Monday, December 31, 2018

2019 New Years Wishes and My Favorite Books of 2018

Wishing All My Readers a Wonderful 2019

I read this quote somewhere recently and wanted to share it as some of us think of making our New Year's Resolutions -- (I gave resolutions up years ago)  -- 

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” 

It was a very good 2018 and a very nice Christmas for us and our family. The older we get we are even more thankful for the time we get to spend with loved ones.  The adult children are doing well, granddaughters are growing, and we continue to enjoy retirement. We lost our last senior citizen cat on November 6, 2018 and although we miss him, we are so happy we adopted (2) 7 month old litter mates a few weeks ago. Our home seemed just too quiet without cats.  Ricky and Lucy adjusted immediately and are perfect playmates for each other and lap cats for the (2) of us.  When we are home they follow us from room to room and always choose to be in the room we are in. If we are in separate rooms they split up so that each can warm one of our laps -- too funny.

AUDIOS - 28 (Fic and NF)
eBOOKS - 30 (Fic & NF)
NF - 22 (audio and/or print/eBook)
FIC - 100 (audio/print or eBook)
KIDS - 15 (print)
LIBRARY COPIES - 49 (print & audio)
MY SHELVES - 29 (includes ARCs or books sent by publishers)

 TOP 10 Favorites (no particular order)

Sunburn; Laura Lippman - eGalley 5/5 - (April)
A Noise Downstairs; Linwood Barclay (eGalley) - 5/5 - (April)
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership; James Comey (audio) - 5/5 - (July)
84, Charing Cross Road; Helene Hanff (library) - 5/5 - (July)
Calypso; David Seders (audio) - 5/5 - (August)
Where the Crawdads Sing; Delia Owens (eGalley) - 5/5 - (October)
Strike Your Heart; Amelie Nothomb  (library) - 5/5 (November)
Red & Lulu; Matt Taveres - personal copy 5/5 (November)
Becoming; Michelle Obama - audio - 5/5 (December)

Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2019

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Last 2 books of 2018 - A Spool of Blue Thread; Anne Tyler and I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life; Anne Bogel

AUTHOR: Anne Tyler
PUBLISHER: Random House Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2015
SETTING:  Baltimore, MD
FORMAT:  - library audio
RATING: 4/5 stars

Set in Baltimore, Maryland, this Anne Tyler novel introduces us to some (4) generations of the Whitshank family. The story opens up with Red and Abby Whitshank, married in 1959 and parents to (4 ) offspring which includes 19 y/o Denny, the problem child of sorts. Beginning with Red receiving a surprising, brief phone call from Denny, a college student. He's a young adult that just can't find his niche. He can't find the right job and he's not very dependable. 

The family home, built in 1936, which belonged to Red's father, takes on a life of its own in this novel. The house with it's large from porch has been a gathering place for the siblings over the years. As the story progresses, Abby and Red, married 48 years and slowly going down hill: Red's hearing is failing and Abby's memory is slipping, so the siblings must sort out best options.

This was a slow moving family drama, but, it's the type of novel that made me glad it was slow moving.  The characters are slowly explored, often quirky and offered great moments of reflection for me.  It's a sweet story about an average family with feel good moments, sadder moments and bits of love and loss. Kimberly Farr narrated the audio version and does a great job.  

AUTHOR: Anne Bogel
PUBLISHER: Baker Books
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - library print
RATING: 3.5/5 stars

A short book which of some 21 essays in which the author reflects on her love of books and reading. It's a book that will make most book lovers think about the books and reading experiences that made us fall in love with reading. I found myself recalling the books I loved and remembering what island or beach I was on while I read them.

I saw several bloggers review this book and thought I'd like to try it.   I found it easy to relate to a few of the essays, but overall there wasn't anything that stood out or would make me want to have a copy for my shelves. I guess I was expecting to add many more books to my lengthy TBR list but that didn't happen after finishing this one.  Overall, the book was a quick read and I think most book lovers will find something in this collection that will make them happy they tried this one.  The author has a blog called, The Modern Mrs. Darcy and a podcast called, What Should I Read Next.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Christmas Revelation; Anne Perry

AUTHOR: Anne Perry
PUBLISHER: Ballantine
PUB. YEAR: 2018
SETTING:  Victorian London
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 4/5 stars

"Worm" is a 9 year old river urchin who has never experienced a real Christmas. As luck would have it, a couple of kind-hearted people let him work at a clinic on Portpool Lane so that he is not alone.  There's a  grumpy old bookkeeper, Squeaky Robinson, a former brothel owner and Miss Claudine, a volunteer at the clinic who helps Worm learn about Christmas and miracles.  Ruby the maid and Mrs Bellflower the cook help to get ready for a special Christmas which includes a festive dinner, a nativity complete with wisemen, camel and of course a baby.  

When a few days before Christmas Worm witnesses what he believes is the abduction of a beautiful woman, he seeks out Squeaky's help. 

This was a nice Victorian era Christmas mystery. The book part of a series but, can certainly be enjoyed as a stand alone.  I loved the setting, the characters and the circumstances felt real as well. A nice story of hope and redemption, this one was a nice short read to welcome and celebrate the magic of Christmas. 

Night of Miracles; Elizabeth Berg

AUTHOR: Elizabeth Berg
PUBLISHER: Random House
PUB. YEAR: 2018
SETTING:  Missouri
FORMAT:  - eGalley
RATING: 4/5 stars

Night of Miracles is a sequel to The Story of Arthur Truluv which I read and loved last month.  

In this story , senior citizen, Lucille Howard  (Arthur Truluv's  former friend and neighbor), is trying to keep busy by giving baking classes to people in the area.  Her classes have become so popular that she has hired Iris as her assistant, ironically, Iris does not know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind occupied.  When tragedy strikes the new family next door, Lucille and the community of Mason, MO band together to show what it means to be good neighbors.

This was another enjoyable, light read.  This story features some of the characters from the first book as well as a new cast of characters, featured as the chapters progress.  It's a story full of kindness and compassion for others, the kind our world needs more of.  The characters are quirky and likable and the baking references in this book put me in the mood to get out my holiday baking recipes.

Fun read, although I liked the first book a bit more. I'd certainly recommend reading the books in order if you decide to try this two-book series.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How To Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals; Sy Montgomery

TITLE: How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals
AUTHOR: Sy Montgomery (illustrated by Rebecca Green
PUBLISHER: Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - library/eGalley
RATING: 3.5/5 stars

How To Be a Good Creature is a different type of memoir.  The author has traveled the world to study animals. Her memoir reflects her interactions with some (13) different animals: (4) dogs of her own, pigs, an octopus, a tree kangaroo, a trio of emu, a tarantula, an elephant and more.  Each chapter is a personal essay of sorts about her interactions with the animal, observations and what the experience meant to her.

A slim book with a larger print for aging eyes and lovely illustrations, it might make a nice gift for the animal lover in your life.  

Honestly, this book was not all what I was expecting. It's more of an intimate look into the author's life, her travels around the globe and how the animals she encountered along her life journey affected her.  The author writes about love and loss, an abusive childhood, her struggles with depression and the way animals helped her to cope.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Evicted:Poverty & Profit in the American City; Matthew Desmond

AUTHOR: Matthew Desmond
PUBLISHER: Random House (audio)/Crown eBook
PUB. YEAR: 2018
SETTING:  Milwaukee, WI
FORMAT:  - audio download
RATING: 3.5/5 stars

In Evicted, the author a Sociology professor at Princeton explores low income housing issues faced by the poor in Milwaukee, WI.  As part of his research he lived in various low income communities in Milwaukee, which included a trailer park with mostly white low income people and also a rooming house with mainly black people. Gathering information from renters, landlords, housing courts and court files, he documents specifics on (6) families and (2) landlords.  The findings are at times shocking.

Many of the individuals who found themselves in dire situations have made poor life choices but, others, born into poverty, simply never stood a chance for a better life or the opportunity to rise above poverty.  Being poor, with not enough money to get by sets some individuals up to be victimized by others: payday loan advances, rent to own furniture at ridiculous payment fees and super high interest credit card and loan rates as well. They simply move from one crisis situation to another.

Evicted is an eye-opening book that examines the issues faced by the poor relative to housing.  I thought it was well-researched but, not that well written, the flow just seemed off.  I am happy I gave it a try though. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Becoming; Michelle Obama

TITLE: Becoming
AUTHOR: Michelle Obama
PUBLISHER: Random House (audio)
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - audio download
RATING: 5/5 stars

Michelle Robinson Obama's memoir Becoming was probably the very best memoir/biography I've ever read/listening to.  It was a very intimate look at our former first lady from her working class childhood and tight knit family, which included a close relationship with her parents (especially her mother) and her older brother, Craig. Always a good student, Michelle set her sights on Princeton like her brother, even though she was told be a counselor that "she wasn't Princeton material." Despite this, she was not deterred and, not only did she get into and graduate from Princeton, she went on to Harvard Law School to earn her law degree.

Successful in her own right, she describes herself as disciplined and somewhat of a control-freak. She speaks about her career, her father's illness and the way she and Barack met. We learn about her marriage, infertility, child-rearing, her husband's political career and life inside the White House and so much more. As for political aspirations of her own, it seems unlikely we will see the former first lady running for office.

Written with honesty, pain and some humorous moments as well, Becoming, was a sometimes emotional story of a woman with humble beginnings, "becoming" all that she is and experiencing more than she dreamed possible. Engrossing from beginning to end, I loved this book. It felt so personal, because the audio is read by Michelle herself in her pitch perfect voice.  I'll be getting a print copy as well so I can see all of the pictures.

If you love audio books - this one is a must listen!

Swans of Fifth Avenue; Melanie Benjamin

AUTHOR: Melanie Benjamin
PUBLISHER: Random House
PUB. YEAR: 2016
FORMAT:  - eBook
RATING: 4/5 stars

The Swans of Fifth Avenue was our book group's November selection.  Going into this book rather blind, I was not aware that this was a fictionalized version of Truman Capote and the rich, high society "Swans", he ingratiated himself with, only to later expose their most private lives -- in his "LaCote Basque - 1965".

Set in the 1950's-1960's, it is a juicy story which I thought was fairly well-written.    Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimore Paley, socialite and top "swan", seemed to have it all: beauty, money and influential friends but, deep down she was not much more than a lonely, insecure trophy wife. Her husband Bill was a philandering, CBS executive. Little did Babe know, when Capote and his larger than life personality entered the picture, he would easily be welcomed in their circle but, with a penchant for gossip, he'd later use people to his advantage.

This book made for a lively discussion and everyone in the group seemed happy that we read it. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December Mid month update

It's been such a busy month and still (12) more days to go: new kitties, book group Christmas luncheon, shopping, gift wrapping, aquarium visit, saw a new movie, another birthday for me and some celebrating, annual brunch with Santa, Christmas live performance, and some time for yoga and reading as well.

We saw The Mule which stars Clint Eastwood, 88,  as Earl Stone, a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive—easy enough but, unbeknownst to Earl, he’s just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel, and also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent, Colin Bates. DEA Agent played by Bradley Cooper and other great stars such as, Laurence Fishbone, Andy Garcia, Michael Pena and Alison Eastwood ( as his daughter).  Eastwood's character is that of a flawed man who made plenty of mistakes in his younger days but tries to make it right in the time he has left.  There was humor to be found in this drama as well. Based on a true story. We loved this movie.

Mystic, Connecticut Aquarium Visit 

Front row seats to sea lion performance - so cute.

African Penguins 

December Birthday Brunch with Santa

(my happy place - brunch with granddaughters)

Christmas Home for the Holidays

"Home for the Holidays" is an annual on stage performance at a local theater. It takes place in the living room of the host with a number of guests arriving to celebrate the season and sing some great holiday songs. Just a nice reminder of what simple joys the holiday can bring, being with friends and family. Great production, excellent singers, and a great festive night out. This is our third year attending and every year is somewhat different.

The Kitties - Ricky and Lucy adjusted so fast - both are lap cats, love to wash one another, play together and even sleep in our bed.  Although we forgot just how active kittens can be (these litter mates are 7 months), we are thankful they sleep through the night. We feel so lucky to have adopted this lovable duo - they've so much unto our once quiet home.

New Books from publishers

December Reading thus far

  1. The Story of Arthur Truluv; Elizabeth Berg - library audio - 4.5/5 (Dec/2018)
  2. The Christmas Star; Donna Vanliere - eBook - 4/5 (Dec/2018)
  3. Christmas on Cape Cod; Nan Rossiter - eBook - 3.5/5 (Dec/2018)
  4. Alaskan Holiday; Debbie Macomber - library - 4/5 (Dec/2018)
  5. Becoming; Michelle Obama - audio - 5/5 (Dec/2018) (no review yet)
How is your month going?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Christmas Revelation; Anne Perry

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read.

Ballantine - 2018

"WORM STOOD AND STARED, OVERCOME WITH wonder.  She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, in all of hid nine years of life.  She was like sudden sunshine on a dark day--the place you looked without even thinking about it, all light and warmth and softness.  She walked the way everybody should: gently, head up, smiling.  Maybe other people looked like her at first glance, but when you looked again you saw she smiled, not as if there were something funny, but as if she knew something good that she could share, if you would stop to listen."

This is my 4th Christmas book I'll be reading (reviews to post soon) - I love these lighter and shorter books in December.   Would you pass or read more?

Monday, December 10, 2018

3 short Christmas Books for 2018

 The Christmas Star - Donna Vanliere
St Martins Press - 2018

As Christmas approaches little Maddie, a spunky, sweet-natured seven year old who has grown up in foster care plays matchmaker. Amy and Gabe are two individuals who have had some rough patches in their lives and are looking for a fresh start. Can little Maddie work some magic?

A sweet story about second chances, reminding us to never give up on hope or love.  I enjoyed this one.

Christmas on Cape Cod; Nan Rossiter
Zebra - 2018

Asa Coleman is a single dad to young son Cole. He's trying to do it all and hoping that this Christmas will be special for his son.  He plans to gather family to Cape Cod for Christmas and also invites his friend Maddie Carlson. Asa never realized how much Maddie cared for him but, before the holiday is over the spirit of the season makes magical things happen between the couple.

This was a very short novella, a sweet story, but, something was missing. Apparently there is a backstory from an earlier book. I wished that I knew a bit more about Asa and Cole and what had happened to Cole's mother.

Alaskan Holiday; Debbie Macomber
Ballantine - 2018

Josie Avery, a Seattle native who lived with her mom takes a summer job at a rustic and remote Alaskan lakeside lodge in a town called Ponder.  She wasn't expecting to find love in Alaska but, the obstacles may be too great for love to blossom.

I loved the Alaskan wilderness setting, so atmospheric.  The small town characters were perfect: Jack Corcoran, rough around the edges, who often speaks without thinking and Palmer, the loner who would love to make Josie his wife. Alaskan Holiday was a short enjoyable holiday story.

Friday, December 7, 2018

New Additions - This time it's Cats not Books

I know I said we weren't ready for more cats after the last of our cats passed away on November 6th at 16.5 years.  However, I haven't been without a cat in 36 years and, the hub agreed that our home wasn't quite the same without cats. Although we were "just looking" when we visited the shelter, when Ricky jumped on my lap and made himself comfortable, the deal was sealed.  Of course, we had to take his sister Lucy (another sweetie) as well. 

They came home with us yesterday and they are 7 months old . We were surprised to learn that they came from a shelter in Georgia so, they had quite the journey from GA to New England.  We can't believe what an easy adjustment it was for them and us, although I did clean up one knocked over plant :)  My fault for having plants right?  

We renamed the duo as they each had a long name that we had never heard of before. Now called Lucy and Ricky, they have made themselves at home, comfortable on our laps, love to play with toys etc. We love how relatively calm they are even though their still kittens. They love to bathe each other - we are so happy we adopted both.

     Meet Lucy and Ricky

Ricky on left - Lucy on right

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Christmas on Cape Cod; Nan Rossiter

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read.

(My December choices always tend to include a few fluffy, feel good stories. I just finished The Christmas Star; Donna VanLiere (no review yet, but very enjoyable) and now hope to start Christmas on Cape Cod.  Do you enjoy a few lighter holiday stories in December as well ?)

Christmas on Cape Cod; Nan Rossiter
Zebra (eBook $2.99 on Amazon)

Chapter 1

"Dad, wake up!" There was a short pause and then the same soft voice whispered again with more urgency. "Dad...Dad, wake up! We have to go find a tree! You said we had to get up early."  This time the plea was accompanied by gentle nudging and prodding. Asa Coleman opened one eye and squinted at the little face, which was inches from his nose.  The face smiled. "Time to get up!" It announced cheerfully.

Would you read more or pass?

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Story of Arthur Truluv; Elizabeth Berg

AUTHOR: Elizabeth Berg
PUBLISHER: Recorded Books (audio)
PUB. YEAR: 2017
SETTING:  Missouri
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 4.5/5 stars

Arthur Moses is an 82 year old widower who is misses his wife Nola very much. Although he still has his cat Gordon and his elderly neighbor, Lucille for company, he's added a new routine to his life. Arthur takes a daily bus ride to the cemetery to chat with his dead wife. He sits on a folding chair, eats his lunch and tells Nola about his day.

One day he notices a young girl there and they begin to chat, her name is Maddy,  Maddy's mom died a few weeks after she was born and her dad seems devoid of emotions. She has a boyfriend who has been using her and no other real friends either.  Maddy is fascinated by Arthur's devotion to his late wife and nicknames hime "Arthur Truluv". When Maddy needs a place to live, Arthur welcomes her into his home. Their friendship is special. Arthur, Lucille, and Maddy are an unlikely trio, but it works.

I loved this charming story, it was exactly the kind of story I needed when I read it.  It shows how family doesn't have to fit some particular stereotype. A touching story about aging and loneliness and about what constitutes a family.    Even though the ending was a bit sad, overall, it's a hopeful story, that leaves you with the feeling that everything will be okay.  I can't wait to read the sequel, Night of Miracles soon.