going to give it another shot next year.

The Cardinals may be out, but look at those Royals!

>121 porch_reader: I loved The Hummingbird's Daughter so Queen of America is definitely on my radar. Keep up the good reading, Amy. I don't think I liked The Martian book as well as you did. After seeing the movie yesterday, I am going to shock you and say I liked it better than the book. I could have done with less science and more Mark Watney in the book. I thought the movie got it just right for me!

oct. 15, 2015, 6:41pm

>137 RebaRelishesReading: - Reba - My mom feels the same way as you. Since Donna says that she liked the movie better than the book, maybe that's the way to go!

>138 witchyrichy: - Karen - Although there were some painful days of driving 12-14 hours, we were so glad that we did the cross-country trip. The West is beautiful!!!

>139 Donna828: - Donna - Blacking out in the bookstore was a strange experience for me, Donna. It has happened before, but always at home. But I do have to say that I would rather have been in a bookstore than any of my other stops that day! Kind people and a quiet space made it much better. I so hope that you can come to Iowa City sometime. I'm so pleased to live in a city that has events like the book festival, but I completely understand about Real Life intervening.

oct. 15, 2015, 6:50pm

Book #75: Undermajordomo Minor - Patrick deWitt - Finished October 11, 2015

Category: fiction
Rating: 4.6

I loved The Sisters Brothers, so I was looking forward to deWitt's new novel Undermajordomo Minor. As you might guess from the title, this is another slightly quirky book. It is described as an adventure, a love story, and a fairy tale, and it is all of that. But for me, the story rests on the somewhat capable shoulders of Lucien (Lucy) Minor, a lonely young man who leaves his home in the village of Bury to become the assistant to the Major Domo (the undermajordomo, if you will) of Castle Von Aux, far from his home. The book starts slowly, as deWitt gives us a sense for Lucy's many layers, but when he reaches Castle Von Aux, it becomes clear that the residents of the castle and the surrounding village have some secrets. But they also have some room in their hearts for Lucy, who becomes a more likeable fellow as the story unfolds. There is one incredibly odd scene near the end of the book that seemed somewhat out of place, but overall, I enjoyed this story.

oct. 15, 2015, 7:07pm

Book #76: Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder - Finished October 15, 2015

Category: non-fiction, audio
Pages: 277
Rating: 4.8

Tracy Kidder is one of my favorite authors of narrative non-fiction. Mountains Beyond Mountains is a book that I loved and will likely read again one day, so my expectations were high for Strength in What Remains. And again, Kidder introduces us to a man who is somewhat larger than life. The story begins as Deo arrives in New York after escaping genocide in Burundi. Through flashbacks we learn about Deo's life in Burundi while the story of his attempt to survive in New York unfolds. Deo is a determined and likeable fellow who benefits from many serendipitous encounters even as he is haunted by his past. This is a phenomenal story about an amazing man.

oct. 15, 2015, 8:51pm

Congrats on 75, Amy! I've been wondering about the latest deWitt; I thought THe Sisters Brothers was OK, so I've been hesitant about this one. I also loved Strength in What Remains.

oct. 16, 2015, 9:20am

Hi Amy - chiming in to say I finished Undermajordomo Minor last night and also really enjoyed it. Parts of it I found genuinely hilarious, others were odd, some disgusting, but I just raced through it and think it's a unique mix.

oct. 16, 2015, 10:42am

>142 porch_reader: I'm a big Tracy Kidder fan, too, Amy. So glad to see your comments on Strength in What Remains. I loved it, too, and feel it's under-read. Amazing man, phenomenal story, as you say.

oct. 16, 2015, 7:23pm

Hurrah for passing the 75 book mark!!

oct. 17, 2015, 7:24am

Congrats on getting to 75! It's kind of fun to be there early, isn't it?

oct. 17, 2015, 8:07am

Hi Amy

>142 porch_reader: I bought this book yesterday for .25 at a library sale table. Your review prompts me to read it soon.

Congratulations on surpassing the 75 goal!

oct. 17, 2015, 11:14am

Congratulations on 75!! I'm afraid I will get nowhere near that number this year, largely because I've done almost all audio books and they seem to take a lot longer.

oct. 19, 2015, 9:14pm

>143 BLBera: - Thanks, Beth! I think I liked The Sisters Brothers a little more than Undermajordomo Minor, so if The Sisters Brothers was only OK for you, you might want to wait on Undermajordomo. There are so many good books out there that it makes it hard to choose sometimes!

>144 vivians: - Well said, Vivian. Undermajordomo really worked on the whole for me. deWitt is definitely a unique author.

>145 jnwelch: - Joe - I had Strength in What Remains on my shelf for a long time before I finally picked it up. lt was a much more powerful book than I thought it would be!

>146 ronincats: - Thanks, Roni!

>147 witchyrichy: - Thanks, Karen! It took me a little longer to get to 75 this year than last year, but I'm still hoping to get to 100 (or close)!

>148 Whisper1: - Thanks, Linda! Congrats on your bargain!

>149 RebaRelishesReading: - Audiobooks do take longer, Reba! I even listen to them on 1.25 times speed (or sometimes even 1.5 times speed), and I still think I can read faster.

oct. 19, 2015, 9:39pm

Book #77: The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood - Finished October 18, 2015

Category: trilogy, speculative fiction
Pages: 434
Rating: 4.8

The is the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy. Atwood introduces us to new characters in the near future world that she created in Oryx and Crake. We spend time seeing the world and its challenges from the perspective of Toby and Ren, two women who find themselves as members of The Gardeners, a group that has some strong religious beliefs. At first, I was uncertain how this book meshed with the events in Oryx and Crake, but when the two stories came together, Atwood not only adds layers to the first book, but at times she gave me a whole different perspective on events and characters from Oryx and Crake. She also left us with a huge cliffhanger ending. I went to Prairie Lights and bought MaddAddam, the third book in the trilogy, today.

oct. 19, 2015, 9:59pm

Book #78: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other - Sherry Turkle - Finished October 19, 2015

Category: work
Pages: 384
Rating: 4.5

I'm going to write an article about how digital natives (young people who have always had technology playing a major role in their lives) approach work, so I've been reading a lot about how people interact with technology and how that changes how they interact with one another. In this book, Sherry Turkle spends the first half examining how we relate to robots and other types of technology. Whether it is robotic toys or robotic caregivers, people come to expect more from technology and to treat technology as if it is human. On the other hand, technology has caused us to expect less from our relationships with each other. We communicate by text and pay more attention to our cell phones than our dinner partners, leading to a dearth of deep relationships and increasing discomfort with solitude. Turkle takes volumes of research and weaves it into a fascinating story.

Editat: oct. 20, 2015, 12:25am

Interesting comments on Alone Together, Amy, but I'm not sure they logically lead to the conclusion about "increasing discomfort with solitude". My first thought was to take it the other way around---we don't need people because we have technology, and are therefore more comfortable with solitude. Do you mean that people need noise / distraction / stimulation / whatever on a constant basis, due to the constant technology link?

As someone who *is* comfortable with solitude, conclusions about what is "good" and "not good" for us in this respect always attract my interest, even if I don't agree with them.

oct. 20, 2015, 1:03pm

>150 porch_reader: You listen to them speeded up? Interesting thought.

oct. 20, 2015, 9:28pm

>153 lyzard: - Liz - Yes, it would have been more accurate to say that there is increasing discomfort with solitude when we don't have technology. People are much more likely to pull out their phones than to sit alone with their thoughts. This isn't the main theme of the book, which focuses mostly on relationships, but I found it interesting.

>154 RebaRelishesReading: - Yes, I've gotten in the habit of listening at 1.25 times speed. It works better for some narrators than others.

oct. 20, 2015, 9:57pm

>155 porch_reader:

Ah, yes, that is true. I tend to sit alone with a book; I'm not sure where that ranks. :)

oct. 27, 2015, 9:50pm

Book #79: Someday, Someday Maybe - Lauren Graham - Finished October 22, 2015

Category: debut, audio
Pages: 368
Rating 4.5

You probably know Lauren Graham as an actress. Gilmore Girls and Parenthood are two of my favorite series. So I was curious to read Graham's debut novel. The story of a young actress trying to make it in New York City, Someday, Someday Maybe is likely somewhat autobiographical. The story is told with humor and finely-observed details. Graham is as natural at storytelling as she is at acting. I listened to this one on audio, read by Lauren Graham, which I think added to my enjoyment.

oct. 27, 2015, 10:03pm

Book #80: Messenger of Truth - Jacqueline Winspear - Finished October 24, 2015

Category: series, mystery
Pages: 322
Rating: 4.7

The Maisie Dobbs series just keeps getting better. The mystery stands alone as Maisie investigates the murder or accidental death of an artist. At the same time, we learn more about the role of artists in creating propaganda during World War I, an interesting addition to the history that Winspear has shared in the earlier books in this series. Plus, the continued development of Maisie and her assistant Billy adds so much to the story. I am thrilled that I have so many books in this series ahead of me.

oct. 28, 2015, 4:30pm

Congrats on blowing past 75!

oct. 28, 2015, 5:45pm

Thanks, Jim! I'm hoping for 100 by the end of the year.

oct. 28, 2015, 5:55pm

Book #81: Essential: Essays by the Minimalists - Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus - Finished October 27, 2015

Category: essays
Pages: 334
Rating: 4.5

This is a collection of blog posts from the Minimalists. I read their blog from time-to-time, so there was not a lot of new content here. But by collecting blog posts by topic (technology, finances, health), the experience of reading them is different. I also find that reading books like this motivate me even if I've read the ideas before. Right now, I'm trying to cut down on my stuff (except books, of course) and my schedule, so the timing was good for this book.

oct. 28, 2015, 6:20pm

Book #82: Discoveries: New Writing from the Iowa Review - Finished October 27, 2015

Category: short stories, poetry, essays
Pages: 206
Rating: 4.5

At the Iowa City Book Festival, The Iowa Review was giving away free back issues. This one, Discoveries, has essays, poetry, and short stories. Although I enjoyed some more than others, I found some excellent selections from authors I wasn't aware of. The short story Shelter by Susan Perabo was the final story in the volume, and it was one of my favorites. In just a few pages, Perabo draws two distinct character, a women who runs a shelter for abandoned dogs and a man who comes to adopt one. They think that they know one another (and the reader may think that they have the characters pegged as well), but there is more to each than meets the eye.

oct. 29, 2015, 12:49am

Congrats on reaching 75, Amy!

oct. 31, 2015, 1:16pm

Congrats from me too, Amy

oct. 31, 2015, 6:37pm

Delayed congrats on reaching the magic number.

nov. 1, 2015, 9:59pm

Amy, you're a reading machine these days. My goal is 100 for the year as well. Last year i hit it on the nose! I also loved the Maddaddam Trilogy. They are keeper books for me, to be read again someday.

nov. 1, 2015, 10:39pm

Waving hello! My reading has slowed Way down, but I'm still around. :) Hope things are going well.

nov. 1, 2015, 10:43pm

Hi Amy

I am re-reading The Sparrow and I found your excellent review. It is difficult to put feelings and thoughts regarding this book into words, yet, you did an amazing job at capturing the characters and the complex spirituality found in the pages of this brilliant work of art.

nov. 4, 2015, 9:33pm

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! It's nice to pass 75, but mostly I'm enjoying having a little more time to read. One nice thing about the time change and the early sunsets is that I get a little more reading time in.

nov. 4, 2015, 9:42pm

October Summary

October Summary
Books Read = 14
Fiction = 10
Non-fiction = 3
Compilation = 1
Off-the-shelf = 3

Best Fiction of the Month: Our Souls at Night, The Hundred-Year House
Best Nonfiction of the Month: Strength in What Remains
Other Great Reads: The Year of the Flood, Queen of America, Landline, Messenger of Truth

nov. 4, 2015, 9:49pm

Book #83: Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz - Finished November 4, 2015

Category: audio, series
Pages: 480
Rating: 4.5

I'd heard good things about this series, so I decided to try the first one on audio. Fast-paced stories that hold my attention generally work well in that format for me, and Odd Thomas fit the bill. Odd is as much a descriptor as a name. Odd is a short order cook in the small town of Pico Mundo, California. Although only a few people know it, Odd can see the dead and bodachs, small evil creatures that are attracted to carnage. Through these special senses, he gets advanced warning of a possible murder and sets out to try to change fate. Odd is a likeable character, and Koontz surrounds him with some interesting friends. I can see this series working well for a long time.

nov. 4, 2015, 10:02pm

Book #84: Golden Age - Jane Smiley - Finished November 4, 2015

Category: trilogy
Pages: 464
Rating: 4.8

The final book in Smiley's trilogy takes the extended Langdon family from 1987 to 2019. As the children of Walter and Rosanna Langdon reach their golden years, the story focuses more on their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they spread across the country. From Wall Street to Washington, D.C., from the family farm in Iowa to a horse ranch in California, the Langdon family is a microcosm of the American experience. This trilogy is nothing if not ambitious, covering the scope of the American experience over a century. But in this volume, I felt that Smiley was at her best when she captured small, intimate moments - moments that were about the particular thoughts and feelings of an individual who felt like family. The challenge of moving forward an ever-expanding cast of characters is at its most difficult in this last book of the trilogy, but I was willing to stay with Smiley on that journey simply for the enjoyment of the small intimate moments.

nov. 4, 2015, 10:06pm

Great comments on Golden Age, Amy. I have it waiting for me. It sounds like I have something to look forward to. I loved the first book, while the second took me awhile to get into to. Is this the best one?

nov. 4, 2015, 10:12pm

I think that the first book may have been my favorite. In those early years, there were fewer characters to develop, and I think Smiley could write each one with more depth. As the family grew, so did the challenges of developing distinct, deep characters. But I liked the second and third books too. By the third book, I felt like I was a part of the family. The only slightly odd thing in this book was the four years in the future. Smiley hints at some major changes, even with just this small extension into the future. I was a little surprised by the direction that she took things. But I still admire he ability to create so many moments that really resonated with me.

nov. 5, 2015, 5:51pm

I can't wait to read it.

nov. 21, 2015, 6:34pm

Book #85: MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood - Finished November 13, 2015

Category: trilogy
Pages: 394
Rating: 4.7

In the third book in the MaddAddam trilogy, Atwood continues to add layers to the story that began in Oryx and Crake and continued in The Year of the Flood. The characters from the first two books come together as they attempt to create a life after the Waterless Flood, but we continue to learn more about their lives before the disaster as well. In Atwood's capable hands, the trilogy comes together beautifully.

nov. 21, 2015, 6:55pm

Book #86: The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez - Finished November 20, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 286
Rating: 5.0

Alma and Arturo Rivera have left their home in Mexico in search of a school that can help their daughter, Maribel. They move into an apartment complex and soon realize that they are a part of a community of immigrants, all with different stories, different challenges, and the resilience that comes from hard work and strong community. The story centers around a developing relationship between Maribel and Mayor Toro, a high school boy who seems to do nothing but disappoint his father. But in between the chapters about Maribel and Mayor, we hear from other immigrants whose stories add texture to the book. This is an unassuming book with short chapters and a straightforward story, but what sets it apart is the depth of empathy that I developed for the Rivera and Toro families. I came to care deeply for these characters, especially Maribel and Mayor. My heart broke when they faced hardships, but in the end, this is a story about hope, even in the face of hardship.

Editat: nov. 21, 2015, 7:39pm

Book #87: The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman - Finished November 20, 2015

Category: trilogy, YA, fantasy
Pages: 395
Rating: 4.8

This is the first book in His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra Belacqua is the young heroine. She has been raised in Jordan College, but when children begin disappearing and Lyra learns more about her background, she takes off for the North to unravel the secrets of this unusual world. Pullman has created a world with a number of interesting features. Children have daemons who change form (from butterfly to rabbit), armored bears and witches are allies and enemies, and a substance called Dust drives many adults to extreme behaviors. The plot moves quickly and Lyra is a resourceful child who I couldn't help by root for. I'll definitely read the next book in the trilogy soon.

nov. 21, 2015, 7:34pm

I've wanted to read The Golden Compass for a while, Amy. Nice comments. The Book of Unknown Americans was one of my favorites last year. I read another good book about second generation Americans recently Make Your Home Among Strangers. I think you would like it.

I loved the Atwood, too.

Lots of good reading going on here.

nov. 22, 2015, 11:55am

>177 porch_reader: Thanks for that wonderful description. I not going to put that one on my wish list, I'm going to go and buy it right now. You even make Atwood tempting even though I'm very wary of her...I've read two, hated one and loved one. I'll think about this one.

nov. 22, 2015, 12:32pm

Amy, You are really moving along in your book reading. Congratulations to you. I feared that I would not make 75 this year, but surprised myself in exceeding the goal.

Happy Sunday!

nov. 22, 2015, 9:24pm

>179 BLBera: - Beth - I had been meaning to read The Golden Compass for a long time. I picked it up now because I thought it would be a good light read for this busy time of the semester. And now I can't figure out why it took me so long to get to it. It is a page-turner for sure. Thanks for recommending Make Your Home Among Strangers. It's going right on my TBR.

>180 RebaRelishesReading: - Reba - I can't recommend The Book of Unknown Americans highly enough. It had been on my shelf for several months, but when I finally picked it up, I couldn't put it down again. The characters are ones that are going to stick with me, I think.

>181 Whisper1: - Happy Sunday to you, Linda! I've had some slow reading months this year, but it doesn't seem to take me long to get back into the groove. I'm glad you are having a good reading year too.

nov. 22, 2015, 9:36pm

Book #88: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - Joshua Ferris - Finished November 22, 2015

Category: audio
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.8

Dr. Paul O'Rourke is a dentist, an atheist, and a Red Sox fan. He also prefers to avoid technology, and that is why it is so surprising when a webpage pops up for his dental practice. It is followed shortly after by a Twitter profile. But Paul has nothing to do with this online presence. In trying to determine who is impersonating him, he comes to question his whole identity. I didn't feel as invested in what happened to Paul as I would have liked, but this book did make me think about religion, identity, and our lives online.

nov. 27, 2015, 4:52pm

Book #89: Descent - Tim Johnston - Finished November 25, 2015

Category: Iowa City Book Festival
Pages: 375
Rating: 4.9

I had the pleasure of seeing Tim Johnston read at the Iowa City Book Festival, and I bought this book after hearing him read two short passages - one about a sister and brother who experience an unspeakable event while in the Rocky Mountains and the second about the brother's attempt to live his life a couple of years after the tragedy. The passages were well-chosen because they encapsulate this book as a whole.

When the story begins, recent high school graduate Caitlin Courtland is vacationing in the Rocky Mountains with her family. She is preparing to go to college on a track scholarship and has chosen the Rocky Mountains for her graduation trip because running there will strengthen her lungs. Her brother, Sean, has rented a mountain bike so that he can go along with her, but he is much less athletic than Caitlin. When the sheriff shows up at the Courtlands' hotel, he delivers the news that Sean has been injured and Caitlin is missing. The remainder of the book tells of the difficult balance of carrying on with life while still holding out hope that Caitlin will be found. The middle section of the book is told in a nonlinear way, conveying the panic and struggle the family experiences, but it is the final section that impressed me the most. It has been a long time since I could not put a book down, but the final 100 pages of this book left me breathless.

des. 2, 2015, 9:26pm

Book #90: Deadlock - Sara Paretsky - Finished November 29, 2015

Category: mystery, series
Pages: 320
Rating: 4.5

I was a little under-the-weather this weekend, so I was glad to be distracted by this second book in the V. I. Warshawski series. I started this series when Sara Paretsky came to the Iowa City Book Festival. I read the first book before she came and enjoyed it. But after hearing her talk about creating the character of V. I. Warshawski and the growth of this character over the course of the series, I was excited to read more.

This is another fast paced mystery, but this time, V. I. is personally involved with the death. Her cousin, former hockey star Boom Boom Warshawski, slips off a deck at Chicago's lakefront and dies. But V. I. senses that his death is not an accident. Boom Boom has been working in the shipping industry, and V. I. must learn the ins and outs of the big ships that transport cargo across the Great Lakes. As more deaths occur, the urgency builds, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. This is a strong and enjoyable series!

des. 2, 2015, 9:40pm

Book #91: Slade House - David Mitchell - Finished November 30, 2015

Category: early reviewer
Pages: 256
Rating: 4.7

Past a pub and down an alley in London is the entrance to Slade House. But this is no ordinary house. It is only accessible every nine years, and it is hard to explain the events that occur there. But Mitchell has created a world in which these events are believable and even, eventually, predictable. Mitchell has written a creepy, compelling story. He gradually reveals his world to us, and he even weaves elements of his previous books into this story.

des. 2, 2015, 9:47pm

November Summary
Books Read = 9
Fiction = 9
Non-fiction = 0
Off-the-shelf = 0

Best Fiction of the Month: The Book of Unknown Americans
Other Great Reads: Descent, Golden Age, The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, MaddAddam

des. 2, 2015, 9:53pm

Book #92: Road Trip - Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen - Finished December 1, 2015

Category: juvenile, audio
Pages: 128
Rating: 3.8

This middle-grade novel is a collaboration between Gary Paulsen and his son Jim. Road Trip is about a father and son Ben, who set off on a road trip to rescue a border collie. They take their dog Atticus with them, and Atticus chimes in with his perspective at the end of each chapter. Ben isn't excited to go on the trip. He'd rather be home with his friends. And he soon learns that part of his dad's purpose for the trip is to explain to him some big changes in their family. Along the way, they pick up three other people who are facing challenges in their lives. Some of the plot twists are very hard to believe, but if you are willing to suspend disbelief a bit, this is an enjoyable book with some strong characters.

des. 2, 2015, 10:50pm

I also enjoy the Paretsky books, Amy. I think I'm on about 10, so I still have a lot of good reading ahead. I think they do keep getting better.

I've heard lots of great things about Slade House, so I hope to read that soon.

des. 2, 2015, 10:56pm

I was looking at Descent in Costco yesterday. It looks like something I might like. I just finished Slade House, too, and really liked it.

des. 3, 2015, 4:09pm

The Book of Unknown Americans is now sitting atop Mt. TBR. I'm still so engrossed in my embroidery project that I'm not sure when I'll get to it though, especially with the holidays (and in our household, birthdays) upon us.

des. 14, 2015, 4:36pm

>189 BLBera: - Yes, I'll stick with the Paretsky books, Beth. I just started another mystery series that I love - more on that below.

>190 Copperskye: - I was very intrigued by Descent, Joanne. It was one of those that's hard to put down.

>191 RebaRelishesReading: - This is a busy time of year, isn't it Reba? Between final exams and Christmas shopping, my reading has been a little slow too.

des. 14, 2015, 4:51pm

Book #93: A Killing in the Hills - Julia Keller - Finished December 10, 2015

Category: mystery, series
Pages: 370
Rating: 4.8

Julia Keller is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. In this first book in the Bell Elkins series, she introduces us to Bell, a prosecutor in Acker's Gap, West Virginia. Bell grew up in Acker's Gap, bouncing between foster homes after a tragedy that haunts her still, and she recently returned in hopes of helping her hometown avoid the growing drug problem that has taken over the town. However, when her daughter witnesses a murder, Bell's search for the murderer becomes personal. This was an excellent beginning to this series. Keller's descriptions took me into the West Virginia mountains. The plot keep me engaged, and Keller introduced a cast of characters who I'm anxious to return to. With only three additional books in this series so far, I can see myself burning through them quickly and waiting anxiously for future additions.

Editat: des. 14, 2015, 4:56pm

Book #94: Giving Effective Feedback - Harvard Business Review - Finished December 11, 2015

Category: work
Pages: 128
Rating: 4.0

This slim volume provides high points about how to prepare for a feedback session, how to deliver effective feedback, and how to follow-up to ensure action. There was not much in this book that I didn't already know, but it is a good reminder of some key practices for giving feedback.

des. 14, 2015, 4:58pm

Hi Amy - the Keller series looks interesting, especially given the writing quality of the author. I'm going to add it to my TBR, which is already overflowing with unread series! I also loved Slade House and The Book of Unknown Americans. Hope all's well!

des. 14, 2015, 5:04pm

Book #95: The Gifts of Imperfection - Brene Brown - Finished December 12, 2015

Category: work, non-fiction
Pages: 160
Rating: 4.8

This was a re-read for me, and I might have gotten even more out of it this time than the first time I read it. The Preface begins with this quote: "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do." According to Brown's research, those who live wholeheartedly accept themselves as worthy no matter what. This requires courage, compassion, and connection. These are the gifts of imperfection. Because we are not perfect, we get to practice acts of courage, compassion, and connection in our everyday lives, and these acts are what help us live wholeheartedly. Brown provides ten guideposts to help us on this journey, encouraging authenticity, resilience, gratitude, and play among other practices. There are so many quotable passages in this book. I can see myself coming back to it again and again.

des. 14, 2015, 5:08pm

>195 vivians: - Hi Vivian! When my mom loaned me A Killing in the Hills, I was hoping that I wouldn't like it much. Like you, I have lots of unread series on my TBR list. But I loved it. I got my mom the second book in the series for her birthday, and she said it is even better than the first. So many books, so little time! Hope all is well with you too!

des. 14, 2015, 7:26pm

Amy - You sold me on A Killing in the Hills, darn you. The Brown book and the one on feedback also look good. Are you on break yet?

des. 21, 2015, 5:16pm

Hi Beth! I just submitted my grades this morning, so now I feel like I'm officially on break. Is your semester over?

des. 21, 2015, 5:24pm

Book #96: Funny Girl - Nick Hornby - Finished December 18, 2015

Category: audio
Pages: 464
Rating: 4.2

Funny Girl is about an aspiring actress, Sophie Straw, who moves to London in the 1960s and finds herself the star of a BBC comedy series. We follow her, her co-star, and the writers and producers through the show's successful run. Sophie is a winning character and Hornby's humor comes through. This isn't my favorite of Hornby's books. (It's hard to beat Juliet Naked.) But it was an enjoyable audio book.

des. 21, 2015, 5:36pm

Book #97: Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas - Jorge Acevedo - Finished December 19, 2015

Category: religious
Pages: 66
Rating: 4.5

I read this book with a group from my church as an Advent study. We often think of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus over 200 years ago. But just as God sent his son to dwell among man, he also sends us to be Jesus's hands and feet. In this book, Acevedo shares stories of when he and other pastors have seen Jesus at work in their communities, delivering hope at Christmas.

des. 21, 2015, 5:52pm

Book #98: 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker - Deborah Treisman - Finished December 20, 2015

Category: short stories
Pages: 448
Rating: 4.5

I've had this volume on my shelf for a few years, and I decided to pick it up this month. Between grading and Christmas preparations, I don't have a lot of time to read in December, so short stories seemed like a good idea. This collection has some of my favorite authors, including Nicole Krauss, Dinaw Mengestu, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, along with some new-to-me authors. I generally enjoyed these stories. "The Science of Flight" by Yiyun Li and "Second Lives' by Daniel Alarcon stood out to me because of their ability to capture the essences of their character's lives in a few pages. These stories added layers upon layers to their characters through carefully crafted sentences meted out steadily across the story's pages.

des. 21, 2015, 5:58pm

Hi Amy. Two book bullets are now in my tbr pile. #89 & 93

des. 21, 2015, 6:32pm

I've submitted grades for two classes, Amy, and have two to go. My goal is to turn in the grades before Christmas Eve. I think I have about 25 essays left to read in total, so if I can get in a groove, I could get those done quickly. I am generally a slow grader.

des. 23, 2015, 3:32pm

For my Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Holiday image this year (we are so diverse!), I've chosen this photograph by local photographer Mark Lenoce of the pier at Pacific Beach to express my holiday wishes to you: Peace on Earth and Good Will toward All!

Editat: des. 24, 2015, 2:14am

Merry Christmas, Amy!

des. 24, 2015, 11:26am

>203 Whisper1: - Hi Linda! I'm happy to add to your TBR list. Merry Christmas!

>204 BLBera: - Beth - I hope that your grading is done! Merry Christmas!

>205 ronincats: - Merry Christmas, Roni! What a beautiful picture!

>206 Copperskye: - Merry Christmas, Joanne! Hope you find some books under your tree!

Editat: des. 24, 2015, 11:31am

Our family tradition is to open presents from each other on Christmas Eve and Santa presents on Christmas Day. This started because my husband's grandpa was a police officer and always worked Christmas Day so that the other officers could be home with their kids. So I always think of him on Christmas Eve. I got books from my husband and both boys - they know me pretty well!

des. 24, 2015, 3:16pm

Happy break, merry Christmas and a very happy new year, Amy.

des. 24, 2015, 3:25pm

Have a lovely holiday, Amy

des. 25, 2015, 10:32am

Merry Christmas, Reba and Paul!

Editat: des. 25, 2015, 10:39am

des. 25, 2015, 10:52am

Book #99: Saint Mazie - Jami Attenberg - Finished December 22, 2015

Category: fiction
Pages: 323
Rating: 4.8

Mazie Phillips and her sister Jeanie are rescued from a difficult home life by their older sister Rosie and her husband Louis. Through journal entries and interviews with people connected with the Phillips sisters. Mazie works in a ticket booth in Louis's theate, and there, she gets to know the people who walk the streets of New York City - police officers, nuns, businessmen, and families. And as NYC falls into the Great Depression, Mazie helps however she can, handing out coins and apples, treating each person she meets as a person. This book is the story of Mazie and her sisters, but it is also the story of NYC.

des. 25, 2015, 11:01am

Book #100: Where You Once Belonged - Kent Haruf - Finished December 23, 2015

Category: fiction, favorite authors
Pages: 176
Rating: 4.8

This is one of Kent Haruf's earlier books. Set in Holt, Colorado, this is the story of Jack Burdette. The book begins as Jack has returned to Holt after doing something that the people of Holt cannot forgive him for. Through flashbacks, we gradually learn how Jack went from being a high school football star to a businessman. Told through the voice of Holt's newspaper editor, this book has Haruf's characteristic voice - straightforward and authentic. Although I think Haruf grew as a writer throughout his career, every this early book is well worth reading.

des. 25, 2015, 8:38pm

What a great Christmas book haul you made, Amy. Good for you! That should keep you busy for awhile. I hope you and your family had a blessed Christmas. May the joy continue into the new year.

des. 25, 2015, 9:12pm

Thank you, Donna! Merry Christmas to you and your family too!

des. 25, 2015, 9:52pm

Merry Christmas, Amy. Hooray for 100. I just read A Killing in the Hills. Loved it. Thanks for the recommendation. Happy 2016 -- maybe another meet up in the new year?

des. 29, 2015, 9:03pm

I'm so glad that you loved A Killing in the Hills. It was a great start to the series, I think. I have book 2 on my TBR shelf. I think that she's only written 4 in the series so far, so it won't be too hard to catch up! I'd love to meet up again soon! Happy New Year, Beth!

des. 29, 2015, 9:07pm

We are traveling for the rest of 2015 - spent a few days with family and now we are ringing in the New Year in New Orleans. Since I probably won't get any more books read, I thought I'd post my wrap-ups.

December Summary
Books Read = 9
Fiction = 7
Non-fiction = 2
Off-the-shelf = 1

Best Fiction of the Month: A Killing in the Hills
Best Nonfiction of the Month: The Gifts of Imperfection
Other Great Reads: Where You Once Belonged, Saint Mazie

des. 30, 2015, 2:11pm

Great list, Amy. I've had some on my list, especially Station Eleven and The Book of Unknown Americans. Safe travels and happy 2016.

des. 30, 2015, 3:16pm

Hi Amy - love your list and agree with many of them. I liked Doc much more than Epitaph though. I really enjoy your mini-reviews - hope you have more great reading in 2016!

des. 31, 2015, 5:27pm

Happy new year, Amy. I hope you're having a wonderful trip and I look forward to following your reading in 2016.

des. 31, 2015, 5:42pm

Thanks Beth, Vivian, and Reba! Happy New Year to you! See you in 2016!

des. 31, 2015, 6:09pm

And here's my 2016 thread!