Musings From A Bookmammal


Top Ten Tuesday–Top 10 Books On My Winter TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

The Top 10 Books On Your Winter TBR List

I decided to list ten books that will be released from December 2014  through February 2015—plus two early March releases because when you live near Chicago, winter sometimes goes on into April! I’ve got 6 fiction and 4 nonfiction picks. Ready? Here we go—the Top 10 Books on my Winter TBR list!

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When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII by Molly Guptill Manning (Dec. 2)      This book will be released next week, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! It’s about the initiative to send books overseas to the troops during WWII, and the rise of paperback publishing that resulted from this movement. I read an excerpt of this book in a magazine recently and was absolutely riveted.

Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman (Jan. 6)      This is a short story collection consisting of fictionalized accounts based on the real lives of real women.

I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures In Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington (Jan. 6)      Rebecca Harrington wrote Penelope, one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read—it’s one of those books that people either love or they just don’t get it. In this book, Harrington tries her hand at nonfiction and relates her experiences in recreating the dieting habits of famous people. I’m not expecting any hard journalism here—I’m mainly just curious as to how Harrington’s writing skills will translate into nonfiction.

West Of Sunset by Stuart O’Nan (Jan. 13)         I love Stuart O’Nan’s novels (Songs For The Missing is one of my top ten book club worthy reads) so I’m really looking forward to his latest. This one will be a departure in style for O’Nan—it’s based on the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, and I’m curious to see how this one will pan out.

Love By The Book: A Novel by Melissa Pimentel (Feb. 3)       This novel—compared by some to Bridget Jones’s Diary— traces a year in the life of a young woman living in London who decides to follow a different dating guide every month for a year in her efforts to find true love.

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The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw (Feb. 17)      This novel is set at a New England boarding school and involves secrets and betrayals between two brothers. I love books that take place in school settings!

Golden State by Stephanie Kegan (Feb. 17)      This novel is being compared to Defending Jacob and We Need To Talk About Kevin,  two novels that I thought were both very disturbing and very thought provoking. This book is about a young woman whose brother is accused of committing acts of terrorism against several California universities—and she needs to decide how far to go to protect her brother.

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon (Feb. 24)      This novel shares a similar theme to Golden State—how far a father will go to protect his son, who is involved in a school shooting.

Just Kids From The Bronx: Telling It The Way It Was—An Oral History by Arlene Alda (March 3)       I love reading oral histories and I’m looking forward to this new contribution to the genre, describing what day to day life was like over 60 years in the Bronx.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania by Erik Larsen (March 10)     I really don’t know much about the Lusitania tragedy, but I love the way that Erik Larson—author of one The Devil In The White City—turns historical events into narratives that almost seem like novels.

How about you? Are any of these books on your radar for this winter? Which books are you looking forward to over the next few months? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–The Top Ten Books On My TBR List This Fall


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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

The Top Ten Books On My TBR List This Fall

Like all of you, I’m looking forward to A LOT of books this fall, but I narrowed my list to ten–five fiction and five nonfiction–and I limited myself to new books that are being released from September-October. Ready? Here we go!


  9.16.14 9.30.14 9.30.14 C  10.7.14  10.14.14

Sept. 16The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters     I’ve never read anything by Sarah Waters before but this new title is getting a ton of buzz. Most of the reviews I’ve read say that it’s best to go into this one without any preconceived  notions about the plot, so all I really know is that it takes place in London in the early 1920s and it’s a psychological drama.

Sept. 30Us by David Nicholls     I liked One Day by Nicholls, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy his new novel as well. It’s about a man whose wife decides to leave him after their son goes away to college, and his attempts to save their relationship.

Sept. 30Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley     This YA novel takes place in Virginia in 1959 and deals with integration as well as LGBT issues. I don’t think this will be an easy read, but I’ve read many reviews that indicate that it will be one of the important YA books this year.

Oct. 7Some Luck by Jane Smiley    Jane Smiley’s latest is the first book in a trilogy covering several decades in the life of an American farming family.

Oct. 14Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult     I LOVE Jodi Picoult’s early novels, but her last few have been a bit hit-and-miss for me. I am really hoping that I love this book about a daughter searching for her missing mother.


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Sept. 22An Age of License: A Travelogue by Luch Knisley     I adored Knisley’s food memoir Relish, so I’m excited to read her latest book written in graphic format about her travels to Europe during a  recent book tour.

Sept. 30The News Sorority by Sheila Weller     I enjoy reading “behind the scenes” nonfiction, and I’m also interested in journalism, so this biography of three noted TV journalists (Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Christiane Amanpour) is right up my alley.

Oct. 2Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado     This is a memoir of a woman’s experience with going from middle-class America to poverty. I’ve heard this book compared to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and to me, that’s a big plus.

Oct. 13The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig     On the surface this book covers how the Pill was developed, but it also deals with feminism, medicine, politics, and changing social attitudes. I’ve heard that this nonfiction book reads more like a novel, and that’s my favorite type of nonfiction!

Oct. 28Yes Please by Amy Poehler    Amy Poehler is one of my favorite comedic actresses—right up there with Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. I really liked both of their memoirs, so I’m hoping to enjoy Poehler’s just as much.

How about you? Are any of these on your TBR list? Which books are you anxiously waiting to get your hands on this season? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–Take A Peek At My TBR List!

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

The Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet

To answer this prompt I went through my TBR list on Goodreads and pulled ten titles that have already been released this year, but that I either haven’t purchased yet or that I’m still waiting on at the library. Ready? Here we go–in no particular order:

178301231. We Are Not Ourselves by Mathew Thomas     This is a 600+ page multi-generational Irish-American  family saga that I can’t wait to dive into!



194864122. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty     I just finished Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret a few days ago and really liked it, so I’m anxious to get my hands on her latest. The setting is an elementary school, and I usually enjoy reading novels taking place in any kind of academic setting, so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this one.



192882593. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher        This is another novel set in academia—this time a university. Plus, the narrative is told through letters which is a technique that I usually love!



214815424. The First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler     I love reading about American presidents and their families, so I’ve really been looking forward to this book about the Secret Service. I’ve read some of Kessler’s previous books and they do tend to be on the “gossipy” side, so I’m not expecting anything especially hard-hitting here, but I think this will at least be an entertaining read.



180599805. What Follows After by Dan Walsh   This is a novel about a fractured family, the steps taken by the children to mend their parents’ marriage, and the aftermath of their actions.



180797606. Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis     I read a lot of narrative nonfiction, and I especially enjoy medical and popular science topics. This book tells the story of how the cause of TB was discovered and the controversy surrounding this discovery. Call me a geek, but this sounds intriguing to me!



186562237. Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg    This novel is about a modern American family that is constantly on the move—both across the US and also across other continents. The plot explores how different people in the same family deal with loss, and what we mean when we talk about “home”.



187754428. The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber     I used to read a lot of true crime, and I’m not quite sure why I stopped—but this book about “regular people” who help detectives solve missing person cases caught my interest.



186937529. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love From an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn     This is a food/family memoir by the author of The Sharper The Knife, The Less You Cry—a cooking memoir that I liked a lot.



1757129110. What We’ve Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder     I’m especially interested in this novel because the setting is local for me–it takes place in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. It’s about a series of home invasions that test the trust of the people within the community and bring hidden prejudices to the surface.


How about you? Have you read any of these? What are some titles that you want to read, but still haven’t bought or borrowed yet? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–Which Authors Take Up The Most Space On Your Shelves?

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

The Top Ten Authors With The Most Books On Your Bookshelves

This was a fun list to put together! I had some ideas of who would end up on this list, but it gave me an excuse to wander around my bookcases and actually count books! Here are the authors who have the most books in my home. Some of them even have entire shelves!

bob_greeneBob Greene (19 books) —Bob Greene was a Chicago newspaper human-interest columnist for years. He published many books of collections of his columns, plus books about historical events and characters, a few memoirs, and even a novel. He left his newspaper gig about ten years ago after some controversy, but he’s still writing. I may have issues with how he conducts his personal life, but the man can write. I have a whole shelf devoted to his books.


hemingwayErnest Hemingway (15 books) —OK, this one is a bit of a cheat. I have 9 books BY Hemingway, and 6 books ABOUT him. But it’s my list and my rules, so I’m counting them as one big batch! 🙂  I read The Sun Also Rises in high school and it started me on a serious Hemingway obsession that lasted for years. His short stories are second to none, and A Moveable Feast is simply wonderful.



agatha_christie_80Agatha Christie (13 books) –I read my first Agatha Christie mystery in junior high school after I saw her play The Mousetrap. I still have all the paperbacks I collected back then. Agatha Christie is proof that you don’t need a lot of explicit violence or gore to tell a great tale of suspense!



picoultJodi Picoult (12 books) —I don’t own all the Picoult books I’ve read, but I do have a lot of them. Her books have been a bit hit-and-miss for me over the past few years, but I still automatically put myself on the hold list at the library whenever she has a new book coming out. The first Picoult book I read was The Pact and it made me a fan for life.



pageKatherine Hall Page (12 books) —I love to read, I love to cook, and I love a good mystery. Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild mystery series satisfies me on all three levels! These are good mysteries with well-developed characters and a bit of humor mixed in. They’re not heavy reading, but they’re great for pure escape.



terkelABStuds Terkel (11 books) —Oh, I do miss Studs Terkel! He was truly a Chicago icon, and when he died in his 90s a few years ago he left a wonderful legacy of oral histories that celebrate the “regular” people who make up our country. He had the wonderful gift of being able to encourage everyday people to open up and share their experiences about so many topics—their experiences during WWII, how they felt about their jobs, their thoughts on race,  their lives during the Great Depression, and many, many other topics. He was truly the father of the oral history genre. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a book signing near the end of his life and I’ll never forget it. I have one big shelf of his books in a prominent spot on my favorite bookcase.

graftonSue Grafton (10 books) —I haven’t read any Kinsey Mallone books in quite awhile, but I used to love it when a new one was released. I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of these—I read them in my mid-twenties and they’re a really nice reminder of a good, happy period of my life.



Annie%20LamottAnne Lamott (10 books) —I really like Lamott’s novels, but I am crazy about her nonfiction! Bird By Bird is one of my favorite books about the craft of writing, and her collections of essays on faith and spirituality are books that I re-read again and again. Is she a little bit out there? Sure–but I’ve rarely read another author who is as honest as Lamott.



Feinstein_200John Feinstein (9 books) —I don’t actually “do” any sports, but I love reading about sports and athletes. Feinstein is my go-to author here. I especially enjoy his behind the scenes books on basketball. You can practically hear the shoes squeaking on the court when you read his books!



Anna-Quindlen-Author-PhotoAnna Quindlen (9 books) —Quindlen’s novels are a little uneven for me (although Every Last One is one of the best books I’ve read in ages) but I absolutely LOVE her columns. When I read her nonfiction I feel as though she’s inside my head.



How about you? Do you have books by any of these authors on your shelves? Which authors take up the most space on your bookcases? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–My Favorite Movies Based on Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt asks us to talk about kinds of stories other than books. So, I decided to list my top ten favorite MOVIES BASED ON BOOKS!

Most booklovers say that “the book is always better!” and generally I agree. But there are some movies based on books that I love and that I think stay pretty true to the author’s vision. Here are my top ten movies that started out as books–I’ve watched all of these films multiple times, and if I happen to come upon any of them on TV, chances are that I’ll stay put and watch the whole thing! Ready? Here we go, in no particular order:

to kill a mockingbird          to kill a mockingbird movie

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee    I read this classic in ninth-grade English class, and the unit ended with all the English classes watching the film together in the high school auditorium. This was back in the days before DVDs and VCRs weren’t even widely used (I feel SO OLD right now!)—we were watching the movie from an actual movie projector! To this day I can still remember sitting there with my girlfriends, waiting anxiously for the sight of Boo Radley’s face (played by Robert Duvall!) for the very first time. . . and the film broke at that exact instant! One of the teachers raced up the aisle to the projection room to fix the film while a whole auditorium full of kids groaned.


ordinary people book          ordinary people

2. Ordinary People by Judith Guest    I’ve probably seen this movie at least a dozen times over the years—and there are still a couple of scenes that make me tear up. It’s hard to believe that this was Timothy Hutton’s very first film–he’s amazing. Plus—Mary Tyler Moore plays a role that was radically different from her usual character choices. I believe that this was also Robert Redford’s directorial debut. This is a movie that I used to use as a tongue-in-cheek “boyfriend detector”—if a guy had actually seen (and liked!) this film, I figured there was boyfriend potential there.  I had a pretty good track record with this method for awhile!


friday night lights book          friday_night_lights_poster

3. Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger    I love this nonfiction book about a Texas town and its complicated, all-consuming relationship with the local high school football team– but I simply ADORE the movie. I rarely buy movie DVDs, but I bought this one and have watched it multiple times. (I’ve never watched even one episode of the TV series, though—not sure why!) This is about so much more than football—even if you’re not a sports fan, there’s still something for you in this movie! And–I’m not usually a big Billy Bob Thornton fan, but he truly shines in this film.

kramer          kramer vs kramer

4. Kramer vs. Kramer by Avery Corman    Great book, even greater movie—starring an incredibly young Dustin Hoffman as the father  and Meryl Streep as the mother who leaves her husband and child. There are a couple of scenes in this movie that make me cry every. single. time.


all presidents men book          all_the_presidents_men_xlg

5. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein    I’ve never been able to make it through the whole book about the Watergate investigation, but this is a wonderful film—and parts of it are as suspenseful as any fictional thriller. Dustin Hoffman (again!) and Robert Redford are incredible as the journalists caught up in a story that’s bigger and more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. I actually stumbled upon this movie on cable a couple of weeks ago and ended up staying up past my bedtime and watching the whole thing. . . again!


chapter two          Film_Poster_for_Chapter_Two

6. Chapter Two by Neil Simon    This started out as a play and was then adapted into a movie. I have to be in the right mood to read plays—sometimes all the stage directions get in the way for me—but this is one of my favorite films. James Caan is wonderful as a man who can’t seem to move on from his wife’s death, and Marsha Mason is the woman who wants to help him do so. It also co-stars a very young Valerie Harper. I love this movie! (But—can I just say that I HATE the movie poster? This movie is NOT primarily a happy-go-lucky comedy, although there are parts that are extremely funny.)


band played on          AndtheBandPlayed

7. And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts    Based on Shilt’s overwhelmingly informative, moving, and incredibly upsetting nonfiction account of the early years of the AIDS crisis, this is another film that never fails to make me cry.  Richard Gere, Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin . . . the list of actors who participated in this film goes on and on. Great book, great movie.


about a boy          about_a_boy_xlg

8. About A Boy by Nick Hornby    I love this film—there are parts that make me laugh out loud every time I watch it. This is one movie that departs from the book in quite a few ways, but in the long run it stays pretty true to the basic plot.


nile    death_on_the_nile_xlg     orient express     amsel_murder_on_the_orient_express74                        

9. Death On The Nile and 10. Murder On The Orient  Express by Agatha Christie    I read both of these books in high school when I was in a serious Agatha Christie phase–in fact, I still have my paperback copies!  Both of these movies are pretty close adaptations of these brilliant mysteries, and the plots definitely hold up after all these years.


How about you? Have you read and/or watched any of these? What are some of your favorite movies based on books? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–Top 10 Books On My Summer TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

What Are The Top Ten Books On Your Summer TBR List?

Like all booklovers, my TBR list is huge—but there are a few books that have made it to the top of my TBR list that I want to be sure to get to this summer. As always, of course, this plan is subject to change with absolutely no notice! But as of today, these are the top ten books that I’m planning to read by September. Some are new releases, and some are backlisted titles. Ready? Here we go, in no particular order:

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 The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve written many times about my love for Eleanor & Park and my near-love for Fangirl. I’m now looking forward to reading this backlist adult novel by Rowell.

The Hidden White House by Robert Klara

I love reading about American history–especially the lives of our Presidents and their families—so I was thrilled to discover this book about the remodeling of the White House during the late 1940s-50s. I am so excited to dig into this book—it looks perfect for nonfiction fans like myself!

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

I read Koch’s The Dinner last year and it was a disturbing and riveting read. Everything I’ve heard about this new novel makes me think that it will be another thought-provoking, unsettling book. Not your typical summer beach read, but I’m very anxious to get to this one!

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

I finally got around to reading Me Before You several months ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’m eagerly awaiting this latest title which is due to be released in the US in early July.

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

I’m reading this right now and should finish it in the next couple of days. It’s about a group of parents in New York City who go away with their toddlers for a long weekend at a beach house—and, of course, various dramas ensue. Parts of this novel are spot on regarding the relationships between moms, dads, and young children—but I’m having trouble liking or caring about any of the characters. I’m close to the end, though, so I’ll keep on until I finish it.

1938260        18525774        18641982        art of fielding        18144099

Mary by Janis Cooke Newman

I usually like to read one enormous book over the summer, and at 500+ pages, this novel definitely qualifies! This is backlist historical fiction told through the voice of Mary Todd Lincoln, and I really can’t wait to immerse myself in  this one. I’ve read a lot about Abraham Lincoln, but I don’t know much about his wife. I’m hoping this book will change that!

 Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

I LOVE Nancy Thayer’s earlier novels, but her later books have been a bit hit and miss for me. However, she’s one of my “automatic authors”—I’ll read pretty much anything she publishes. This book is due to be released today, and the cover alone promises that it’ll be a great beach bag read!

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

There’s nothing like a good, juicy story about family drama and secrets—I love to read this type of novel at any time of the year, but especially during the summer months. This book was just released at the end of May and there are a ton of people ahead of me at the library—I’ll just have to be patient, I guess! Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I’m in the middle of this 500+ page novel right now and am really enjoying it, but I’m having to take breaks every once in awhile to read some shorter books. I do plan on finishing this “baseball novel that isn’t really just about baseball” book by the end of the summer.

Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg

I love reading food memoirs and am looking forward to reading this new release. I just got to the top of the library hold list for this title and I’ll be picking it up at the end of the week!

How about you? Have you read any of these? What’s on your reading list this summer? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–My Favorite Books Of The Year (So Far!)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This week’s prompt is:

List The Top Ten Books You’ve Read This Year  (So Far!)

According to my Goodreads account, I’ve read 48 books so far this year. Of those 48, I’ve given the highest five-star rating to six of them, and a four-star rating to twelve more. This list—in no particular order—is made up of all six of my five-star books, plus four more selections from my four-star list. Ready? Here we go!

18819296I really enjoy stories that are told through the alternating viewpoints of different characters, and this novel is a great example of that technique. Hidden by Catherine McKenzie is told through the perceptions of the three main characters—a man who is killed in an accident in the first chapter, his wife, and another woman who may or may not have been his mistress.  This novel raises questions about whether or not honesty is always the best policy—and how well we really know those we love.


boys in the boatI love reading about sports—trust me, I’m much better at reading about them than actually “doing” them!–but I knew virtually nothing about rowing (or as it’s more properly called, “crew”) until I read The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown. It’s the story of the 1936 US Olympic rowing team who competed in Hitler’s Berlin Olympic Games, and I was completely riveted throughout the entire book. It also made me want to learn more about those particular Olympics that took place during such a fascinating and troubling time.


13490638I think you need to have a very particular sense of humor to appreciate Penelope by Rebecca Harrington, and I definitely have that sense of humor! This satirical novel is about a slightly eccentric girl’s freshman year at Harvard University, and readers seem to either love it or hate it. One complaint from reviewers is that the dialogue isn’t true to life, and a common comment seems to be “Don’t these characters ever use contractions when they talk???” I found the dialogue to fit the mood and the characters of the book perfectly, and some of it had me laughing out loud—which is rare for me. I loved this book—if you enjoy novels set in school settings, go ahead and give it a try!

15786110Relish by Lucy Knisley is the first book in graphic format that I’ve ever read, and it completely charmed me! The author uses text, dialogue, and illustration to narrate memories of food, cooking, and eating throughout her life. I’ve always been a fan of food memoirs—I love reading about how food and cooking reflect our memories and our culture—and Relish is a great take on foodie genre. Plus—there are recipes! I enjoyed this book so much that after I returned it to the library I went out and bought my own copy for my collection.

chestnut streetChestnut Street was published after Maeve Binchy’s death and is a collection of short stories and vignettes about characters who live on the same street in a small Irish town. Many of the chapters could have easily been expanded into short stories—which probably would have happened if Binchy had lived. I loved this book, but it also made me sad to realize that it’s probably the new book that we’ll see from her. (Late breaking news! A collection of her columns entitled Maeve’s Times  will be published later this year!)

sisterlandI almost didn’t read Sisterland. Although I’ve enjoyed Curtis Sittenfeld’s other books—especially American Wife—the descriptions I read seemed to really play up the paranormal aspect of this novel. I’m not generally into books about psychics, ghosts, spirits, etc, but I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to on my daily commute, and this one was available at my library. I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did! The novel is about two adult twin sisters who share the ability to predict the future—but there’s so much more to the story than that! It’s about family bonds, trust, betrayal, secrets, and unconditional love. I think this would be a great book club title!


17162148Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is another book that I almost missed. I started it a couple of times and just couldn’t get engaged with the story. For some reason I decided to give it a final try, and I’m so glad that I did—this is definitely an example of how a book will find you at just the right time! It’s a novel set during 1987, and the main character is a 14-year old girl who, along with her family, is dealing with the recent death of her uncle from AIDS. She forms a secret friendship with her late uncle’s lover and learns to process her feelings of grief while also starting to come to terms with her changing relationships with her parents and older sister. This is really a beautiful book. It captures the essence of the mid-to-late 1980s very well—and it vividly brings back the fear and ignorance that surrounded us during those early, frightening years of the AIDS crisis. It also paints a great picture of those teen years when you’re trying to figure out where you fit in, or if you even want to fit in, and finally, it’s a very moving story of working through loss.

17196305I work in educational publishing and I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to help kids learn to love to read. Reading In The Wild by Donalyn Miller is a nonfiction book discussing how teachers (and parents) can help children become lifelong readers. The author offers the opinion that many practices commonly used in classrooms—such as reading journals and contests—can actually work against helping children understand that reading should be a part of our everyday lives and not simply something to be done in school. She also provides practical suggestions on how educators can create an authentic book-loving culture in their schools. Many of the ideas presented apply to parents as well. I completely loved the message of this book!

empty mansionsIf you want an example of truth being stranger than fiction, look no further! Empty Mansions by Bill Dedmantells the true story of Hugette Clark, heiress to her father’s copper fortune. She grew up in incredible wealth and privilege in New York City and when she died in 2011 at the age of 104, her estate was valued at over $300 million. However, it was discovered that she’d left two signed wills—one leaving her wealth to her remaining family members (distant relatives from her father’s first marriage, most of whom hadn’t spoken to her in decades–she had no children of her own), the other leaving everything to her lawyers, long-time private nurse, and other employees. The question was, had she been in control of her fortune, or was she being controlled by the people she hired to care for her and manage her money? And why did she spend the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital, when even her doctors agreed that there was no medical reason for doing so? If you love to escape by reading about the lives of the impossibly rich, or if you like a good investigative treatment of a modern day mystery, give this book a try.

18453249The Blessings by Elise Juska is the most recently read book on my list. I love books about family secrets and multiple generations, and this is a great example of that genre. It takes place over twenty years in the lives of a close-knit, extended family living near Philadelphia, and each chapter relates the perceptions and feelings of a different family member–I really appreciated the way the author used this technique to reveal information about pivotal events in this family’s history.


How about you? Have you read any of these? What are some of the best books you’ve read so far this year? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–10 Samples From My TBR Shelf

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.

This is a “free week” over at Top Ten Tuesday—each participant can choose ANY PROMPT to complete their entry! I decided to list ten random books from my TBR list. I selected these titles by looking at my “TBR” shelf in my Goodreads account–which currently contains about 200 titles–and choosing the first book from the first ten rows on this list. No cheating, I promise! The result is a pretty good reflection of my varied reading tastes—although I ‘m surprised that there are only two nonfiction titles on the list. Ready? Here we go!


JFK Jr., George & Me: A Memoir by Matt Berman     I’ve always been fascinated by the Kennedys —in fact, I have an entire shelf of books devoted to members of this political family. This new book is a memoir written by the creative director who worked for JFK Jr at George magazine. I recently read an excerpt in Vanity Fair magazine and was hooked.

123534Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss     I don’t know why I’ve never read this piece of historical fiction before—it came out in 2001. It’s based on the lives of two conjoined twins born in Taiwan in 1811, who eventually came to the US, married two sisters, and fathered a total of 21 children. I recently found a great used copy of this book and snapped it up. I enjoy historical fiction and I’m eager to start this book.

783448The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy     I just finished Chestnut Street, the late Maeve Binchy’s last (and probably final) book. It made me remember how much I enjoy her work, and that since she was so prolific, there are so many of her novels that I’ve never read. I’m going to begin with this one.

6183847What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison     I love reading about food and cooking—I think that our behavior and feelings towards food say a lot about our culture. This book looks at what people eat when no one else is present and how they feel about it. I think this will be a great addition to my collection of culinary memoirs and essays.

18528055Lesson Plans by Suzanne Greenberg     I always enjoy reading fiction set in schools—once a teacher, always a teacher! This novel is about homeschooling and the choices that parents make on behalf of their kids. I’m very intrigued by parents who choose to homeschool their children, and I’m looking forward to this debut novel.

18114509Painted Cities by Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewskis     I heard a radio interview with this local Chicago author a few weeks ago and immediately requested that my local library order this book of short stories—all of which take place in a particular neighborhood in Chicago.

4407American Gods by Neil Gaiman     I’ve never read anything by Gaiman, but I keep reading quotes from him about literacy, libraries, and reading that seem to speak directly to me. I rarely read anything in the fantasy genre, but I’m going to try to branch out a bit with this book. (I also have The Ocean At The End Of The Lane on my TBR list)

19100997The Arsonist by Sue Miller     I haven’t read anything by Sue Miller in ages but I usually like her work. Her latest novel is due to be published in late June, and it’s the story of an arsonist who begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town.

1938260Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman     This novel is narrated through the fictional first-person voice of Mary Todd Lincoln. I’ve read a fair amount of nonfiction about Abraham Lincoln—particularly about his assassination—but I don’t know much about his wife other than that she was a rather eccentric First Lady who was committed to an asylum by her oldest son after she left the White House. This is a 600+ page novel and I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in life during the 1800s!

20662527The Broken by Tamar Cohen     I discovered this book from reading a review by Cleopatra Loves Books, one of my blogging buddies. She’s my source for recommendations for psychological suspense, and this sounds like a great one. It’s about two couples who are the best of friends—until one of the marriages ends. I’m not sure when this book is going to be released in the US, but I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy as soon as it’s available!

How about you? Have you read any of these? What’s on your TBR list these days? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–Friendships Between The Pages

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.  This week’s prompt is:

 List Your Top Ten Favorite Books About Friendship

Great question! Here are my top ten picks–some fiction, some nonfiction–in no particular order. Ready? Let’s go!

five fortunesFive Fortunes is one of my favorite novels ever—it’s about a group of women of various ages who meet at a spa and then continue to build on their friendships as they go back to their “real” lives. Beth Gutcheon is one of my favorite authors for dialogue—I can usually HEAR her characters speaking their lines inside my head. This novel includes some extremely funny scenes, but also is heartwrenching in some spots. I’ve probably read this book at least five times over the years, and there’s one particular scene that brings me to tears every single time. That’s powerful writing.

truth & beautyI love Ann Patchett’s essays and nonfiction–I feel as though she is speaking directly to me when I read some of her work. Truth & Beauty is her somewhat controversial memoir about her rather complicated friendship with the late author Lucy Grealy. This book speaks to the idea that friendship isn’t always easy—and that you can never truly judge the relationships of others. If you read this book, you also need to read Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography Of A Face for a different perspective.

class reunionClass Reunion by the late Rona Jaffe is a sexy, FUN read about four women who meet as Radcliff freshman during the 1950s. The novel traces their college years, the twenty years following graduation, and all of the drama that ensues. Is this book great literature? No. But it’s a great summer beachbag read and you’ll most likely see  a little bit of yourself in at least one of the women portrayed here. I also love novels that take place in college settings, and this is a good one for a taste of what life was like for female university students during the 1950s.


exhaleThe movie Waiting To Exhale starring Whitney Houston and Angela Basset was good, but the book by Terry McMillan was SO MUCH BETTER! This novel tracks the lives of four thirty-something women and their relationships with parents, spouses, lovers, and children. I read this book for the first time when I was in the same age-bracket as the characters, and it really spoke to me. This is a great book!


girls from amesThe Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow is a nonfiction book covering the friendships of eleven women who grew up in the same small town in Iowa and who have continued their bond for over forty years. I am EXACTLY in the same age group as these women and all of the cultural references and attitudes are so familiar to me! This is a wonderful account of how friendships change and maintain over time. Parts of it almost read like a novel, but it’s all real. I love this book, and I’m also intrigued by the idea that a male writer was able to capture real female friendships in such a deep, realistic manner. Obviously he did a great deal to gain the trust of these women who were then confident enough to share such a wide range of feelings and experiences–some not too complimentary– with him.


all is vanityAll Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz tells the story of a contemporary friendship gone horribly awry-and the brilliance of the writing is that as the reader, you’re seeing exactly what’s happening, but you’re powerless to stop it. The narrative is told through alternating viewpoints and is very effective for this book. I never understood why this novel didn’t get more press or buzz when it came out about ten years ago—it’s one of my favorites.


hot flashesI read Hot Flashes by Barbara Raskin when I was in my late twenties, and I loved it then even though I was at least thirty years younger than the main characters. Now that I’m directly in their demographic, I think I need to read it again. This novel is about the long-time friendship between four wildly different women who come together in their fifties for a funeral. I adored the unique narrative style of this novel, and I love the realistic way that it shows unconditional love between friends.


mwfMWF Seeking BFF is a nonfiction narrative by Rachel Bertsche that traces her search for new friends after she moves to Chicago as a newlywed–she goes on a quest to meet 52 new potential friends over the course of one year. Yes, the premise is somewhat gimmicky, but I still really enjoyed this book, and it made me reflect on what I look for in friends in my own life.


all summer longLet’s add some perspective from the other side of the aisle, shall we? All Summer Long by Bob Greene is a great novel about adult male friendship. Although the main premise is a bit of a stretch—how many of us can actually take off for a whole summer to drive cross-country with two friends?—it’s still a solid, humorous, and at times very moving account of how childhood friendships ebb and flow into adulthood.


charlottes-webCome on now—if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you KNEW I had to include Charlotte’s Web on this list, right? To me, this is so much more than a children’s book—and one of the things that it is is a portrait of true friendship. I leave you with the last lines of this book—“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”


How about you? Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite books about friendship? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Favorite Books About . . .

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.  This week’s prompt is:

 List Your Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in X Genre (you pick the genre!)

I’ve actually created several lists like this over the past few months, so I’m going to cheat a bit and provide those links below. These lists cover several genres that are my particular favorites, and it was quite difficult to narrow my picks down to ten or so for each. Ready? Here are the links:

  1. My favorite BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS. This list was SO MUCH FUN to compile! I should probably do an updated list soon, as I’ve read several other great books that feature books since then–all suggested to me by fellow bloggers!
  2. Wonderfully DELICIOUS BOOKS ABOUT FOOD AND COOKING.  You may want to grab a snack before checking out this link!
  3. EPISTOLARY NOVELS–otherwise known as novels comprised of fictional letters. I LOVE this genre, and am always looking for more titles to add to this list.
  4. FAMILY AFFAIRS–my favorite novels featuring contemporary family relationships. This is my go-to genre–I’m always up for a book about the drama of everyday family life.
  5. GET SCHOOLED!  As a former teacher, I just had to create a list of my favorite “behind-the-scenes” nonfiction books about schools and teaching.

Please feel free to comment and suggest any titles that I need to add to my ever growing TBR list in any of these categories! And–what are YOUR favorite genres? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–Nope, I’ve Never Read A Book Written By . . .


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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.  This week’s prompt is:

Name the top ten popular authors you’ve never read.

OK–here goes–in no particular order. Don’t judge!

I’ve never read any books by . . .

  1. Jojo Moyes. Disclaimer–As of a couple of days ago, this entry should no longer be on this list—I’m reading Me Before You right now and am really enjoying it. Since I haven’t actually finished it yet, I’ll leave her on this list. I don’t know why it took me so long to read any of her books! I’m sure I’ll be dipping into her other titles soon.
  2. John Green. I think I’m the only person left on earth who hasn’t read The Fault In Our Stars—and by now I’m afraid that there’s just no way that it can live up to all the hype.
  3. Stephen King. This one is only partly true—I’ve read his memoir On Writing, and absolutely LOVED it. I’ve never read any of his fiction, though.
  4. Maya Angelou. This one is really inexcusable. Maya Angelou is the originator of some of my favorite quotes about life, books, and reading. Didn’t everyone (except for me) have to read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in high school? I have no idea why I’ve never read any of her books.
  5. David McCullough. As much as I love to read biographies and American history, I’ve never read any of McCullough’s books. His book on Truman is widely considered to be one of the greatest Presidential biographies ever written—why on earth haven’t I read it?
  6. Flannery O’Connor. I have her complete book of short stories sitting on my TBR pile as we speak. She’s considered to be the queen of the southern short story genre. I need to move her off of this list.
  7. Diana Gabaldon. I have a number of friends who adore Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It’s just never appealed to me.
  8. Nicholas Sparks. I’ve never been tempted to pick up any of his books. We’ve all got our own reading tastes, right? And I just don’t think he’s my proverbial cup of tea.
  9. Bill Bryson. Bryson will come off of this list by the end of this week—his nonfiction book One Summer: America 1927 is loaded up on my iPod and will be the next audiobook I listen to on my daily commute.
  10. Jane Austen. I never had to read her in high school or in college, and have never been tempted to pick up any of her books on my own. Remember–don’t judge me!

How about you? Which of these authors have you read? Which of them should I try? Who are some popular authors that everyone has read except for you? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday REWIND–Take A Peek At My TBR Pile


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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented. This is “Rewind Week” over at Top Ten Tuesday—you can go back and answer any previous question!

I decided to list ten random books from my actual TBR pile—not just books on my ever-growing TBR list, but books that I’ve actually purchased (some new, most used) but haven’t yet read. A couple of them have been sitting here for a year or longer and a few were just bought last week. They’re a mix of fiction and nonfiction and a variety of genres within those two categories.

Ready? Here they are—in no particular order:


1. Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill

I loved the Little House books when I was a kid and read them over and over again. I’ve recently learned a little bit about the actual life of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose—and I want to know more!

2. The Amateurs by David Halberstam

I recently read—and loved!—the book The Boys In The Boat, which was about the American rowing team that went to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. I knew absolutely nothing about rowing—or, as it’s more properly called, “crew”—before I read that book, but now I’m hooked. This nonfiction book tells the story of the rowing trials at Princeton in 1984—the winner goes on to represent the US in the 1984 Olympics. I’m really looking forward to comparing and contrasting this book with The Boys In The Boat.

3. Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life by Mimi Sheraton

I really enjoy reading about food and cooking. This memoir is written by a renowned restaurant reviewer for the New York Times, Food & Wine, and many other publications, and I’m  looking forward to immersing myself in her world for awhile.

4. He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

This is a thriller about a woman who wakes up one Sunday to find that her husband is missing. As the police work to discover his whereabouts, she makes a series of discoveries about their relationship. I’ve never read anything by this author before–I saw this on display at a bookstore and thought it looked intriguing.

5. A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

I feel like I’m one of the few people around who has never read this book. My mom read it long ago and absolutely loved it. I need to find the time to give it a try soon.

6. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

I’ve never read anything by Flannery O’Connor, one of the masters of the Southern short story, and I decided that I needed to do something about that.

7. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

I love reading books about books! In this short volume—less than 150 pages–Nick Hornby (author of About A Boy-a great, rather off-beat novel!) writes monthly essays about the books he buys and the books he reads. This quote from the book made me purchase it: “Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.” I ask you–How can you not love that?

8. The Child That Books Built: A Life In Reading by Francis Spufford

This book is described as an extended love letter to children’s books. The author goes back to his first experiences with books such as Little House on the Prairie, The Wind in the Willows, and the Narnia Chronicles and describes how they helped to shape him into the man he is today.

9. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

As I wrote above, I recently read The Boys In The Boat about the US rowing team that won the Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympics. That book made me very curious about those particular Olympic Games—and I’m hoping that this book will answer some of my questions.

10. This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

This was the first novel written by the author of Where’d You Go Bernadette, which was one of the best books I read last year. I’m not sure that anything is going to top Bernadette in my mind, but I’m willing to give this one a try!

How about you? Have you read any of these?  What’s in your TBR pile right now? Please share!


Top Ten Tuesday–So Why DO I Read So Many Books?


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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.  This week’s prompt is:

What are the top ten reasons you love being a reader or a blogger?

I’d planned to split my ten reasons between the two, but once I got going on my reasons for reading, I’d hit #10 before I knew it! So here they are–the top ten reasons I love being a reader–in no particular order:

  1. Reading can happen just about anywhere! Books are so portable—I’ve read in cars, on planes, on buses, at my desk at work, by the pool, on a bench in the park, in the tub, in a tree (one of my favorite places when I was a kid!), in bed, on my exercise bike, at the movie theater (before the movie starts, of course!), at the dinner table, in waiting rooms . . . the list goes on and on! There aren’t too many activities that are as versatile and portable as reading!
  2. Reading is cheap! I firmly believe that books give you more bang for your buck than just about any form of entertainment around. And when you factor in free books from the library—there’s just not much that can compete!
  3. Books provide instant entertainment! There’s no reason to be bored if you have access to books. And the entertainment isn’t just in the reading itself—there’s not much that’s more fun than engaging in a spirited discussion with a fellow booklover.
  4. Reading improves your writing. Show me a great writer, and I’ll show you someone who loves to read. Reading constantly exposes you to new writing techniques and vocabulary—there’s no greater method for learning to write than reading a variety of books by a wide range of authors. For me personally, I spend about 75% of my time at my job on various writing projects, and I know that I wouldn’t be able to do so if I didn’t have such an extensive reading background.
  5. Reading introduces you to possibilities. I attended a talk given by a Teacher Of The Year winner from California several years ago, and I still remember one statement he made—“Children cannot pursue what they are not exposed to.”  What a powerful idea—and so true! And books can be the tools to expose kids—and adults!—to all sorts of possibilities to pursue.
  6. Accumulating books makes home decorating easy! I’m honestly not sure what I’d do with all the wall space in my home that is taken up by my many bookcases.
  7. Books provide a common bond. Take two people who come from different backgrounds or areas of the country—or even the world—and once they find they’ve got a book in common—instant conversation starter.
  8. Books make you think. I like nothing more than to read a book that makes me examine my own ideas and opinions about a particular topic. Here’s an example—as a former teacher in the public schools, I’ve always had pretty strong opinions about educational issues such as homeschooling and single-sex education. After reading fairly extensively about both of these topics, my opinions have definitely shifted a bit—and this never would have happened without the opportunity to examine other points of view through books.
  9. Books provide unlimited armchair experiences and lessons, controlled only by the books that you choose to read. I can’t even begin to calculate the amount of knowledge I’ve picked up through reading books.
  10. Most importantly–Reading is FUN! When it comes right down to it, none of us would be spending the countless hours we spend with books if we weren’t having a damn good time!

How about you? Why do you love being a reader? Please share!


The Tuesday Ten–Please Pass The Tissues!


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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new question or theme is presented.  This week’s prompt is:

The Top Ten Books That Make You Cry

I cry at the drop of a hat when I go to the movies, but it takes a bit more to get the tears flowing when I’m reading. When I started to compose my list, I quickly realized that my “grab the tissues” books fall all over the map–some kids books, some novels, some essay collections, and even some nonfiction. Here they are, in no particular order–the top ten books that have made me cry:

charlottes-web1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I cried the first time I read this classic back when I was in elementary school, and I tear up every time I’ve re-read it since. I don’t think anyone has a heart so hard that it won’t break just a bit at the end of this book.


heart sounds2. Heart Sounds by Martha Weinman Lear

This is a nonfiction, first person account of life after illness strikes. It’s the story of the author and her husband—who was also a physician—and what both of them experienced after he developed severe heart disease. This is such an honest book—neither the author nor her husband are depicted as saints in any way–and it’s also a wonderful romantic, modern love story. And even though I knew before I began reading it that the book would end with her husband’s death, I was still choking back tears during the last chapter.

Picture13. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I hardly know where to begin on this one. I loved everything about this YA novel and it was one of the best books I read last year. By the end of the book I was a teary, wet mess. When I was done I just had to sit quietly for awhile and let everything settle. That’s powerful writing.

dive clausens pier4. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

This is one of my favorite novels ever. Very briefly, it’s the story of Carrie, a recent college graduate, who is engaged to her high school sweetheart—and who decides that, although she loves her fiancé, she’s feeling trapped, and that she owes it to herself to find out what else may be out there for her. Before she can break things off with him, or even have a real conversation with him about her feelings, he is paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident. The dilemma then becomes—does she stay or does she go?

I love this book for many reasons—and one of my favorite scenes is a heart-wrenching, yet understated one taking place between Carrie and her fiancé. They both say so much without actually saying much of anything at all, and it almost makes me cry just to recall it. If you’re looking for a great book club book with plenty of opportunities for discussion—and perhaps an excuse for a tear or two—give this book a try.

grapes of wrath5. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This is one of my favorite classics, and there’s one particular scene that hit me hard the first time I read it. It’s the chapter towards the beginning of the book where Steinbeck is writing the internal dialogue of  men, women, and children as they are choosing what possessions to take with them, and which ones they’ll need to leave behind. Such mighty yet spare writing!  I vividly remember weeping when I read this chapter for the first time.

and the band played on6. And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

This amazing and distressing nonfiction account of the early days of AIDS made me cry in several spots—both from sadness at the lives that were lost much too soon, and in anger and sheer frustration at the bureaucracy, egos, and fear that allowed it to happen. This is one of my favorite nonfiction books–it’s packed with information and yet almost reads like a novel–but unfortunately every bit of it is true.

stone fox7. Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

This small chapter book (less than 100 pages) is the story of a boy, his grandfather, a dogsled race, and a faithful dog–and if the ending doesn’t stop you in your tracks and make you cry, I don’t know what will. I used to read this book aloud to some of my classes when I was teaching, and I never failed to tear up at the end. None of the kids ever made fun of me for doing so. The room was always silent when I finished. What a great, moving story this is!

nora8. The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron

This is a huge collection of writings by the late, great Nora Ephron, but it’s the two 1-page pieces in this 400+ page volume that reduced me to tears. “What I Won’t Miss” and “What I’ll Miss” are two lists Ephron composed near the end of her life. I defy anyone to read them without choking up. I miss Nora Ephron’s voice tremendously.

happy marriageplan b9. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett


10. Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith by Anne Lamott

I’m tying these two collections of essays together because each of them contain similar selections that made me cry like a baby. Both books include essays about the death of a beloved dog—and that’s a subject that is guaranteed to turn me into a weepy mess.

How about you? Have you read any of these? What are some books that make you break out the tissues? Please share!


The Tuesday Ten–Family Affairs

(This is my 100th post!)

People often ask me what types of books I like to read. The fact is, I read a lot of different genres—both fiction and nonfiction. But I do love to read novels, and if pressed to choose one type of novel that I enjoy the most, it would have to be contemporary, realistic, dramatic fiction about family relationships.

For this week’s Tuesday Ten, I’ve put together a list of my ten favorite books in this category. I own copies of all of these books and have read all of them more than once—there are a couple that I’ve probably read nearly ten times over the years. A few may be out of print (but definitely worth looking for at the library or in used bookstores!), and a couple are pretty recent. Most of them would be excellent book club discussion titles. Ready? In no particular order, here we go!

EveryLastOne1. I love Anna Quindlen’s essays. Her novels have been a little bit hit-and-miss for me. However, Every Last One, her most recent novel, is a book that packs a huge punch and has stayed with me for a long time. I’m not going to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to be a spoiler—briefly, it’s the story of a suburban family going through everyday rituals and routines, until one New Years’ Eve when everything changes. That’s all I’m going to say. If you admire writing that gets inside of you and won’t let go, read this book.

domestic pleasures2. I really like a lot of Beth Gutcheon’s novels, especially her older ones—it was tough to pick my favorite. But I finally decided to go with Domestic Pleasures, which was the first book by Gutcheon that I ever read. She wrote it about twenty years ago, but it remains the most authentic novel I’ve ever read about modern relationships. The dialogue in this book, whether it’s between lovers, parents and children, or estranged couples, is spot on—I can HEAR these characters in my head. As you make your way through this novel, Gutcheon’s skillful writing causes the many intertwined relationships throughout the storylines to become clearer and clearer. There are lines in this book that still make me laugh—and there are a couple of scenes that still break my heart. This is a wonderful book.

dive clausens pier3. I think that one of the marks of a great book is how much it makes us think and examine ourselves. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer is a great book for just that reason. Very briefly, it’s the story of a young woman in the Midwest who is engaged to her high school sweetheart, and who, after college graduation, realizes that, although she still cares for her fiancé, she’s suffocating and needs to get out of the relationship. Before she can make any moves to break off the engagement, her fiancé is left paralyzed due to a diving accident. The rest of the book deals with choices—does she stay, or does she leave? Should she think of her fiancé, or of herself? I first read this novel as a book club selection, and it provoked very intense discussions when we met to talk about it. It seemed as though people either loved this book or hated it. I know that it really made me think about how far we should go to be true to ourselves, and how much we owe to the ones we love, or have loved. This is one of my favorite novels ever.

digging to america4. Anne Tyler is another author who I don’t always love—there are a few of her books that I’ve just never been able to get into. Digging To America isn’t one of them—I was hooked on these characters from the first chapter. It’s the story of two couples who are adopting baby girls from Korea—their new daughters are coming to Baltimore on the same flight, and the two adoptive couples (one American, one Iranian-American) and their extended families meet at the airport while waiting for their new children. The novel then traces the continuing relationships that these family members have with each other over the next several years. It’s a compelling story of different cultures, different parenting styles, and different customs—and it’s also a story about what it means to assimilate, and what it means to hold on to tradition.

american-wife5. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld got a lot of press when it came out in 2008—it’s widely known that the author based the plot on former First Lady Laura Bush’s life. However you may feel about Laura Bush and/or her husband, American Wife is a delicious family saga. Forever changed by her role in a tragedy that occurred during her teens, the main character is swept off her feet by a charming, wealthy son from a powerful political family, finds herself immersed in a world of privilege and drama—and eventually finds herself married to a man she simultaneously loves and disagrees with in terms of political agenda. This book really made me think about how much and what kinds of compromises are needed to make relationships work–and how much you can compromise while still staying true to yourself. This 500+ page book is perfect to sink into during these cold winter months!

family secrets6. This is the oldest novel on my list—Family Secrets was written by Rona Jaffe back in 1974. Trust me—this epic, multi-generational family saga still holds up today. Beginning in New York City in the early 1900s, it’s the story of a Jewish immigrant from Russia who eventually becomes a very  wealthy businessman. It’s also the story of his many children, their spouses, and their own children—and, most of all, it’s the story of the secrets they keep from outsiders, and from each other. You couldn’t ask for a better beach read, or a better book to take your mind off the cold, dreary days of winter!

the-pact-06-lg7. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors, and The Pact is the book that started my appreciation for her writing. It’s the story of two families who have lived next door to each other for years—and the story of the son from one family and the daughter from the other who are basically destined to end up together. They’ve been soul mates since birth, and it’s no surprise to anyone when they begin dating. When they’re in high school, the daughter is found dead with the son beside her. He says it was a suicide pact that he just couldn’t complete. The police have their doubts about his role in her death. Told by alternating flashbacks with the current events, the book is partly a suspenseful detective story, partly the story of how families deal with tragedy and conflict, and partly how expectations affect us—and it’s also a story about how well we really know the ones we love.

perfect divorce8. Avery Corman wrote the novel Kramer Versus Kramer which was adapted into one of my favorite films. He’s also written several other novels and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them—but I think A Perfect Divorce is my favorite. The focus of the book is a New York City couple who find that they are gradually growing apart and eventually divorce, but stay amicably connected through their son. When their son goes off to college, he finds that his parents’ high expectations clash with his own uncertainties about his life, and he makes a series of decisions that rock his parents’ world. I think this book is a pretty accurate portrayal of parent/child relationships as well as a look at how parents and children need to balance expectations with healthy reality.

Songs for the missing9. I really like Stewart O’Nan and I wish his novels were more well-known. One of my favorites is Songs For The Missing. It’s the story of the summer that a college-aged girl disappears, and how the aftermath affects her family and friends—from the initial publicity of the disappearance, to the investigation of the details, to the struggle to maintain hope once the newspapers and TV stations move on to other stories. The narration of this story is unique in that some details are only partially explained, leaving us to fill in some of the blanks for ourselves. This is another novel that has stayed with me—I still find myself thinking about some of these characters, and that’s a sign of a great author.

this is my daughter10. Another great book club book, This Is My Daughter by Roxana Robinson tells the story of a man and woman living in NYC, both recovering from failed first marriages, who are struggling to raise young daughters, and who decide to take the plunge and create a new start and a new combined family. Their two daughters, of course, really have no say in the matter. This book promotes a lot of discussion about loyalty, compromise, and unconditional love.

Now it’s your turn! Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think? Are there any other books that you think could be added to my list? Please share!


The Tuesday Ten— “Dear Book Lover . . .” —My Favorite Epistolary Novels

envelopesI’ve always been intrigued by authors who use the unique narrative format of the epistolary novel—telling the story through the use of fictional letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails, and other documents. For this week’s Tuesday Ten, I’ve put together a list of my nine favorite novels written using this technique—and one nonfiction book made up of letters that reads like a novel. (It’s my list, and I can break the rules if I want to, right?) I own copies of all of these and have read most of them many times. Some are recent, and a some were published decades ago. Ready? Here’s my list, in no particular order:

fan1. The Fan by Bob Randall

This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller brilliantly told through a series of letters, memos, telegrams (yes—telegrams!) and other correspondence. The main character is an aging (she would HATE being referred to as “aging!) Broadway star who begins receiving a series of innocent fan letters—letters that slowly turn more and more menacing as time goes on. The author does an excellent job of keeping the reader in suspense as police try to zero in on the writer of the letters before he can make actual personal contact with his target. Again, this is all brilliantly done through a narrative solely made up of notes and other fictional documents. If you like a great mystery with lots of twists, give this one a try!

woman of ind means2. A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

Told mostly through letters from the main character—a headstrong and independent-minded woman born in the late 1800s—this novel tells not only the story of this woman’s life, but also the story of a changing America. Bess Steed Garner is portrayed as a woman who, from the very earliest of age, knows exactly what she wants—in love, in business, in leisure—and knows what she needs to do to get it. I didn’t always like this character, but I always admired her. This is not only an incredible character study, but also a wonderful portrait of everyday American life through the twentieth century. I can’t recommend this novel strongly enough!

kevin3. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This is one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read in a long time. Told through a series of letters from a woman to her estranged husband, it’s the story of her relationship with their teenaged son—who is also the murderer of nine students and staff members at his high school. It’s also the story of a woman who is wrestling with the idea that marriage and motherhood may have been a mistake for her from the beginning—and the idea that her feelings of actual dislike for her son may have driven him to commit the horrific crimes. I can’t say that this is an enjoyable read, but it is a compelling one.

84 CHaring Cross ROad4. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

OK, OK . . .this one isn’t a novel—it’s nonfiction. I know it’s a series of real letters between a real writer in New York City and the real staff of a used bookstore in London during WWII. But I had to include it here because, honestly, it reads like a novel of the very best kind. If you’ve never read this book, you owe it to yourself to find a copy immediately. It’s short—less than 100 pages—but the characters come to life so vividly that you’ll think you’ve been reading about them for days. And if you’re a booklover, what’s better than reading a book about books and the people who cherish them? Trust me—read this book!

nothing but the truth5. Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel by Avi

The only novel classified as Young Adult on my list, this book is still worthy of being read by an older audience. On the surface, it’s the story of a high school student who is suspended for humming the National Anthem during class and the publicity that results. On a deeper level, it’s the story of how subjective the truth can be. Told through letters, transcripts, and diary entries, this book was a Newbery Honor book in 1992 and is still taught in many classrooms today.

bernadette6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This is the newest book on this list. It made it onto countless “Best Book” lists in 2012 and just recently came out in paperback. The plot is tough to sum up—briefly, it’s the story of an admittedly eccentric woman who was once a world-famous architect, and who now lives a reclusive life in Seattle with her husband and precocious young daughter. After a series of stressful, meltdown-worthy events, she virtually disappears. The narrative is told through letters, emails, transcripts, receipts, and other documents and describes the events leading up to her disappearance as well as her daughter’s efforts to find her. It’s also a great satire about suburban parenting. I am definitely NOT doing the plot justice here—there’s a lot that goes on! I don’t laugh out loud when I’m reading very often, but parts of this book made me do just that. The ending goes off the rails a bit, but I’m willing to forgive the author for that because I enjoyed the rest of the book so much.

important artifacts7. Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

Alright—this isn’t a novel made up of letters. But I’m including it anyway because it’s an excellent character study told through a narrative method I’ve never seen before. This book tells the story of a modern, fictional couple—from their first meeting, their first dates, their moving in together, and their breakup—all told through the pages of a (fictional) auction catalog of their personal possessions. Photos and brief descriptions of their clothing, books, knickknacks, handbag contents, photos, and other possessions create one of the most vivid portraits of two characters that I’ve ever read. Readers are left to decide for themselves why these items were placed on auction, and what happened to the original owners. I can’t say this loudly enough—I LOVE THIS BOOK. When I read it for the first time I made a complete pest of myself telling everyone I knew about it. Now I’m telling all of you—if you’ve never read this book, please hunt it down–you’re in for a unique treat!

up the down staircase8. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

I’ve probably read this book a dozen times. It’s the classic, bestselling novel about a young high school English teacher in 1960s New York City, and the students and staff members who share her world. Are a lot of the references dated? Of course—it was written almost fifty years ago. Is the story still relevant? As a former high school teacher, I can say a resounding YES! The novel is made up of notes, letters, memos, student notebooks, assignments, and much more correspondence that occurs in a typical high school. Parts are laugh out loud funny, and parts are heartbreaking. You may have seen the movie of this book starring a very young Sandy Dennis and an equally young Richard Benjamin—the movie was fine, but it can’t compare with the book. I still use one of the phrases from this book on a regular basis when confronted with contradictory communications at my office—“Please disregard the following. . .”

whitel lies9. White Lies by Jonellen Heckler

I bought this book on a whim many years ago when I was a member of one of those “Book-Of-The-Month” clubs—and I loved it! It’s the story of three sisters and the directions their lives take over the course of about 20 years. The chapters alternate between the sisters—each chapter contains letters to and from that particular sister over a one-year period. As we read, we learn what the sisters are willing to reveal and to whom, and what they feel they need to hide about their lives. It’s a fascinating look at family relationships. I’m pretty sure this book has gone out of print, but if you enjoy a great, juicy, contemporary family saga told in a unique way, it’s worth searching for a used copy.

frankie pratt10. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel In Pictures by Caroline Preston

Another book that isn’t strictly made up of letters, this novel tells the story of an American girl in the 1920s through her college years, her post-graduation life in New York City, her travels in Paris, and her return home. The entire plot is vividly told through a fictional scrapbook consisting of photos, captions, notes, newsclippings, ads, postcards, trinkets, ticket stubs, etc. This book provides a great trip through life in the 1920s, and looking at all of the vintage memorabilia is fascinating.

Now it’s your turn! Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think? Are there any other books that you feel should be included on this list? Please share!


The Tuesday Ten—Delicious Books

I love to read…I love to cook…I love to eat. . . I love to read while I’m eating! So, what could be better than reading books ABOUT cooking and eating? Here’s my Top Ten List (in no particular order!) of fiction and nonfiction books about food and its preparation. Copies of all of these live alongside my cookbooks on the bookcase in my kitchen.

imagesCA19ZNK6Home Cooking: A Writer In The Kitchen  by Laurie Colwin
Laurie Colwin died quite a few years ago, and I miss her writing voice tremendously. Her volumes of short stories are good, but I’ll always remember her for her collections of short yet powerful essays on food and cooking. Many of her essays read as though she is looking right inside my life, and she has a way of turning a phrase that sometimes makes me laugh out loud. I love both this book and her follow-up called More Home Cooking–and I re-read portions of them often.

scarlet letterScarlet Feather by Maeve Binchey
This is absolutely my favorite novel by Irish author Maeve Binchey. As is true of all of her books, it’s the story of many interlocking characters, but at the center are a young man and woman trying to make a go of running their own catering company. I loved EVERYTHING about this book—the vividly drawn characters, the descriptions of meals, the perils of starting a new business, the wonderful humor and the well-written sadness—this is Maeve Binchey at her best!

cooking for mr latteCooking For Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, With Recipes by Amanda Hesser

Amanda Hesser is a renowned food reporter and columnist for The New York Times. Part diary, part memoir, and part cookbook, this book traces the author’s courtship with the man who would later become her husband, as well as her courtship with food and it’s preparation. I love the way this book moves between the discovery and challenges of a new love, and discoveries of new cuisines. It also includes over 100 recipes–but it’s definitely more of a journal than a cookbook. I especially appreciated her account of a dinner gathering that she attended in New York City shortly after 9/11.

untitledStand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking by Anne Mendelson
This is an interesting read for people who not only like to cook but who are also interested in the publishing field. It’s the fascinating story of Irma S. Rombauer–who originally self-published The Joy of Cooking in 1931 using her life savings–and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who eventually became her coauthor–and the process that went into creating that first version and the multitude of revisions of what many consider to be the cooking Bible. I enjoyed all the behind the scenes factors that went into the publishing and marketing of this famous cookbook—as well as the often complicated family dynamics that were involved.

{547EB1C3-5B84-4AB0-BA9F-54B92B83D507}Img400Wife of the Chef by Courtney Febbroriello
As much as I love food, this book convinced me that I NEVER want to own or run a restaurant! The author owns and manages a small, successful restaurant along with her husband, who is also the head chef. The hours sound insane, dealing with the staff and outside vendors sounds extremely challenging, and constantly monitoring and worrying about the profits has got to be stressful. I didn’t especially like the author’s personality (on paper, anyway) but this was a very interesting peek into the restaurant world.

9780375756658Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking At The Turn Of The Century by Laura Shapiro

This was the book that started me thinking about how food and cooking are truly a part of history and how both those things help to define our sense of culture. The author traces trends in cooking and eating from the early 1900’s through the mid 20th century, covering the domestic science movement, the move to valuing convenience over taste, and the way that advertising plays a role in our thoughts about what we eat and how we prepare it. I feel like my description isn’t doing this book justice–it’s very readable and may make you think differently about what we eat and how we prepare it–and how all that has changed over the past few generations.
waitingWaiting by Debra Ginsberg
A different take on the other books listed here—this book is the memoir of a woman who has worked as a waitress in many different types of restaurants for the majority of her professional life. The author weaves in memories of her rather unorthodox family life as well. If you like behind-the-scenes books (as I do!) then you’ll love this. It may also influence you to tip your waiter/waitress a bit more generously!


CookoffCook Off: Recipe Fever in America—Heartbreak, Glory, and Big Money on the Competitive Cooking Circuit by Amy Sutherland

This is probably my favorite book on this list. The author is a journalist who spent a year following a group of women–and men–who regularly compete in cooking and recipe competitions–from local recipe contests with $50 prizes to the famous Pillsbury Bake-Off, and everything that you can imagine in between. I loved everything about this book–the accounts of the work that goes into developing original recipes in an ordinary kitchen, the quest to find the perfect serving platter for a judging presentation, the drama of cooking in front of hundreds of people with a temperamental oven, how the contests are judged–I found everything about this book to be fascinating!
making of a chefThe Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman

I’ve always been intrigued by what goes on at a serious cooking school. Do students spend all their time behind a stove, or are there also lectures to attend and papers to write? What types of folks enroll in such a demanding curriculum? Many of my questions were answered in this book. The author attends the oldest and most influential cooking school in the US–the Culinary Institute of America–and he documents his experiences in great detail. I especially enjoyed his accounts of the many tests and examinations that were required, along with his descriptions of his fellow classmates–a very unique group!

body in the belfryThe Faith Fairchild mystery series by Katherine Hall Page

I think there are 20 books in this series by now–and the titles are all a variation of “The Body In The . . .” The main character is Faith Fairchild, a woman who grew up in New York City with every intention of living the big city life as a caterer to high society folks. However, fate intervened–she fell head over heels in love with a young pastor and finds herself living the life of a pastor’s wife in a tiny New England town–and apparently tripping over dead bodies whenever she turns around. When she’s not solving crimes, she’s cooking up wonderful foods in her kitchen. The later books also include recipes, and I’ve made a few of them with great success. This is a fun mystery series for folks who enjoy reading about well-drawn, recurring characters and who like mysteries laced with humor. There’s no sex or foul language in these books–just good solid mysteries with a dash of great food!

That’s my list–are there any titles that you feel should be included? Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts!


The Tuesday Ten—The Best Things About Working In A Bookstore

bookstore 2I was a bookseller in one of my previous career lives. For about seven years I worked in a very large bookstore that was part of one of the major bookstore chains in the US, and, for the most part, I simply loved that job. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t miss the sore feet, working the day after Christmas when the “season of returns” began, or dealing with “challenging” customers. But there are a lot of things that I remember very fondly about those days–so here are the top ten things I miss the most about working in a bookstore:

  1. Books, books, and more books. Obvious, right? We’ve all heard the phrase “bookstores are my candy shop” but when you work in a bookstore, it’s true. Temptation is all around you—but it’s the very best (nonfattening!) kind. To me books are comfort objects, and coming to work each day to a place filled with literally thousands of them was such a deep pleasure. There are two minor drawbacks to this, though: Your TBR list grows uncontrollably, and you quickly realize that your book-buying budget is terribly inadequate. This brings us directly to #2 . . .
  2. Employee Discounts. This is the most dangerous thing about working in a bookstore! There was a great employee discount at the bookstore I worked for—plus, there were special Employee Appreciation Days twice a year when an even more generous discount was offered. The temptation is to get carried away! I know that I never could have afforded a lot of the wonderful hard cover books I own today if I hadn’t bought them while I was a bookseller. However, when I did need to control my book buying, there was a wonderful remedy in place. That takes us to #3 . . .
  3. Check Out Program. This is the part that practically made me swoon during my interview. Employees were allowed to borrow any hardcover in the store, as long as it was returned in saleable condition. Can you imagine it? It was like having an enormous, private library. Practically any book you wanted was right there for you to borrow and enjoy. The philosophy behind the policy was that the company wanted us to be well read, but understood that even with our employee discounts, we just couldn’t  purchase all the books we wanted to read. This is one of the things I miss the most.
  4. New Releases. It was so easy to keep track of new books by favorite authors—we saw them shipped in every day! Plus, we saw ALL the new books coming in—it was such a great way to discover new authors and topics.
  5. Working along side of booklovers all day, every day. Hands down, this is what I miss the most. The company I worked for prided itself on hiring people who knew books, who loved books, and who could talk about books. We all talked about books with customers, of course, but we also talked about books constantly with each other. I still remember some of the conversations I had in the stock room with fellow booksellers—Was “Catcher In the Rye” really a great American novel, or was it all hype? Which books has everyone read but you? How would you have re-written the ending to the latest hot novel? (I’m not sure who was out on the sales floor during these conversations, but I’m sure that the customers were being taken care of by someone!)
  6. Being a Book Detective. I LOVED IT when a customer would approach the information desk and say to me with a sigh, “You probably can’t help me, but . . .” and then would offer a vague description of a book. “I think the cover is blue, I heard them talking about it on the radio, I think it’s by a woman . . .” I viewed these types of inquiries as a personal challenge—I think all booksellers do—and it was amazing how often we could figure out the right book by asking the right types of questions! The best part was actually being able to walk the customer over to the shelf and hand them the right book and watch their jaws drop open.
  7. No need to join a gym! Books are heavy, and they have to be moved. Boxes of books need to be moved off of delivery pallets. Books need to be sorted into their area bins. Books need to be put onto shelves. Books need to be taken off of shelves to make room for new books. I was in the best shape of my life when I was a bookseller. When I left to take a desk job I felt the difference within just a few weeks.
  8. Storytimes. I spent a lot of time in the kids section of our store, and I ran the story hours that we held three times each week. There is nothing like reading one of the “Froggy” books—complete with audience participation– to a group of preschoolers to put you in a good mood! And this brings us to . . .
  9. Costume Characters. I’ve paid my dues dressing up as Clifford The Big Red Dog, Peter Rabbit, The Cat In The Hat, and many more. Let me tell you—those costumes are HOT! I learned very quickly to bring shorts and a tank top to work on “costume days”. But the oohs and aahhs from the kids made it worth it. (Bonus question—my avatar is a photo of me dressed as character from a book—do you know who it is???)
  10. Did I mention the books?

What about you? Have you ever worked in a bookstore. . . or wanted to work in one? Please share!


The Tuesday Ten–Wonderful Books About Books!

It’s no secret that I love to read–and my very favorite thing to read is books about books! I have a section on one of my bookshelves that’s devoted to books on this topic. Here are my top ten titles  from that shelf–in no particular order. (These are all nonfiction titles. Fictional books about books is a whole separate category–and maybe a separate Tuesday Ten list for another day!)

untitled1. Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages by Michael Popek

This is my go-to gift for friends who are booklovers. It’s filled with photos of objects found in used books—photos, notes, clippings, postcards, receipts, old letters, and more—it’s fascinating to imagine who these books and objects originally belonged to, and how they all ended up in the author’s used book store. Each object is paired with a photo of the book where that particular item was found. This would be a great book to use for short story prompts!

Used and Rare2. Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I simply LOVE this couple’s writing style! Written in the years before the internet made locating  a particular book something you could do at home in your pajamas, this is an account of Larry and Nancy’s initial adventures in rare book collecting. They explore used and rare bookstores up and down the east coast, meeting a variety of interesting and eccentric fellow book collectors along the way, and finding a number of treasures as well as being introduced to new authors and genres. They’ve since written two sequels to this book, but I think that this first one is by far the best. If you’ve ever searched for—and found!– a well-loved, long lost title in a used book shop, you’ll love this book!

84 CHaring Cross ROad3. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I love books made up of correspondence almost as much as I love books about books—so this small book is the best of both worlds for me! Made up of a series of real letters written during WWII between Helene, a freelance writer in New York City, and the staff of a used-book dealer in London, these letters are filled with humor and a shared love of books. Originally published in 1970, this book was also made into a movie starring Anne Bancroft, but I’ve never seen it—I’m too afraid that it will ruin the movie that I’ve got inside my head! If you haven’t discovered this little book yet, please do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s a quick read, but the characters will stick with you.

so many books so little time4. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

Sara Nelson set a goal: To read 52 books in 52 weeks,  and to document the experience—including how a person’s reading life mixes with marriage, parenting, and the rest of “real life”. This is her story of that year. She covers the pros and cons of lending books to friends, the books you’ve pretended that you’ve read but really haven’t, the hidden stress of recommending books to others, and how books tend to choose you at just the right time. When I read this book for the first time, I kept stopping to write down titles that I wanted to read—and some of my favorite books have come from titles that I learned about in this book.

My Bookstore5. My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ronald Rice

If you’re a book lover, odds are you have a favorite bookshop. This book is a collection of essays (written especially for this book!) by 84 contemporary authors about the independently owned bookstores that hold a special place in their hearts.  From the bookstores of childhood, to bookshops that helped to launch careers, and everything in between, the essays in this book are true love letters to the brick and mortar stores that are becoming increasingly rare in the online age. A special bonus to me was that one of the bookstores featured in this book is located in my home town!

Shelf Life6. Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures From a Year in a Bookstore  by Suzanne Strempek Shea

I can’t emphasize this enough: I love this book! The author (who is also a novelist) began volunteering at a local independent bookstore in order to get out of the house and to help her recover after a serious illness. That volunteer job turned into a year of living and breathing books as she took part in all aspects of the bookstore business. I spent seven wonderful years working in a bookstore, and found that this book matched up with my experiences  perfectly. If you’ve ever shopped in a bookstore, worked in a bookstore, dreamed of owning a bookstore, or anything in between, this book is  for you!

exlibris7. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

This collection of thoughtful essays covers the author’s lifelong love affair with books and language.  She grew up in a family who placed a high value on education, reading, and the physical books themselves. She writes about her love of long words, the joys of proofreading, favorite book inscriptions, and more. My favorite is the essay covering the process of “marrying” her personal library with her husband’s books.  This is another book that I regularly buy for friends who are fellow booklovers.

An ALphabetical Life8. An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books by Wendy Werris

Wendy Werris begins with a temporary job in a well-known Hollywood bookstore  that starts her on  a 35-year adventure in the book business. The majority of her career was spent as a publisher’s sales rep in what was originally a male-dominated industry. As a former bookseller, I found her stories of selling books to bookstore owners a real eye-opener. A plus is her account of doing what was then thought of as a man’s job in the 1970s-80s. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors in the book business, you’ll enjoy this book.

Reading Promise9. The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma

When the author of this book was in the 4th grade, she and her father made a pact to read out loud together for 100 straight nights. When they reached that goal (they called it “The Streak”) they kept on going—until the day she entered college eight years later! This book not only traces their reading journey, but also tracks the growth of the relationship between father and daughter. It’s a great testimony to the power of books and the joys of raising a reader. It also includes a partial list of the titles they read together over the years, and I’ve gotten many good ideas for my own TBR list from those titles.

Sorted Books10. Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian

The author is a conceptual artist who sorts and stacks books to create short poems, sentences, and phrases from the titles on their spines. This book compiles a selection of her work. This is another great gift book for the the book lover who has everything. Browse the photos on these pages and be prepared to look at the books on your shelves in a whole new way!

What about you? Have you read any of these? Do you have a favorite book about books that isn’t on my list? Please feel free to share!


The Tuesday Ten–Things Found In My Favorite Place To Read

readingI’ll read just about anywhere, but I do have a favorite reading spot in my home. I have a loft on the second floor, and it’s where I have my desk and a set of beautiful, tall bookshelves–and it’s my very favorite place to relax with a book.

Here are the ten things that make this the place where I enjoy reading the most:

 1. My most comfortable chair. I have a big blue overstuffed armchair with a matching ottoman in a corner of this room. It was one of the first pieces of furniture I bought when I moved into my house. When I bought it, the saleswoman called it a “Hug Me Chair” and it’s the perfect name—the back curves forward slightly at the sides and when I settle into it I almost feel enveloped—but not in a trapped way—it’s all good! I love reading in this chair—the only bad thing is that it’s very easy to drift off into a nap there, too!

2. Good floor lamp. This sits in the corner just behind me. Reading in low light is not relaxing!

3. Throw. Or I guess some people would call it a light blanket. I am pretty much always cold. I usually want a light throw covering at least my legs. In the winter, I’m bundled up all the way to my chin!

4. Pets. I have two cats.  When I’m in the “Hug Me” chair, Miss Maggie usually comes running and gets comfortable on my lap. Dickens is usually curled up on the ottoman, or sitting in the window, which brings us to #5 . . .

5. Window. I have a very large double window to the side of my chair. It looks out on the backyards of my neighborhood. When it’s open I usually get a really nice, light breeze. I especially like to read by this window when it’s raining or snowing really hard. The window sills are low and just the right size for a cat (or two).

6. Snacks. No reading session is complete without a snack and/or beverage handy. Something chocolate is the best!

7. Tissues. For possible colds, or allergies, or an especially sad chapter. No one wants to have to get up in the middle of a good book to find a tissue!

8. Notepad and pen. No matter how good my book is, my mind does sometimes wander to other things. If I can jot those things down, then I can get right back to my book. I am a multi-tasker at heart, I guess!

9. Very quiet music. Nothing distracting, but I do sometimes put some very soft music on while I read.

10. Another book! If I’m getting close to the end of what I’m reading, I like to have a new book nearby just in case I’m not quite ready to quit reading. It’s best to be prepared!

How about you? What’s your favorite place to read? What would we find there? Please share—I’d love to hear about it!

The Tuesday Ten–My Favorite Nonfiction Genres


untitledI read a lot of different types of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Lately, however, I’ve been on a big nonfiction kick—and I got to thinking about the nonfiction genres that I enjoy the most. So—here are the top ten nonfiction genres (in no particular order) that are represented the most on my bookshelves:

1. FOOD AND COOKING: I love to read and I love to cook—so what could be better than reading about food? I’m not including cookbooks in this category, although I have a lot of those, too. Instead, these books include essays about food and cooking, books by and about chefs and other restaurant employees, and books about how the act of preparing  and sharing food influences family and culture. Many of these books include recipes throughout the text, but they wouldn’t be considered straight cookbooks.

2. BOOKS AND WRITING: I love reading books about books—books about collecting them, writing them, selling them, publishing them. These books includes essays about what and why people read, memoirs by people who have worked in the publishing industry, books written about people who have owned their own bookstores or who have worked in one, or books by writers about HOW they write.

3. EDUCATION: As a former teacher, I love reading books written about “a year in the life of a teacher”, as well as topics such as the pros and cons of single sex education, homeschooling, and what schools are like in other countries.

4. TRUE CRIME: The only thing I love more than a good fictional mystery is a good TRUE mystery! I’m hooked on the true crime genre—some current but mostly historical. The downside to reading these books is that some of them are so well written that they keep me up at night!

5. JOURNALISM: I like reading books made up of collections of newspaper columns or magazine articles by journalists I admire. I love seeing how their work changes over time, and how they tackle current events.

6. AMERICAN PRESIDENTS/FIRST LADIES: I enjoy history, especially historical biography, and I really like reading biographies and autobiographies of U.S. Presidents and their families. I’m most interested in their day-to-day lives, and their lives before and after living in the White House.

7. THE KENNEDYS: I guess this is a subset of the above genre, but I actually have a whole shelf devoted to books on this enormous American political family. I find the Kennedys fascinating. I certainly don’t admire everything about all of them, but I find them endlessly interesting.

8. AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY: I’ve always been interested in the civil rights movement, and I enjoy reading biographies of key African American leaders, books about the civil rights movement, and about African American culture.

9. ORAL HISTORIES: I love books that are a collection of first-person accounts from a variety of people about a common topic or event. I think it’s so interesting to compare the language choices and remembrances of different individuals.

10. SPORTS: I do not “do sports.” I am possibly the most un-athletic person you would ever meet.  But—I LOVE reading about sports! Not biographies so much, but “behind the scenes” books about a particular team or sport.

So–there’s some overlap, and  there’s a common theme of enjoying nonfiction books that go “behind-the-scenes” to dig deep into the story of a particular person, profession, or historical event. I may decide to write some additional Tuesday Ten lists of specific books I’ve enjoyed within some of these genres. But, in the meantime–

What about you? Do you like to read nonfiction? Why or why not? And, if you do, what nonfiction genres do you enjoy?