Ramblings and Recommendations

Hello all!

I love to read.  And, I find myself often talking about reading and books and making recommendations to my friends and neighbors (both solicited and unsolicited).  I also enjoy writing, but mostly of the stream-of-conscience brand.  So, here are my ramblings about books and reading and my recommendations.  I hope you enjoy.

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Conquering Mount TBR: Backlist Recommendations

In January, I made a New Year’s Resolution to read down my To-Be-Read Pile and have been slowly working my way through all of those kindle deals, paperbacks and library wish list books that have been lingering for a while.

In July, I put together a list of my favorite 2017 releases from January – June, but over the summer, I reached the summit of Mount TBR and wanted to share some of my favorites from the backlist that I’ve read this year.

Many of my TBR consisted of books that fill in series that I enjoyed. Here are a few that are worth reading all the way through and that never lose their mojo and it’s been such a great feeling of accomplishment to read these from beginning to end.

 

The Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva

I am a mystery/thriller fanatic and this series doesn’t disappoint. I began the books around the tenth book and have been keeping up (the most recent installment came out this summer, if you are counting). But, I took the time to go back to book 1 and catch up with the series. I have to say, the early books absolutely hold up! All of them are well-plotted and fast paced and there is even a mini series-in-a-series from book 2-4. A great series that I whole-heartedly recommend for mystery fans.

Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch

I’ve been on a bit of a Blake Crouch bender since I picked up Dark Matter last year and have devoured his backlist. The Wayward Pines Trilogy is especially good. Disclaimer: I have not watched the television show, so I cannot comment on the book/television adaptation, but the books were weird and wonderful. Oh, and if you haven’t yet read Dark Matter, go do that.

Jackaby by William Ritter

This series wrapped up in August, with the fourth and final installment and I’ve loved every word. This is a series that you will want to start at the beginning and read in order, each episode builds on the last. Jackaby is sort of a steampunk take on a Sherlock Holmes type character. He solves mysteries but with a supernatural bent. His assistant, Abigail Rook, is the Watson to his Holmes, solving the more straightforward detective bits of the puzzles while Jackaby is the expert on all the supernatural creatures and elements to the crimes they encounter. These books are very tightly written and each book focuses on a new character in their world. Super fun.

 

As a reader, I typically have several books going at the same time. Often, I’ll have an audiobook, a kindle book and a library book that I’m working on. I also like to have a non-fiction book in the rotation at any given time, but my ratio of non-fiction to fiction is something like 1:4. All this to say, my TBR pile contained a good number of non-fiction that I hadn’t gotten around to because I read non-fiction at a slower rate. But, that also means that I have a lot of great non-fiction to recommend now that I’ve gotten through the backlog.

Born A Crime – Trevor Noah

This memoir is absolutely fantastic and you simply must listen to this one on audiobook. Noah reads it himself and it is delivered perfectly. If you are expecting a constant stream of one-liners, this is not the place to look. While there are some very funny moments, this memoir has a very serious overview. Noah grew up in Apartheid South Africa and relates his experiences both before and after Apartheid in a poignant, charming and, yes, witty way. Absolutely mesmerizing look at race and racial systems.

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda – Philip Gourevitch

For a deeper dive into the racial issues on the African continent, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. A friend of mine who volunteered as a doctor in Africa every year for a few years before she passed away recommended this book to me many times. Each time I picked it up to read it, I put it back down again because of the very heavy topic. And, it is a very heavy and emotional read. But, it is also one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. Incredibly well-researched and written, this book was the inspiration for the movie Hotel Rwanda. But the book goes on a deeper dive than the movie to explore the politics and utter senselessness of the Rwandan genocide.

A Burglar’s Guide to the City

This was a great look at buildings and architecture from the point of view of someone trying to take advantage of natural weaknesses to steal. It’s funny and interesting and a great read for anyone interested in urban issues or architecture or just wanting to learn more about architecture in an off-beat way.

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future – Gretchen Bakke

I learned of this volume from a NPR Fresh Air interview with the author. Occasionally, I feel that listening to an author discuss their book for an hour on that show, I have gotten most of the important nuggets just from the podcast and can skip the book. It was clear, however, that there was much, much more information than Terry Gross (the NPR host) could uncover in only an hour. This book was absolutely fascinating and informative. I listened to this one on audio and enjoyed it in that format (perhaps in part because I first became aware of this audibly). Bakke does a tremendous job of giving the reader insight to all of the very complex interactions that create our energy grid and the infrastructure issues with it. In addition to learning so much about this particular issue, I also walked away realizing that like The Grid, many of the issues facing America today cannot easily be recounted or solved in the 140 characters of a Tweet and that complexity of issues are difficult to solve both in a culture of sound bites and political duality. So much here to learn about.

Girls & Sex : Navigating the Complicated New Landscape– Peggy Orenstein

As a mother of a teenaged daughter, this one has been recommended to me on several fronts. And, rightfully so. This is an eye-opening book that gathers information through interviews with girls and young women. While some of the current state of the sexual landscape for women can be worrisome, there are also great messages of hope and openness. A great book for discussion groups. After reading it, I immediately passed it along to my daughter.

Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America – Jill Leovy

Jill Leovy explores murder among African-American men in Los Angeles in this enlightening and well-told book. She unravels some of the structural issues that contribute to murder of black men in this country, and introduces you to the police officers who are committed to solving crimes to ensure justice for victims of these crimes.  If you are interested in the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a great book to add to your nightstand.

 

I’ll be spending Labor Day Weekend at this year’s Decatur Book Festival, and I’m sure to begin to restock my TBR pile.   And, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for new series and non-fiction, especially. Happy Reading!

 

Image Credit:  Entrepreneur Finesse

 

21 Book Salute: My Favorite Books of 2017 (So Far)!!

Just for fun, and for the summer reading season, here are my favorite 2017 published books that are out so far this year (as of end of June). I’m listing by publication date, just to have an order to them. Would love to hear which books you have loved this year!

History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund (1/3)

Little Heaven – Nick Cutter (1/10)

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee (2/7)

The Impossible Fortress – Jason Rekulak (2/7)

The Nature Fix – Florence Williams (2/7)

The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso (2/7)

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller (2/7)

Setting Free the Kites – Alex George (2/21)

Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (2/28)

Eveningland – Michael Knight (3/7)

Exit West – Moshin Hamid (3/7)

Celine – Peter Heller (3/7)

The Idiot – Elif Batuman (3/14)

The Wanderers – Meg Howrey (3/14)

Lola – Melissa Scrivner Love (3/21)

Waking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel (4/4)

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout (4/18)

Woman No. 17 – Edan Lepucki (5/9)

Chemistry – Weike Wang (5/23)

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan (6/13)

The Changeling – Victor LaValle (5/23)

 

 

*Image credit:  aroundambler.com

525,600 Minutes

It’s been a year since I started this blog and along the way I have connected with many bookish people, and more than doubled my annual book intake. After a year measured in blog posts, I’ll be taking a hiatus for the summer to chill (and read).

Hope you all have a great summer of reading. And, to that end, I’ll be kicking off the summer by sharing with you my book club’s reading list to jump start your summer of books.

Thanks for reading!!

 

 

 

Photo credit: Homegoods.com

Book Club Selections (2011-Mid 2017)

One of the questions I get asked/ask others most is “What is your book club reading?”  Book clubs are always a great place for good book recommendations.  Here’s what my book club has been reading since our inception in January 2011.

2011

January           Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

February        Moon Over Manifest – Claire Vanderpool

March              The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

April                Revenge of the Radioactive Lady – Elizabeth Stuckey-French

May                The Gurnsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

June                Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

July                 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

August            Homer & Langley – E. L. Doctorow

September     Swamplandia! – Karen Russell

October/November             The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

December     End of the Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2012

January           The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman

February        Bound – Antonya Nelson

March              11/22/63 – Stephen King

April                The Starboard Sea – Amber Dermont

May/June       The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

July                 The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

August            The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

September     Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

October          The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

November     The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2013

January           The City of Bohane – Kevin Barry

February        A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

March              Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

April                The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jann-Philipp Sendker

May                There is No Me Without You – Melissa Fay Greene

June               Leviathan – Paul Auster

July                 Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

August            The Orchardist – Amanda Coplin

September     The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow – Rita Leganski

October          Night Film – Marisha Pessl

November     A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Antony Marra

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2014

January           How We Do Harm – Otis Brawley

February        Caramelo – Sandra Cisneros

March              Caught – Lisa Moore

April                The Sandcastle Girls – Chris Bohjalian

May                The Huband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

June/July        SUMMER READING

August            Dear Life: Stories – Alice Munro

September   We Were Liars  – E. Lockhart

October/November The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2015

January           Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

February        The Children Act – Ian McEwan

March              The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

April                Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

May                The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

June/July/August      SUMMER READING

September   Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper

October          The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

November     Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2016

January           The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows

February        Ordinary Grace – William Kent Krueger

March              H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

April                Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

May                The Turner House – Angela Flournoy

June/July        SUMMER READING

August            Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

September   The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma

October          Slam – Nick Hornby

November     News of the World – Paulette Jiles

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2017

January           Forty Rooms – Olga Grushin

February        The Sleepwalker – Chris Bohjalian

March              The Pearl That Broke Its Shell – Nadia Hashimi

April                600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

May                Celine – Peter Heller

June/July        SUMMER READING

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

Moonglow tells the life story of Chabon’s (fictional? actual?) grandfather through dream-like conversations between Michael and “my grandfather” on the elder’s deathbed. The detailed, fantastic episodes will be familiar to readers of Chabon’s other fiction, particularly The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This work is labeled as fiction but reads like a memoir (think Tuesdays with Morrie) and uses details from Chabon’s known life. The line between fact and fiction is as blurry as the memories that the grandfather conveys and the whole is a beautifully written, overview of the last century (or thereabouts) in America complete with love, grief, regret and joy. One of my favorite reads from 2016. Highly recommended.

Confessions – Kanae Minato

Pick up this book and strap yourself in for a wild ride!  Minato carefully constructed a fabulous and completely deranged plot (I mean this in the best possible way). It seems to me that the best way to experience this book is to give very little in the way of preview so that you can enjoy it as it unfolds. This story is told from the point of view of six distinct characters over six chapters. The novel begins in a middle school classroom where a teacher announces that she is leaving the school because of “the incident”. At the end of the first chapter I wondered what else could possibly happen. I had that thought five more times! I listened to this one on audiobook and it was well narrated and enjoyable in that format (two narrators, one male, one female who took on different personas for each character). Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a morality play or are just a little warped.

 

 

Scythe – Neil Shusterman

 

This YA novel is the first in a scheduled series. In this world, artificial intelligence has perfected life on Earth and the Cloud has evolved into the Thunderhead, a benevolent, all-knowing being that regulates resources, health and activity. In this world, where everything is optimal, disease and death have been conquered. But, in order to allow humans to reproduce, others must be culled. It is the job of the order of the Scythes to “glean” people from the planet in a non-biased way. Citra and Rowan are two apprentice scythes who are learning the art of gleaning and the burdens that come along with this heavy responsibility. A fast paced and well constructed science-fiction novel that asks heavy questions with heavy consequences. Recommended for all audiences over the age of 12.