Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Reads of 2014

For 2014 I set a personal goal to read 150 books, but fell a bit short. I finished the year with 142 books read.  I've been tracking the books I've read since 2001 and my annual totals have ranged from a low of  66 books (2001) book to a high of 203 (2009).

Although I enjoyed lots of the books I read in 2014, for the first year in many, no particular book won the top #1 favorite read for me.   I put together a list of (10) books that I enjoyed the most (one is a children's book). Here goes  (have you read any of these?)  ---

Top 10 Reads of 2014

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
5 of 5 stars
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a fable that was originally published in Korea. I was so moved by this story, I'll be recommending it again and again, and buying copies for gift giving. At the heart of this story is Sprout, an age...
Me Before You
5 of 5 stars
Initially I thought that, Me Before You, was probably not my kind of book as it's been called a romance by some, but after so many positive reviews, I decided to give it a try. I'm happy to say that the audio version was wonderful and I ...
5 of 5 stars
Oh my goodness, what a special book. This is book that is definitely more for mothers than it is for little ones. It's a book that will make many mothers (new and old) tear up when they read it. It's a wonderful story that beautifully ...
Summer House with Swimming Pool
5 of 5 stars
Reader's who experienced Herman Koch's, The Dinner may recall the despicable act of two young men and the disturbing reactions of their parents. Although a twisted story, it was one I very much enjoyed. Summer House With Swimming Poo...
The Conditions of Love
5 of 5 stars
The Conditions of Love, is a wonderful coming of age story which takes place in the 1950-60’s. The story begins in the little town of Wild Pea, Illinois, where young, Eunice lives with her self-centered, unpredictable, star-struck mothe...
A Man Called Ove
5 of 5 stars
First released in Sweden, A Man Called Ove is a delightful read. Ove is an angry, grouchy, 59 year-old man whose wife has passed away. Sonia was his Ove's rock, seeing the bright side in everything and the good in everyone. Ove, on the...
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals
5 of 5 stars
Intro ... “It was because of a yellow dress. She was wearing a yellow dress and her arms were bare. It was slightly tart, the colour of lemon curd. He couldn’t remember seeing a dress in that shade before. It was pleated silk and sleev...
The Paying Guests
5 of 5 stars
Set just outside of London in 1922, The Paying Guests, is a literary thriller which kept me quickly turning its 500+ pages. Frances Wray is a 26 year old spinster who lives with her 50-something mother in what was once a comfortable l...
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
5 of 5 stars
When I first heard about Murakami's new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I admit that was a little put off by the title, but after finishing the book in just two days, I must say that afterward I felt the ti...
Leaving Time: A Novel
5 of 5 stars
Jodi Picoult's latest book, Leaving Time, touched me on so many levels. It explores not only the mother/child bond of humans and of elephants, making the reader see how very similar human mothers and elephants mothers are when it comes t...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Awakening of Miss Prim; Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Awakening of Miss Prim; Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Atria - 2014

The Arrival

"Everyone in San Ireneo de Arnois remarked on Miss Prim's arrival,  On the afternoon they saw her walking through the village she was just another job applicant on her way to an interview, but the inhabitants knew the place well enough to realize that a vacancy there was a rare and precious thing.  Many remembered what had happened a few years earlier when they were looking for a new primary school teacher: eight applicants had shown up, but only three had been given the opportunity to set out their talents.  This did not reveal a lack of interest in education--educational standards in San Ireneo de Arnois were excellent--but rather the inhabitants' conviction that greater choice did not increase the likelihood of getting it right.  The proprietor of the stationer's, a woman quite capable of devoting an entire afternoon to decorating a single sheet of paper, described the idea of spending longer than a morning selecting a teacher as extravagant. Everyone agreed.  In that community, it was the families themselves, each according to their background, ambition and means, who were in charge of their children's intellectual development.  School was considered supplementary--undesirable but necessary--though certainly many households relied on it.  Many, but by no means all. So why devote so much time to it?"


What do you think, would you keep reading? Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Last 2 Mini Reviews for 2014 - The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens and It Was Me All Along; Andie Mitchell

The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens
Galley Books/Simon and Schuster - 2015

Wolf Truly's life hasn't been easy and on the day he turns 18, he plans to take his life, by riding the cable car high in the mountains and jump off a cliff. It's a place where his good friend's life ended tragically.  Climbing the car some 8,000 feet, things don't go exactly as planned. Wolf finds himself stranded on the mountain with three women from the same family who have come to the mountain top to spread the ashes of a loved one.

The first 1/3 of the book really dragged for me, but then it took a pleasant turn.  The author manages to weave together the back stories of each character in a cohesive way, to give the reader a terrific story of courage and survival in the wake of a desperate situation.  The author did a good job getting inside the heads of the characters. A novel worth trying, despite a slow start.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

It Was Me All Along; Andie Mitchell
Clarkson Potter/Crown/Random House - 2015

I've always enjoyed an occasional dose of memoirs, especially those that I can relate to in some way. Dysfunctional childhoods, individuals who have overcome adversity and memoirs that are a bit odd or quirky rate high on my list. An example is, The Removers by Andrew Meredith which I read this year.

It Was Me All Along is a memoir that pulled me in right away.  Andie Mitchell grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who was verbally abusive to Andie's mother. When her father lost his job, her mother worked more than one job in a day with no help with the household duties. Her older brother developed a stutter and played sports, staying out until dark to avoid the chaos at home. When Andie mother went to work and Andie was stuck at home, she cried and cried and numbed her sadness with food. There was no one to help her with school projects or attend school events so chose not to participate in any extracurricular programs at school.  Food soon became a source of comfort and by the age of 14 she tipped the scale at 200lbs. By the time she reached the age of 20 her weight had reached 300lbs.

It Was Me All Along is Andie's personal story of her internal struggles with self, food, and body image and how obesity impacted her childhood and high school years. Amazingly, Andie successfully lost 135lbs, but her relationship with food, like most individuals who battle weight issues is a source of ongoing focus. For Andie and many individuals, learning not to see food as a drug to be consumed mindlessly when feeling angry, sad, lonely or anytime comfort is needed is a lifelong job.

The book felt honest and never preachy and I was glad I had a chance to read Andie's story.  In many ways, I saw myself in Andie the child.  The author has her own blog, canyoustayfordinner?

4/5 stars
(egalley and audio)

Rating System

5 Stars - LOVED IT

4 Stars - VERY GOOD
3 Stars - GOOD (but flawed)
                     (I had more than a few issues)
1 Stars - ALMOST a DNF

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Batherings

Did you have a nice Christmas readers?  Ours was very fun and having an almost 3 year old certainly added to the enjoyment. (The 6 mth old and 8 mth old were mostly interested in eating the wrapping paper).  As always there was way too much food (I'm always worried there won't be enough) and we had lots of leftovers even after packing care packages for guests to take home.  Today, I tossed the remainder of the fattening stuff and am anxious to start back with normal eating.

The little ones got some nice gifts like an LL Bean sled, wagons, balance bike and doll house, along with clothes, lots of books, blocks, wooden walker toys and more.

Friday we hit the movie theater and ended up staying for a double feature.

Neither were upbeat movies, and Unbroken had some tough to watch scenes for sure, but was an amazing story -- I loved the book as well.  I was surprised I liked the movie, Wild, as I gave up on the book and did not like the main character.  Witherspoon did a great job.

Yesterday I set up the Amazon Fire Stick I purchased for just $39.00 (so easy set up too) and we are now able to stream all sorts of free movies, and tv shows instantly. I have a feeling my reading will slip even more as a result.

I haven't done any reading over the last few weeks and my goal is to finish 2 reviews over the next few days to start the New Year off right.  Other plans -- off to visit a couple museums later today and something light for dinner.

This week while I am off, I plan to weed some more books from my shelves, and I also plan to do my 2014 Best Reads List.

Have a great week everyone.

Andrew's Brain; E.L. Doctorow

Andrew's Brain; E.L. Doctorow
Random House - 2014
Andrew's Brain is a short, strange yet compelling story.  From the very beginning of the story the reader gets the impression that Andrew, who was some sort of a cognitive scientist, is an often depressed, walking disaster. From a very early age, his life has been a series of missteps that have resulted in some terrible consequences for him and others. As a child sledding, he caused a car to swerve to avoid him and caused the death of the driver. His first wife is dead, he over medicated his infant daughter causing her death, broke a friends jaw, lost his teaching job and more.   

The story begins with Andrew talking with a psychiatrist about all of the disasters that have occurred in his life.  It almost felt like a mandatory or involuntary reporting, but why it's happening is not revealed. The novel is told in both the first and third person, and Andrew makes for a sympathetic narrator.  As the story progresses (the entire novel is just over 200 pages), and the conversations between Andrew and his doctor continue, it becomes clear that Andrew is most likely an unreliable narrator.

The final section of the book sort of spoiled my overall enjoyment a bit. The story turns to somewhat of a political satire with George W Bush and his team (although the president isn't named) taking the brunt of the satirical punches, and Andrew talking about his college days with the president.
Andrew was a man of many faces depending on circumstance. Andrew's Brain was a story that makes you question what we know about truth and memory, and how well we really know ourselves for that matter.
I started listening to the audio book which was read by the 83 year-old author, and that did not work well for me, especially since Andrew was a middle-aged man.  I felt that the print version was a better choice .

3.5/5 stars
(audio and arc)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

The shopping is done, presents wrapped, cookies baked and just the cleaning and meal prep remains.  This year December was so nice for me. I spent a little more time making the less fortunate a part of the holiday planning. Everywhere I went: the college, the library, the grocery store, people were collecting toys, food, coats, school supplies and of course money (Salvation Army Red Kettles) for those in need.  I loaded my car with non-perishables, hats, mittens, socks, new toys. Everywhere I went I was prepared to give. It felt so good.

We'll be celebrating with family at our home on Christmas Day. Hope all of you who celebrate Christmas have a wonderful time connecting and relaxing with friends and loved ones. 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Affairs of Others; Amy Grace Loyd

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Affairs of Other; Amy Grace Loyd
Picador - 2013

"The body of a woman aging.  It's a landscape that, even as it vanishes, asks a lot of the eyes.  Or it should.  No two landscapes the same.  They never were the same, no matter their age, but then how time brings details to the body.

Of course every woman's body ages. What's distorting is how friendly it all starts out, with words like smooth and tight and firm, high and pink and wet--words that are given to women's bodies and that they wear around, as comfortably as cotton.  And why not?  These are gifts they did little to earn.  Life does this so rarely--offer unearned or unasked-for rewards.  But inevitably the words fall away, one by one:  There goes tight, there goes smooth, god even wet.  And the words that replace them, that are provisioned, are not nearly so welcome or easy to carry.  Some women carry these new ways of addressing their bodies with pride. They'll explain that the knots in their flesh tell a good story.  Others celebrate the change of vernacular, the end of a certain kind of surveillance.  Or they continue to pursue the first set of words--high, tight, smooth.  It's not wrong or it's not for me to say.  Who am I to say? I am a young or youngish woman.  I am in my late middle thirties, though I could be twenty-five or fifty.  I believe I have no age anymore.  I am not unattractive but neither am I beautiful.  I married a man I first met in college and again later, a few years after graduation.  My husband died a difficult death.  I went with him, or a lot of me did.  I cannot apologize for this nor do I wish to challenge that I am changed."


What do you think, would you keep reading? Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Children Act; Ian McEwan

The Children Act; Ian McEwan
Nan Talese - Recorded Books - 2014

Fiona Maye is a 59 year old High Court family law judge in London.  She’s been married to Jack for 35 years and as the novel opens, he tells his wife that at his age he needs to have, “one last passionate affair.”  He further reports that the two of them have not have sex for seven weeks and one day.  Her response to him is that if he chooses to follow through with the passionate affair, their marriage will be over.
With her marriage in trouble, and her emotions and anger running on high, work wise Fiona must deal with yet another hot issue. There is a petition presented to the court by a hospital to give a blood transfusion to a seventeen year old boy who has leukemia. The blood transfusion is needed to save his life.  The parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and are refusing him the life-saving blood he needs.  Before deciding the case one way or the other Fiona visits the teen in the hospital.  Despite his grave illness, he is upbeat , creative and a young man with so much to live for, and Fiona, as a childless woman, finds herself deeply moved by the potential and talent of this young man.
This story raises a lot of questions regarding morals, religion and the legal system.  It's a relatively short audio book, and one that held my interest. The final pages were very moving. I think that this would make a great book for book club discussion.  The audio book was read by Lindsay Duncan who did a very good job narrating the story. The novel's title comes from the British law, The Children Act,  in which the court will determine cases where the upbringing or overall child's welfare is at issue. 
4/5 stars 
(audio book)

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Boy Who Drew Monsters; Keith Donohue

Picador - 2014

In a wintery, seacoast town in Maine, for 10 year-old Jack Peter Keenan, life is anything but normal. Three years earlier Jack and his friend nearly drowned in the ocean there, and now Jack protests if he is forced outdoors for any reason. To complicate his life even more, Jack suffers from some form of autism, but his friend Nick is patient and loyal.

Lately Jack has taken to drawing monsters, and at the same time strange things seem to be happening in and or around the Keenan house. Jack's father, Tim, runs around outdoors chasing strange sightings, and quite honestly, at times I thought of Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining". The mother Holly fears her son is losing control and at times has even been violent, hitting her when she frightens him. Oddly, she turns to a local priest and a Japanese gardener for input when she and her husband do not seem to see things the same way when it comes to Jack.

For the most part the story kept me engaged and left me wondering as I read, what was real and what was imagined. The bleak winter setting on the cold, desolate Maine coast was a perfect for this story, and there were many elements of strange happenings throughout the book.  One thing I didn't care for, and felt it only served to distract from the core story, were tales of shipwrecks and ghosts which was told secondhand by the priest and gardener.  Overall a good story; readers who like creepy stories should give this one a try, especially in the cold, dead of winter.
4/5 stars
(library book)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Coming Soon to A Book Store Near You - A Spool of Blue Thread; Ann Tyler

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think?

Knopf - February 2015

“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Collector; Nora Roberts and The Christmas Light; Donna VanLiere

The Collector - Nora Roberts
 (Putnam) and Brilliance Audio

Lila Emerson makes a decent living as professional house sitter, and she enjoys her work.  She's a bit of a voyeur especially when her house sitting assignments involve the high rise buildings set so close together in NYC.  One day while viewing unsuspecting people through her binoculars in one of the buildings across the way, she witnesses something she wished she hadn't.  A women is struck by a man, and then pushed through the window, plunging fourteen floors below to her death.

She notifies the police and while at the police station meets a man named Ash, whose half brother, Oliver is believed to be the man who pushed the woman to her death.  The problem is Oliver is now dead from a suspected drug overdose in what police believe is a murder-suicide.  Brother Ash is not so sure, and believes that there is more to this case than meets the eye. Lila on the other hand has gotten herself in much deeper than she would have liked, and her life at this point may even be in danger.

In true Nora Roberts style, this book has a bit a everything, mystery, intrigue and even romance.  The audio book was read by Julia Whelan who did a great job.  This was a good book to listen to during this hectic time of year.
4/5 stars
(library audiobook)

The Christmas Light; Donna VanLiere 
St. Martin's Press

Christmas time in the small town of Grandon brings together local people for the performance of the Christmas Eve Nativity. Five very different people are brought together to share and discover the real meaning of Christmas, the season of hope.

A pregnant teen, lost and confused by her situation, a young widow and her six year old daughter who have not gotten over the death of a spouse and a dad, and a divorced contractor who comes to town to visit his aunt along with his six year old daughter (can you tell where this might be going?)

Although each of the characters is facing some sort of struggle, I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters.  The message of the book is about having hope and believing and opening up yourself to new possibilities.  Although the story seemed contrived in parts the author did a nice job of pulling it all together.  It's a very short read that many readers might enjoy this holiday season.

3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens
Gallery Books - 2015


"My boyhood home on Old Dewey Road stood among similar clapboard bungalows in the older, grimier section of Mercury, upwind of Michigan's largest rendering plant, with the train tracks near enough that I could distinguish passenger from freight by the way the house shook.  A year and a half after my mother's accident -- that's what we called it--my father briefly got sober and painted the entire house, inside and out, a dark, flat blue.  Drowning Man Blue.  Frankie said it was a tribute to Glory.  She loved the color blue

Frankie said I was too young, only four year's old when she passed away, to have an honest recollection of my mother, but I do.  Glory Elizabeth Truly.  In my favorite memory she wears a silky white dress with bat wing sleeves--one I've never seen in photographs.  She's standing in front of a dressing room mirror, smiling at our reflection, and behind us is another mirror where I discover our infinity. "Always", I say.  My beautiful mother laughs and tells me I'm clever before covering my face with soft kisses and spinning me in her embrace. I glimpse us with each turn.  Glory looks like an angel in that white dress"

What do you think, would you keep reading? Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Blatherings

 I thought I'd share a cookie recipe that I tried this week. They are not too sweet and the texture is more like a scone). So good with a cup of coffee or tea.
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/4 c. milk
1 egg
2 tbsp. orange juice
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. soda
1 c. chopped nuts
2 1/2 c. coarsely chopped cranberries

Cream the butter and sugar then add milk, orange juice and egg. Sift dry ingredients. Blend with creamed mixture. Stir in chopped nuts and berries. Drop by spoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 8-10 dozen.
(to me)

Today we are celebrating my birthday with the family at a wonderful restaurant brunch ---Mr & Mrs Santa Claus will be there as well for the little ones. Should be fun, and although this birthday has made me a bit weepy, it's good to know I can finally retire early if I want.  It's a tough decision sometimes as my job is easy and we get lots of time off. 
My last day of work is Friday, 12/19 and I'm off with pay until January 5th. Not as good as Congress but hey, I'm not complaining.  Looking forward to seeing Unbroken, which releases Christmas Day -- the book was awesome, and relaxing with a few good books.
It's such a busy time of year for everyone it seems.  I have all of my shopping done, even though I may pick up a few small things (if I don't that's okay too though). I did manage to send out the holiday cards and put up our small tree and menorah yesterday. I'm one of those people who hates wrapping presents, whereas my SIL loves it, so she has once again volunteered to do my package wrapping....lucky me.

Last week we had a staff holiday party, a college-wide party and a departmental celebration -- all kinds of food as well.  (not getting on the scale until Jan 1st, but trying to make wise selections).  We also brought in therapy dogs to help de-stress the students preparing for finals -- huge success.

Books ---Finished a few books, but haven't had a chance to review them. (2) were outside of my normal genres, but they were light and fun and good of this time of year where I'm finding it tougher to focus. 
New Books
 Have a great week everyone!