January 2016

We’re well into winter and the beginning of a new year and more  good reading ahead.  Many of the reviews and literary comments which have been coming in to my mailbox have to do with ‘best books of 2015’ …In looking over my log of what I read last year–a total of 94 books, I find that I had 2 or 3 favorites.  They were not necessarily those of the well known literary critics.  At the top of my list is Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.  It is the richly imagined story of the life of Pizarro, the father of impressionism.

marriage of oppositesTwo others that I liked a lot were Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse, which I wrote about in another post, and The Lake House, which I also wrote about earlier.

goonight mr wodehouse

lake house

I recently read. for library book group, Dreaming Spies. by Laurie King.  This is the thirteenth in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series which was created by King.  Some diehard Sir Conan Doyle fans may not ‘buy into them’, but I find them delightful.  This one, set in Japan and England exposes one to quite a bit of history, so you can learn while being entertained.  An added plus, if you’re a Downton Abbey fan, is that it is set in the same time period.

dreaming spies

Currently, I am reading Spark Joy by Marie Kondo.  This book is the companion to Kondo’s earlier, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which I liked very much.  I like this one even better than the first, because this gives specific ideas and plans for organization.  Kondo includes diagrams of how to fold garments, arrange cabinets and cupboards, and tips for keeping the items in one’s life ‘tidy’.  She even has a section on organizing one’s workspace or office where a lot of time can be wasted looking for misplaced items.  Kondo’s message is that “the purpose of tidying is to impart joy into every day of your life.”

spark joy

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Back to you, dear readers! November 2015

Hi all! I’ve been SO busy with my library tasks and enjoying summer  and a beautiful autumn that I got way behind in reading recommendations.  My reading so far this year totals 73 books.  Here I’ll mention some highlights of what I liked:

Two “re-reads” based on movies–

Here are two books which I recently read for the second time because  movie or video releases rekindled interest.  The first is Olive Kitteridge which I read again after watching the HBO miniseries–Olive Kitteridge.  It’s now available on DVD, and I intend to watch it again!

olive kittridgeI loved the book  “again”, and the four hour miniseries starring Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, and Bill Murray, follows and exemplifies the interconnected stories of the book quite well.  I highly recommend it!

The second book I read again because of a movie is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I have not yet seen the recently released movie, but am looking forward to it.  The book was as good the second time. It  is interesting to compare current environmental changes  with those  observed in 1998.A Walk in the Woods

I’m adding these books along with anything by Jon Hassler to my list of  books that I could happily read again and again.

Others read in the past few months:  I will give each a ‘star’ rating from 1-5!

The Cove by Ron Rash          Excellent!                                                          *****

Goldeneye Where Bond Was Born:  Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson                                                                          ****

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (this is a parallel story to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)                                                                               


The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (A delightful story set in Barbados, but the book had what I thought was an unappealing cover, so it was not picked up by browsers).


Early Warning by Jane Smiley    (2nd in trilogy)                                          ****

The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg (intense psycho thriller)              ****

The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (for library book group) a delightful mystery which the group enjoyed!


For  our Native American month the library book group chose either Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie or The Round House by Louise Erdrich–both were equally powerful and gave interesting perspectives and insight into Native American culture and their economic and social situations in our country.                           *****




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Good Night Mr. Wodehouse and the Lake House

Just wanted to tell you about and recommend two new books that I really loved–worthy of being read again:

goonight mr wodehouseGoodnight Mr. Wodehouse is by Faith Sullivan, a Minnesota author, whose novels I have enjoyed reading in the past (The Cape Ann) and (Gardenias).  The last was ten years ago, so I was surprised to hear that she has a new book.  A finished copy was graciously sent to me by the publisher, Milkweed Editions.  It is a wonderful story about Nell, a small town widow, living in Harvester, MN at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Nell faces trials and tribulations, but through it all, is sustained by her love of books and reading–especially the novels of P.J. Wodehouse.  I was mesmerized and couldn’t put it down.  In addition to the entrancing story, this publication bears homage to the concept of a beautifully presented physical book.  It has a lovely book jacket, quality paper, and a little leaf print on every page.  I loved this book and hope you have the pleasure of reading it, too!  It is a book I will treasure and read again soon.

lake houseThe Lake House is the fifth novel by Australian author, Kate Morton.  I’ve read some of her previous works and liked them, too.   I couldn’t put this one down.  Sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, it is set between 1933 and present day Cornwall and London.  It is a many layered novel about a crime writer who has  been haunted for decades about the disappearance of her eleven month old brother.  There is a mystery and family intrigue.  Now I want to re-read Morton’s earlier works.

Do any of you have favorite books that you re-read again and again?



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March 2015

dead wakeThis book, Dead Wake, by Erik Larson was the best I’ve read in awhile!  Larson keeps the reader on the edge of one’s seat, as he recounts the thrilling tale of the fate of the Lusitania.  Although this book is nonfiction, Larson manages to make it read like fiction as he did in Devil in the White City and In The Garden of Beasts. In May 1915, as a historic luxury liner heads from N.Y. to Liverpool, the officials of the Cunard line manage to ignore warnings about German subterfuge, and depart from N.Y. Harbor with a record number of children aboard.  We know the outcome of the voyage of the Lusitania, but there are many thrilling facts and near misses which are imparted in this fascinating account of the event which was a catalyst for U.S. involvement in WWI.

all old knivesAll the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer is a thriller that takes place all in one evening over dinner at a CA restaurant–kind of suspenseful with a ‘twist’.  It’s a quick read–not bad.



faithful placeFaithful Place by Tana French is part of the Dublin Murder Squad series–set in Ireland.  It has excellent character development and was the library March title for discussion.  Most who attended liked it and several had read others by French.


Eagle PondOn Eagle Pond by Donald Hall, who was the fourteenth Poet Laureate, is a collection of essays which was published in 2007.  This is one of many books I have sitting around the house.  It suddenly called out to me, and I’m so glad I read it–a wonderful collection about Hall’s return to his family homestead in N.H.  It’s about nature, the seasons, and living the rural life.  Also, I realized as I read On Eagle Pond, that I was familiar with Hall’s work.  In the late 70’s his poem, Ox-Cart Man, was made into an award winning book for children.  Recently, Hall had published, Essays After Eighty, which I’ve not read.  He is 86 now and no longer writes poetry.  I found his work  very entertaining.

courtesy Loose Gravel PressWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart is classified as a young adult novel.  It is set on a small private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard where there is a family ‘village’.  The extended family gets together every summer–including the ‘liar’ cousins.  One summer there is a mysterious accident, and then two years later,young Cadence returns  to the island with debilitating headaches and wonders why family relationships are strained.   The reader is gradually exposed to the family dysfunction and how the cousins responded.  It will leave you shocked!  I would not suggest it for young teens.  There are some ‘adult’ topics, and overall, it is a disturbing story.

effortlessEffortless Healing by David Perlmutter is a book which I requested for review.  It sounds like an intriguing concept, but  any program which requires one to give up eating breakfast, avoid whole grains, most types of fish, and conventional yogurt doesn’t seem like a practical plan for me.  I know that many people are gluten sensitive, so this program may appeal to many, just not me.  I did like the fact that the author says that eating butter and fats like olive oil , eggs, coconut oil is OK.

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Winter reading…February 2015

As usual I am fortunate to have more than I can read, but it has been a wonderful diversion during the cold weather.  How wonderful it is to read good books and have the pleasure of talking about them with family, friends, and coworkers!

spool of blueMy recent most favorite!!–Anne Tyler is the author of about twenty novels, many of which I’ve enjoyed.  Her most recent, A Spool of Blue Thread, is wonderful.  With  humor and poignancy, the story of the  Whitshank family is recounted.  Family sagas usually grab me, and this one finds Abby and Red in their later years, living in the house which has been in the family for years.  There is a wayward son who pops in and out of their lives, an adopted son, two daughters, several grandchildren and the accompanying “in” and “outlaws”.  Red owns a construction company, and Abby has recently retired as a social worker.  She still brings ‘strays’ in for family gatherings.  If you read this book, you will laugh and perhaps, cry, but I think you will enjoy it!


paying guests

 The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is a kind of Gothic page turner set in 1922.  Widowed Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, who has a secret past,  are forced to take in lodgers in order to keep their ‘upper crust’ home on Champion Hill.  The arrival of a lively young middle class couple  as tenants brings a big change of circumstance into the house.  Living in close quarters involves the characters in relationships  which ultimately result in  a love triangle.  Waters infuses the mystery with sensuality, drama, and intrigue, all of which lead  to a thrilling conclusion…I couldn’t put it down!

sweetlandSweetland by Michael Crummy kept me mesmerized for most of a weekend!  It is set in Newfoundland on an island with an economy based upon fishing.  The island  is about to be resettled, and a monetary payment made to all the inhabitants only when  all agree to move to the mainland.   Moses Sweetland whose ancestors originally settled the island is the last holdout.  Sweetland wants to stay, and he must withstand  increasing efforts to move off the island.  When tragedy strikes, the quirky characters are spurred to action, and Moses has to make a fateful decision.  The rugged landscape and the bleak setting may not appeal to everyone, but I couldn’t put it down.

my sunshine

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is a debut novel which has been receiving lots of acclaim.  It is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989  where a young girl is the victim of a crime.    The narrator is a fourteen year old boy who is ‘in love’ with the victimized girl who lives across the street.     The narrator, along with several boys and men are suspected of the crime.  The novel evokes the damp heat of a southern summer and  and elements of ‘coming of age’ along with themes of family, memory and forgiveness.  It is an engrossing story.


big sevenThe Big Seven by Jim Harrison is classic ‘Harrison”.  In this follow up to The Great Leader, retired Detective Jim Sunderson has bought himself a small  cabin in a remote area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The new neighbors are a family of outlaws which Sunderson must confront, while trying to relate to the ‘seven deadly sins’.  He remains the crusty character we saw in his previous Sunderson novel.  The ending seemed a little weak, but if you like Harrison’s writing, this one will not disappoint.


womenThe Women by T.C. Boyle was the February library book group selection.  It is a fictional work which reads like a biography of the four women which Frank Lloyd Wright married, and or, lived with during his life.  The narrator is a  fictional Japanese student who has become one of Wright’s apprentices.  It is an interesting depiction of what happened as Wright moves through his ‘adventures’.  Boyle arranges the narration so that it culminates with the most dramatic episode at Taliesin.  As usual, the discussions were lively with varying reactions to the novel.  Most agreed that although Wright was a charismatic architectural genius, he was a dastardly character in his personal life!

mrs tom thumbThe Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin was a topic for discussion with my personal book group–my selection, chosen because it’s one I always wanted to read!  It’s a novel based upon the real story of  thirty two inch tall Lavinia Warren  Stratton who married Tom Thumb in a highly publicized wedding which rivaled that of Charles and  Diana.  The book depicts P.T. Barnum in an interesting light–historical fiction which seemed to have a strong aura of truth.  The book group gave it mixed reviews.  I like learning a bit about history when reading for pleasure.

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January 2015

winter solsticeI ended 2014 with an old favorite, Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  I was reminded of it by a library patron who says she reads this every year in December.  It’s a lovely story with a sort of timelessness, and it addresses the history of the solstice and this dark time of year. Written 10 years ago and set in the English countryside, Pilcher tells a heartwarming story which helps the reader consider what is  important in life.  I recommend settling in with a cup of tea while enjoying this gem of a story.


diy typeDIY Type by Dana Tanamachi was sent to me as a review copy by its publisher–Potter Style, a division of Crown Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.  It is a lovely book with two full sets of alphabet stencils to be used for personalizing items.  I hope to use it in two ways–the first as a resource for an altered book class we will be offering at the library this spring. The class will be taught by an accomplished artist, and I’ll be helping with supplies.  I am also thinking of using the stencils in making ‘initial’ pillows for my grandchildren.


bk of strangeThe Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber was a recent foray for me into the world of fantasy.  I heard the author interviewed on a radio program, and so was tempted to give it a try.  It is about interplanetary travel as a young Christian pastor is accepted into a program to travel to another planet as part of a team which is attempting to colonize the planet.  Young Peter leaves his beloved wife behind on earth, and while he is far away, cataclysmic events are taking place on Earth.


magians lie

A reminder to those who were waiting for The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, is should be on the shelves soon.  It’s the one that is a cross between The Night Circus and Water for Elephantshighly recommended.


pioneer girlI had eagerly awaited a look at Pioneer Girl The Annotated Autobiograpy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill.  When it arrived at the library, I was surprised at its size.  It is a very large volume, and is exhaustively annotated , documented, and footnoted.  The ‘meat’ of the books is the handwritten  remembrances of Laura Ingalls Wilder, about growing up as a pioneer girl in the Dakotas.  This work was the basis for the Little House books which were written by Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  The original work tells us that life was much more raw and disturbing for Laura than the young adult books would lead us to believe.  Laura’s real story has tales of her family leaving in the night to avoid debts, bar brawls, and even abuse of children.  Although it provided more details than I really wanted to know, it is certainly a significant historical accomplishment.

secret wisdomThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton is a ‘just released’ first novel which was more than fifteen years in the writing.  It is a captivating morality tale set in Kentucky coal country in 1985.  The story opens as 14 year old Kevin and his mother are sent to live with Kevin’s grandfather after the tragic death of Kevin’s younger brother.  Moral issues, environmental issues, and coming of age are some of the topics explored in this eloquent novel.  I think we’ll be discussing it in the library book group next year.


life changingThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I’m ever on the quest to be better organized, so I eagerly awaited the arrival of this compact little volume.  Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea of taking out every item in the closet or every book off  the bookshelves at once…that one would take me days!  But what I did find helpful, was the idea of folding or rolling all the clothing in drawers, rather than stacking, so one can see at a glance what is available to wear.  The author recommends vertical rows over horizontal stacks. So I went to my desk at work and removed the stacks of things, and placed folders in a vertical holder–so much easier to see everything at a glance, and I feel much more on top of things when I’m able to put my hands on a folder I need within seconds.  I plan to reread parts of Kondo’s advice with hopes of becoming even a little neater this year.  It does have a calming effect to rid oneself of unneeded stuff!


to darknessTo Darkness and To Death is one of the Julia Spencer Fleming mysteries in the Claire Ferguson-Russ Van Alstyne series.  It was the discussion book for the book group at the library this month.  Spencer Fleming writes some pretty good mysteries with an interesting cast of characters.  The title of each book in the series is taken from a line in a hymn.  There were mixed reactions by discussion attendees.  Most liked the author, but some criticized the back and forth theme.



trip to the beach

Last this month is an oldie, but goodie–one of my favorite reads on a frigid winter day.  A Trip to the Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard is a true story published in 2000 about a couple who are living their “dream”.  After visiting the small island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, they moved there hoping to build a beach bar and enjoy the slow pace of island life. Instead, they leased a run down abandoned bar and built it into a fine restaurant which has become world famous.  Reading about the details of their adventures and tribulations are enough to make you feel warm inside.

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December 2014

first familyI’ve always been fascinated by ‘insider’ accounts of life in the White House and have been enticed by these supposedly nonfiction accounts, starting with Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies by J.B. West, in 1973.  So I couldn’t resist First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler who claims insider access to members of the Secret Service staff.  At first, it seemed believable, but as the narrative continued, it seemed obvious to me that Kessler has an obvious political bias.  I wasn’t sure which stories were really true, and am surprised that the sensational accounts have not been widely publicized.  My advice…not really worth the time…

me beforeMe Before You by JoJo Moyes was the the local book club selection.  I would definitely classify it as ‘chick lit’.  You’ve probably heard the plot line:  young female caretaker falls in love with handsome quadreplegic who has been injured in a tragic accident.  Of course, it adds to the ‘suspense’ that the helpless victim has tons of money, and the beautiful caretaker is charged with trying to persuade him not to commit suicide (which he had previously scheduled  via a death with dignity movement).   This kind of story emotionally engages a lot of readers (and moviegoers), but I did not find it as engaging as the rest of the group members. Most of the group members loved it, and that’s what is so interesting about books…many different opinions and something to appeal to everyone!

bridge of san luis reyThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder was the November discussion title for our library discussions.  The discussions were very lively and ‘in depth’.  Although not an easy book to read, each discussion participant had some interesting insights to share.  The story is a timeless  in its never ending search for meaning in life, with the inevitable conclusion that all we really ‘have’ is love.

perfectionPerfection by Julie Metz is not a new book.  (I am reading my way through some of the books I have on shelves around my home).  It is a memoir which  opens with the sudden death of a young suburban man in 2002 of a pulmonary embolism.  His distraught young wife is coping with shock, grief, and caring for their six year old daughter.  As she moves throught the grieving period, it becomes evident that her friends and family have been shielding her from discovering that her beloved Henry had been carrying on affairs–a particularly torrid one with a neighbor and ‘friend’!  It is like watching the approach of a freight train, as Julie describes what she now realizes she had failed to see.  Not a pleasant story, but I felt I had to finish it and saw that Julie and her daughter came through the experience.  I was surprised that the author revealed so much of her personal self.

running the booksRunning the Books:   The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg is about a writer and former orthodox Jew who is gets a job as the librarian of Suffolk county prison.  He is a young man who has no ‘experience’ of prison and many mistake him for a young volunteer.  Steinberg recounts his experience with humor and poignancy.  I had enjoyed Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan much more than the tv show.  This account was similar but is from the point of view of a prison employee with admirable intentions (he even led writing groups with prisoners) but who runs up against the bureaucracy of the prison system, and the nature of those behind bars–so much mental illness!  He has many descriptive stories about the prisoners and their communication system which uses  ‘kites’ (letters left inside books) in the prison library as a means of corresponding with other prisoners.  It’s an entertaining and enlightening expose.

lilaIn Lila, Marilynne Robinson returns to the town of Gilead and continues the story of the widower and minister, John Ames.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by an itinerant woman who kept Lila safe in a hardscrabble existence.  Lila became a homeless wanderer.  When she happens upon Gilead and  and the gentle Christian views of John Ames, her life is about to change.  This is a poignant and hauntingly beautiful work.  I’m seeing it on several reviewer and critics’ lists as their favorite book of 2014.

good wifeHow to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is a thriller which  I think could be described as noir.  There is a mystery, but I found the eerie circumstances of a long married woman who is remembering her past as a captured young girl to be disturbing.  I didn’t like the subject matter or the ending.  This was Chapman’s first novel.  Chapman writes well, but I found it difficult to read because of the topic.

Christmas TrainWhen I chose The Christmas Train by David Baldacci for the library December title for discussion, I had no idea what to expect.  I enjoyed it a lot, and those who attended the meetings, liked it, as well.  We had soup and a potluck meal at both meetings, and attendees seemed to enjoy telling their memories of travels by train.  It was fun to read  and discuss a ‘lighter’ book for a change. It is a departure from Baldacci’s usual fare.  One person who had traveled to San Francisco by train said that Baldacci’s description of the accommodations on board almost exactly matched what she remembered.

sin of fathersSins of the Fathers by Shawn Lawrence Otto is a thriller which begins in Minneapolis and moves on to a native American reservation in northern Minnesota.  The plot line involves predatory banking and issues of native American gambling rights and gambling addiction.  The characters are well developed and the tension builds to a thrilling conclusion, which is not all that it seems.  The timely topic of racism is involved in the story, as well.  An interesting read set in the Midwest.

all girl filling stationThe All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg is a delightful romp which starts in Alabama and winds up with a reunion in Pulaski, WI! Picked as the December selection by one of the members of the local book club, it combines a comic mystery with true facts about WASPs (Womens Airforce Service Pilots) the first women who flew military aircraft and were instrumental at the start of  WWII.  The program was disbanded after two years.  There is a strong connection with Wisconsin, and it is a very entertaining story.

tradition of deceitTradition of Deceit by Kathleen Ernst is the fifth in Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson mystery series.  This one takes place in Minneapolis and Milwaukee.  Chloe is off to Minneapolis to help her friend with a proposal for a restoration project.  Meanwhile, boyfriend Roelke’s best friend is murdered in Milwaukee.  There is a murder and accompanying mystery in Minneapolis, as well.   I enjoyed seeing what is happening with Chloe and Roelke.  Both settings are somewhat familiar to me, so I enjoyed ‘picturing’ the events.  The plot was quite complicated, and the book was enjoyable, but maybe needed a little more editing.  Regardless, Ernst tells a great story!

                                                                    Happy Holidays to All!

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