Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 runners up

Last night, I kept thinking about the books I enjoyed this past year but didn't make it on my top 10 list.  Here's a second list of my "runner's up."  

Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd - This book should have made my top 10 list.  I love Sue Monk Kidd's writing - particularly The Secret Lives of Bees which I listened to in my car again after reading The Invention of Wings.  Based on the history of abolitionist Sarah Grimke, the book follows Sarah and Handful, a slave from Sarah's parents' home. 

Brillance by Marcus Sakey - Imagine a world where 1% of the population carries a gene for true brillance.  What happens when the other 99% decides to rebel?

The All-Girl Filling Station by Fannie Flagg - Fritzi runs her family filling station during WWII with her sisters and then takes on even more daring adventures as she learns to fly a plane.

Outcasts by Kathleen Kent - A taut, thrilling adventure story about buried treasure, a manhunt, and a woman determined to make a new life for herself in the old west (taken from Amazon's review)

TimeBound by Rysa Walker - Kate's grandmother gives her a blue medallion that allows her to travel in time.  Kate must go back to the Chicago Exposition of 1893 to prevent a murder.

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani.  I love all of her books.  This is the third book in her Valentine series.  My favorite of her books is Lucia, Lucia.

The Target by David Baldacci - featuring his protagonists Will Robie and Jessica Reel.  Fast moving - I couldn't put it down.

Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris - In 1944, Liz attends a USO dance and meets soldier Morgan McClain. Liz's roommate, Betty, agrees to write to Morgan while he is overseas, but she asks Liz to ghostwrite for her.  I truly loved this book.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter - Her book Criminal is one of the best crime books I've read - ever.  I love her characters.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - While I liked Big Little Lies best, I also really liked this one where Alice falls from a stationary bicycle and loses 10 years of her memory.  Will she fall in love with her husband, whom she was divorcing, again?

One for the Murphys by Lynda Hunt - young adult fiction about a girl named Carley who is in foster care.  We are reading this one for CASA book club.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - more young adult fiction that should be read by all.  A summer mystery on the private island of the uber-rich Sinclair family.

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni - seriously good mystery.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - This book won the Newbery medal in 2013 for outstanding children's literature.  Told from the perspective of a captive gorilla named Ivan.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

My favorite books from 2014

For the past five years, I have been recording each book I read with a rating.  Here are the 10 books I rated a "5" in 2014 (well, 12 books, but there's a trilogy, so I'm counting them as one!)

1.  My favorite of the year was "My Notorious Life" by Kate Manning.  Based on the life of Axie Muldoon, known as the "wickedest woman in New York" for her work in women's reproductive rights in the late 19th century.  Axie's life begins on the streets of New York in the 1860s, where she and her siblings struggle to survive.  Sent west on an Orphan Train, she later finds her way back to NYC where she is apprenticed as a midwife.  Unwilling to go quietly about her work, Axie struggles to give women reproductive choice in a time when to do so was scandalous.  I can't recommend this book highly enough!


2.  There is nothing I love to read as much as sweeping historical fiction.  Ken Follett's Century Trilogy certainly fits the bill!  Following the lives of 5 families from America, England, Germany, and Russia from pre-World War I through the 1980s, "Fall of Giants," "Winter of the World," and "Edge of Eternity" are worth your time.  For much of the first book, I felt as though I was in the world of Downton Abbey (which I also watched for the first time this year!).  If you like historical fiction, these books are for you.

3. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is probably my single favorite book of all time.  I've been fascinated with Nelle Harper Lee for years - as most readers have probably asked, why did she write a single book?  After watching a PBS special on her life and learning about her family, particularly her older sister Miss Alice, who worked as an attorney alongside their father, I wanted to know more.  Journalist Marja Mills befriended Nelle and Alice and was granted access to their lives of the course of multiple years.  One of the things I found most interesting was Nelle Harper's thoughts about young adult fiction, and how glad she was "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not classified as such, as she believed it would have limited its exposure to adults.  As a lover of young adult fiction, I wish I could disagree with her, but I think many excellent books are discounted because they are written for young people!  (As an interesting side note, Nelle Harper Lee joined her friend Truman Capote to Kansas to help him research "In Cold Blood."  For a period of time, they rented a house in Manhattan just a few blocks from my house - 1711 Fairchild Ave.)

4.  This book has been on my list to read for multiple years, and I finally got around to it this year.  Wish I had read it sooner!  "The Night Circus" is simply enchanting.  I found it reminiscent of the movie "The Prestige," where two young magicians compete against each other in what becomes a battle of life or death.

5.  I read "The Rosie Project" while we were in Colorado last winter.  Don is a geneticist with some unusual thoughts about life.  When he decides to find a wife, he creates a survey to find the right woman.  Not just any survey - Don's survey has sixteen pages and is designed to eliminate women with characteristics he finds unacceptable.  Rosie is a bartender who is searching for her father.  Don sets aside the Wife Project to help Rosie with her Father Project and ends up falling in love despite his best efforts.  The second book in this series will be released this week, and I can't wait!

6.  How have I never read this book?  After hearing my friend Audra Reed talk about reading it with her 6th grade class, I checked it out from the library.  What amazing young adult fiction!  Like "The Hunger Games," it makes you think about how very different our future world could be with just a few changes to the present, and not in a good way.  

7.  This is the "fun" book on my list, particularly for all you parents of kids in elementary school or for my teacher friends!  A parent is dead at a PTO fundraiser.  Was it murder or an accident?  What is really going on behind closed doors in this sleepy school community?  And why does everyone in the PTO have a blonde bob?  Too entertaining!

8.  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books are quiet stories, but I always find them quite entertaining.

9.  My friend Beth St. Amand wrote this memoir about her son's death by suicide.  Every parent or person who works with young adults should read this book.

10.  While in Florida for Christmas, I read "All the Light We Cannot See."  Another work of historical fiction (are you noticing a theme in what I like to read?), it follows the lives of two children in pre-WWII France and Germany whose lives intersect during the war.  I've seen this book mentioned multiple times as one of the best of 2014, and I couldn't agree more!

I know there are still three days left in 2014, so I may have an update to this list ;)  Happy reading!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My first favorite read of 2014

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning follows Axie Muldoon from her early childhood as a beggar on the streets of New York City in the 1860s to her notoriety as Madame X, a wealthy midwife and provider of contraception and abortions.  Based on the life of Ann Lohman, called the "wickedest woman in New York," Axie's story is thought-provoking and suspenseful.

Some of my other recent reads worth your time:
Fannie Flagg's The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion made me laugh out loud.  The characters grab your heart and your imagination!

Outcasts by Kathleen Kent follows a prostitute turned teacher named Lucinda Carter and a Texas policeman named Nick Cannon in post-Civil War Texas.  Their stories converge as Nick hunts for a killer named McGill.  This book reminded me of Lonesome Dove in the setting and storytelling.

I discovered TimeBound by Rysa Walker on my Kindle when I was searching for a book to check out with my Amazon Prime membership.  Young-adult fiction often captures my imagination in a way I don't find with other books, and this was no exception.  16-year-old Kate receives the ability to time travel from her grandmother and must return to the 1893 Chicago Colombian Expo to save her grandmother's life.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My favorite books of 2013

I read fewer books in 2013 than I have read in many years.  My new crochet hobby took up more time than I thought!  However, I easily found 10 favorites for 2013.

1.  My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
I found Justice Sotomayor's autobiography enlightening and inspiring.  What a childhood she had and what incredible experiences as an adult. 

2.  Criminal by Karin Slaughter.  I discovered Karin Slaughter through this book, which was featured in the Book Page Daily email I get from our library.  I then went back and read all of her books.  The protagonist of this book is a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent named Will Trent.  He first appears in her book Triptych, and I would highly recommend reading the whole series (Triptych, Fractured, Undone, Criminal, and Broken).

3.  Beyond Cold Blood by Larry Welch.  This book, while non-fiction, follows nicely after Criminal.  Welch is the former director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and he highlights the role of the KBI in some of the biggest crimes in the state of Kansas.  Absolutely fascinating!

4. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.  I just love Morton's books!  Mystery and history wrapped together.  For fifty years, Laurel Nicolson has kept a secret from her family - while hiding in a tree during a family picnic, she saw her mother commit a terrible crime.  Now, as the family gathers to celebrate their mother's 90th birthday, Laurel is determined to find the truth.

5. Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
This book contains two intertwined stories, one of which I found wanting but the other which truly touched my heart.  Olivia's son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three.  Following his death, she seeks to understand the meaning of Anthony's short life.  Author Lisa Genova is a PhD neuroscientist, and her fiction focuses on disorders of the brain.  Her first, Still Alice, was a favorite of mine in 2009.

6. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.  This was our first CASA book club selection of 2013 and a great way to start the year - for once, a book without a depressing ending!  Reyna Grande and her two siblings were left behind in Mexico while their father sought work in America.  Reyna details their live in Mexico (poverty beyond anything we can imagine in America), their attempts to cross the border and find their father, and their life in America once they do find him.

7. Joyland by Stephen King.  This is King at his best.  Novellas have always been his strong suit (The Body, which became the movie Stand By Me, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redepmption to name a couple).  I also read and enjoyed his Dr. Sleep this year, but not as much as I enjoyed Joyland.

8. Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann.  One of the few books of historical fiction I found this year.  Amanda Rosenbloom owns a vintage clothing store.  She discovers a journal written by Olive Westcott in 1907 sewn into the lining of a muff she purchased from an older woman.  

9. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.  So often I read Picoult's books only to find that I HATE the ending; however, this time it was worth the read.  Sage Singer is a baker who meets a man named Josef Weber in her grief support group.  After developing a relationship, Weber reveals a life-altering secret to Sage.  What will she do with the information he shares?

10.  Inferno by Dan Brown.  While is wasn't as good as The Da Vinci Code, it was the first book I read this year that I couldn't put down.  Read it from cover to cover over a weekend.