Musings From A Bookmammal


Monday Musings–My Favorite Fiction of 2014

Click here to play along!

Click here to play along!

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB that asks you to muse about one of several “bookish” questions… or you can just ramble on about anything you like that pertains to books! You can join in by clicking the graphic above. Go ahead–it’s fun!

Here’s my musing for this week–

Where did 2014 go? I can’t believe that today is the first day of the last month of the year. I’ve had a great reading year, and today I decided to reflect on my favorite fiction titles from the past eleven months (I’ve read a total 0f 98 books so far this year, and 43 of them have been fiction. My top nonfiction titles will get their own Monday Musing post later this month!).

The ten novels below are all books that stayed with me long after I finished the last page, and all are books that I recommended to others during the year. Ready? Here we go—in order of when I finished each title:

tell the wolves i'm homeI started Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt at least twice during 2013, but I never got beyond the first couple of chapters. For some reason I just couldn’t get into the story. But this novel continued to show up on “Best Of . . .” lists, so I decided to give it another try. I have no idea what made the difference, but this time I couldn’t put it down.

This novel is set during 1987. The main character is a 14-year old girl who, along with the rest of 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, in doing so, 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, and I can’t believe it took me so long to realize it. 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 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. It’s also a very moving story of working through loss. (Finished January 11, 2014)

sisterlandI liked Sisterland a lot more than I thought I would. I’d put off reading it because, although I’ve enjoyed other books by author Curtis Sittenfeld in the past, the subject matter of this book initially didn’t appeal to me. It’s billed as the story of two twin sisters who share a psychic ability–the ability to predict the future by listening to their special “senses”. I’m usually not into books dealing with any sort of paranormal activity (I guess I’m too much of a natural skeptic!) so I wasn’t in any rush to read this book. But once I decided to give it a try I found that this book is about so much more than psychic ability–it’s about family, loyalty, marriage, parenthood, betrayal, forgiving–and although the “senses” of the twin sisters do play a big role in the story, it wasn’t an overbearing plot point for me. (Finished February 11, 2014)

book of unknown americansI absolutely LOVED The Book Of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. It’s a novel about immigration, assimilation, staying true to your roots, family, unconditional love, friendship, and what we will endure to benefit those we care for. The story is told through multiple viewpoints, which is always a selling point for me, and I thought Henriquez did a great job of capturing the different voices of the characters throughout the book. I don’t understand why this book didn’t get more press—but this is one of those novels that I wanted to hand out to total strangers on street corners. (Finished June 12, 2014)

The Vacationers by Emma Straub was definitely one of this summer’s hot beach reads. Taking place over a two week period, this novel tells the story of an American family’s vacation to the island of Mallorca. The trip should be an escape from the tensions that are brewing at home in NYC, but the family finds that they can’t escape secrets, rivalries, and conflicts. The novel is made up of fourteen chapters—one for each day of the vacation—and the author does a great job of portraying the ebb and flow of the emotions of a close-knit group of people who are forced to spend most of each day together, and who find that they may not know each other as well as they assumed. I found this novel to be a relatively quick read, but also completely absorbing—and I just love the cover! (Finished July 18, 2014)

everything i never told youEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng takes place in Ohio in the 1970s and tells the story of a middle-class Chinese-American family, their relationships with each other, and how they cope with the sudden death of the middle daughter and the uncertainty regarding the cause of this death. This novel really recreates the time period well—a time when mixed marriages were an oddity and when racism was much more blatant in mid-America than it is today. Moving back and forth between the present and the past, and back and forth between the point of view of the five family members, this is a very moving story that makes the reader wonder how well we really know the ones we love. I was still thinking about the characters long after I finished the book– a sign of powerful writing. (Finished August 3, 2014)

still life with breadcrumbsAnna Quindlen is one of my “automatic authors”—I’ll read anything she writes. I adore her collections of essays—I often feel that she’s speaking directly to me–and her last novel, Every Last One, is one of the best books I’ve read in the past several years.

I really didn’t know much about the plot of this novel, and I think that’s the best way to go into it—part of the appeal of this book was that I really had no idea where the characters were headed. It tells the story of Rebecca Winter, a sixty-year-old photographer who experienced huge artistic success in her past. For various reasons, she decides to spend some time in a rental house in a small town near her NYC home-base. She forms relationships with her new neighbors and we also learn about her relationships with her elderly parents, her ex-husband, and her adult son.

It seems to me that Anna Quindlen found a new voice when crafting this novel—the narrative is unlike any of her others. The chapters—some only a few paragraphs or a page or two, many longer–move fluidly back and forth between the main characters and pivotal events. There was a lot of very subtle humor woven throughout, and I quickly decided that this was a book I really needed to savor in order to appreciate the writing. I felt invested in what happened to every character, and the dialogue rang true—which is always a deal-breaker for me. And when I got to the end, I immediately thought “I wonder what’s going to happen next!” (Finished August 16, 2014)

big little liesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty     The setting of this novel is an elementary school, and I usually enjoy reading novels taking place in any kind of academic setting—fortunately this book was no exception! At the beginning of the book we learn that a death has occurred during a school-sponsored event, but we don’t know who has died or what the circumstances were. As the book progresses we learn more and more about the parents involved, their children, and the secrets that are being kept from various family members and friends. Another great book covering the theme of how well we really know our friends and family. (Finished September 7, 2014)

paying guestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is an incredible novel. I found myself hiding away during my lunch hours at work to get in another chapter or two, and I even found myself reading at stoplights on a few occasions (I am NOT KIDDING!). I was completely immersed in the plot and the characters, and I found myself wondering over and over how Waters was going to resolve everything that was happening.

I completely agree with most other reviewers who say that it’s best not to share too much of the plot, so I’ll just say that this psychological thriller takes place in post WWI London. A young women and her widowed mother are forced to take in boarders (“paying guests”) for financial reasons, so they rent the upstairs of their home to a newly married couple . . . and drama and passion of all kinds ensues.

This novel weighs in at over 500 pages, but it seemed like a pretty quick read to me. I never felt bogged down with the plot or the characters, and the Waters did an excellent job of making me feel as though I was living the day-to-day life of a young women in early 1920s London. (Finished October 3, 2014)

 some luckThe premise of Some Luck by Jane Smiley was really intriguing to me—it’s the first book in what will be a trilogy spanning 100 years in the life of an Iowa farm family. This first book takes place from 1920-1953, and each chapter covers one year. Every chapter also contains the points of view from several members of the family–the husband and wife, their children (from birth into adulthood), and a few members of their extended family. As the chapters—and the years—progress, we experience the ebb and flow of their everyday lives, including births, deaths, marriages, the Depression, WWII, and many other events. I loved this book and thought it was a wonderful “slice of life” novel. I also really enjoyed the “one chapter for every year” technique because not everything that was happening to the characters was fully revealed–sometimes I had to “connect the dots” between chapters to figure out what had happened since a particular character was featured.

If you’re into stories that include big cliffhangers and huge, dramatic plot points, this may not be to your taste—but if you like a book that puts you right there beside the characters, I highly recommend it. And as a bonus, I just found out that the second book of this trilogy—Early Warning—is due to be published in May 2015. I can’t wait! (Finished October 9, 2014)

florence gordonFlorence Gordon by Brian Morton is a novel that seems to have slipped under the radar. It’s about 75-year-old Florence Gordon who lives in present-day NYC. She’s an author and a feminist icon, she’s brutally blunt with family, friends, and strangers alike, and she’s contemplating writing her memoirs. The book begins when her adult son,  his wife,  and his  college-age daughter return to New York after several years away—and Florence finds that as much as she wants to remain in solitude with her work, she becomes involved in the activities and issues that are surrounding her son and his family.

Florence was such a fascinating character to me! During the first ten pages of the book she abruptly walks out of a surprise party thrown in her honor, informing her friends and family that she’d much rather be home working at her desk. How can you not want to know more about the kind of person who can pull that off? And what a talented author Brian Morton is to be able to completely capture the personality of his main character is such a few pages!

There are over 100 chapters in this book, and they range from less than one page to a dozen pages or more. At first I thought that this would be distracting and that the technique would interrupt the narrative, but I very quickly got into the rhythm of Morton’s writing. I was thoroughly invested in each of the main characters and in the day-to-day flow of their lives—and the way that Morton chose to end the book was not at all what I was expecting. (Finished October 19, 2014)

How about you? Have you read any of these? What’s on your favorite fiction list this year? Please share!



Raising Sharp Readers by Colby and Alaina Sharp

I don’t  re-post writings from other bloggers very often–but this post from the Nerdy Book Club Blog about raising readers is so wonderful that I just had to share it. PLEASE click through to read the entire post–you won’t be sorry! Enjoy!
And to my American blog buddies, I wish you all  a happy Thanksgiving holiday!

Nerdy Book Club

7 years ago, we were elated and terrified to welcome the first of our three little readers into the world.  As parents, we don’t do a lot of things right – Breslin’s gone to school with his pants on backwards enough times to verify that.  But, we have managed to turn out three little people who love reading fiercely.  Here are some of our thoughts on how we have helped to foster and nourish that love in our home.

1. Have books everywhere.

Our oldest isn’t one to go the bookshelf and pick up a book. He’s not the type of kid that you tell to go and read a book. What we’ve found is that if we have books laying around all over the place (tables, floor, car, bed, etc) he reads a ton. Sometimes he’ll find a book laying on the coffee table and read it cover to cover…

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

Click here to play along!

Click here to play along!

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!


NONFICTION NOVEMBER–WEEK 4: Reflections On My Exploding TBR List!

NF November 2014Welcome to the 4th and final week of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list–and I had even more fun participating this year! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit this week’s  linkup.  Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!

I can’t believe that this is the last week of the month—and that also means that it’s the last week of Nonfiction November. I had such a great time participating again this year (although craziness in my non-blogging life caused me to skip posting altogether during Week #3) and I loved getting to know some great new-to-me bloggers.

This week’s Nonfiction November prompt is about reflecting on the month and all of the additions to our TBR lists. I added so many great titles to my list this month, but I limited myself to selecting the ten that I’m most eager to get my hands on for this post. I have to admit that I lost track of where I heard about each title, so unfortunately I can’t link up to where I originally discovered each book—but I’m grateful to all of the Nonfiction November bloggers who helped my TBR list to EXPLODE with great books!

Here’s my list (in no particular order) of the top ten nonfiction titles I’ve added to my TBR list this month:

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GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed The Atlantic For Love by Duncan Barrett         This book focuses on four women who married American soldiers during or right after WWII and then came to the US to begin their new lives. I’ve always been fascinated by wartime marriages between two people who are basically strangers to one another and I’m hoping this book will shed some light on this issue.

When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII by Molly Guptill Manning       This book is being released on December 2 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.

By The Book: Writers On Literature And The Literary Life From The New York Times Book Review by Pamela Paul        I ask you–what’s not to like about this book made up of interviews with 65 contemporary authors? This book is at the top of my Christmas list this year!

The Residence: Inside The Private World Of The White House by Kate Andersen Brower        I love reading American history, especially about the presidency, and I love behind-the-scenes nonfiction—so I was  excited to find out about this upcoming book written from interviews with White House staff serving Presidents Kennedy up through President Obama.

Serving Victoria: Life In The Royal Household by Kate Hubbard        As I said above, I love behind-the-scenes history, but I’ve read very little British history, so I’m looking forward to this book that’s based on letters and diaries written by Queen Victoria’s staff.

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Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick        Since I read Without You There Is No Us earlier this month I’ve been curious about North Korea, and I hope this book will provide some answers.

Lives In Ruins: Archeologists And The Seductive Lure Of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson        I know next to nothing about archeology, but I love reading fly-on-the-wall accounts of unfamiliar jobs. THis books sounds like it’s got my name written all over it!

Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales        I just finished this 700+ page book this weekend and really liked it—it matched my love of oral histories with my love of sports. I’ll be honest—if you’re not into sports there’s really nothing that’s going to appeal to you about this book, but if you’re a sports fan and also enjoy behind-the-scenes nonfiction, you’ll love it.

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover In The Civil War by Karen Abbott        EVERYONE is reading this book! I just borrowed the eBook version from the library and am hoping to get to it soon.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale Of Intrigue And Innovation At The Dawn Of Modern Medicine by Christin O’Keefe Aptowicz        This is the story of the Philadelphia physician in the mid 1800s who, among other innovations, pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and techniques for helping the severely deformed. I actually started reading this last night and so far I’m hooked!

How about you? Have you read any of these? Did any nonfiction titles make it onto your TBR list this week? Please share! And please click on the November Nonfiction graphic above to find this week’s  linkup to more great nonfiction finds!



NF November 2014Welcome to week #2 of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit this week’s  linkup. A new prompt and linkup will be posted every Monday throughout November. Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!

This week, participants are invited to create  a nonfiction reading list covering any topic. It’s a chance to be an expert on the nonfiction topic of your own choosing! Or, you can put out an inquiry to the  bloggers who are participating and ask for suggestions for books on any nonfiction subject. This was by far my favorite week of last year’s Nonfiction November!


One of my favorite nonfiction genres is the ORAL HISTORY. The simplest definition of oral history isthe collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events”. I find it incredibly fascinating to read about the same event, place, or time period from the points of view and transcriptions of the actual voices of many different people—and that’s what a good oral history does for the reader.

Studs Terkel is widely believed to be the father of the modern oral history genre. A New Yorker by birth, he came to Chicago as a young man and made the city his home. He authored over a dozen oral histories over the years that covered diverse topics such as race, the Great Depression, spirituality, war, and many others. He had the incredible gift of being able to ask the right questions at the right time and to create a safe environment for his subjects to open up and share their deepest thoughts. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at an author event held when he was in his nineties—and although his body and his hearing were failing him, his mind was as nimble as a man at a quarter of his age. Terkel was truly a Chicago icon, and when he died a few years ago it was the end of the era of a certain type of writer. I have an entire shelf on one of my bookcases that’s devoted to his books.

Here are a few of my favorite oral histories–by Terkel and by other authors:


workingWorking by Studs Terkel

I first read parts of Working when I was in junior high and picked up my dad’s copy. The subtitle of the book tells it all—“People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About Doing It”. Terkel interviewed over 100 people about their jobs—farmers, teachers, factory workers, athletes, salesmen, and many more. The result is a portrait of the people who make up everyday America, and who make America work. It also brings home the theme that self worth is so often tied to how we feel about how we earn our living. Written in 1972, the book is obviously a bit dated—many of the jobs discussed have changed drastically or no longer exist. But the spirit of the people who share their stories still rings true. If you’ve never read any oral histories by Terkel, start with this one–it’s still in print and readily available!

gigGig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, and Sabin Streeter

The authors of this oral history openly admit their admiration of Studs Terkel and their hopes that this book is the modern day imitation of Working. Written about 30 years after Terkel’s book, Gig includes people sharing their experiences in more modern professions, including video game designer, corporate headhunter, and crime scene cleaner. I think this would be a great pick for reluctant readers in high school—the sections are brief yet very engaging–as well as for anyone who enjoys the oral history format.


good war“The Good War:” An Oral History Of World War II by Studs Terkel

Another favorite by Studs Terkel, this Pulitzer Prize winning book captures the voices of everyday people whose lives were affected the “the war to end all wars”—both on the front lines and at home. Most of the people interviewed for this book were Americans, but there are Japanese, German, and Russian voices represented as well. If you enjoy reading historical fiction set during this time period, this would be a great contrast!




Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now—As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long For It by Craig Taylor

The author of this fascinating book spent five years talking with an incredible diverse cross-section of Londoners and paints a vivid picture of modern London. I’ve never been to London, but this book made me feel as if I were there–experiencing both the negatives and the positives of this historic city.


snlLive From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

I started watching Saturday Night Live back in the Jim Belushi/Dan Ackroyd/Bill Murray days. This is a truly riveting oral history of that groundbreaking show as told by the cast members, writers, producers, hosts, musical guests, and more. I’ve heard that this book has been recently re=released with updated interviews, but I haven’t read that version yet. If you’re a SNL fan, or if you enjoy reading about TV and the entertainment industry, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book!


i want my mtvI Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

I’m also old enough to remember when MTV actually played music videos 24 hours a day. I can still recall gathering in the TV lounge of my college dorm to watch the premier of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video—we’d never seen anything like it before! This oral history traces the first decade of MTV and features transcripts of interviews with nearly 400 musical artists, directors, TV and music executives, and MTV VJs. Reading this book completely took me back to the 80s!


How about you? Have you read any oral histories? Do you enjoy this format? Please share–and please visit the current November Nonfiction linkup (just click on the graphic at the top of this post) for more great nonfiction suggestions!


NONFICTION NOVEMBER: WEEK 2–Become The Expert / Books About The Kennedys

NF November 2014Welcome to week #2 of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit this week’s  linkup. A new prompt and linkup will be posted every Monday throughout November. Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!

This week, participants are invited to create  a nonfiction reading list covering any subject. It’s a chance to be an expert on the nonfiction topic of your own choosing! Or, you can put out an inquiry to the  bloggers who are participating and ask for suggestions for books on any nonfiction subject. This was by far my favorite week of last year’s Nonfiction November!

I’ve been intrigued by the Kennedy family for as long as I can remember. Although I certainly don’t admire everything about them, I find the Kennedys endlessly fascinating, and I’ve read and collected many books about the members of this huge American family over the years. In fact, I have a whole section of one of my bookcases devoted to books on this subject. Here are some of my favorites. I’ve read all of these more than once, and these are the ones that I tend to recommend the most:

13588421Patriarch: The Remarkable Life And Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw       No matter what your opinion is about Joseph P Kennedy, you have to admit that the man lived an incredibly fascinating (and ultimately tragic) life. This is a wonderfully thorough biography of the man who created the foundation–and the finances!– for the Kennedy dynasty.


1338253The Day Kennedy Was Shot by Jim Bishop    This was the first Kennedy book that I ever read, and it’s an almost minute-by-minute account of the events of November 22, 1963.  I read this book for the first time when I was in high school, and I’ve re-read it many times since then. There was quite a bit of controversy when this book was originally published—it was definitely NOT endorsed by the Kennedy family—but I think it’s a must-read for anyone who wants an intimate accounting of the Kennedy assassination. Everyone knows how this story ends, but the book reads like a novel of the very best kind.

1106483The Death Of A President by William Manchester     This is a true classic in the Kennedy genre. Published in 1967 and written at the request of the Kennedy family, the author was personally selected to write the definitive account of the assassination. Of course, hundreds of books have been written about the topic since then—and Manchester was obviously working under the Kennedy family’s agenda—but this is still a must-read for anyone interested in the life and death of JFK.

290802America’s Queen: The Life Of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford    This is the most informative, non-tabloid-ish biography of Jacqueline Kennedy that I’ve read. And the title is inspired!



9547969Jackie As Editor: The Literary Life Of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Gregory Lawrence    I knew that JBKO had worked as an editor in New York for several years, but didn’t know how much she truly loved books, or any of the specifics about how or why she got that job, what her day to day life as a working woman was like, or why she left the publishing business. This book answered all of these questions and more, and provides information that gives the reader a more well-rounded view of her life after she left Washington. Bonus–it’s also a really interesting view of the publishing world in the 1970s!

1469237Kennedy Weddings: A Family Album by Jay Mulvaney     This is a great coffee-table-style book filled with wonderful photos and details about nearly every Kennedy wedding—and with such a large family, there have been dozens! Beginning with the wedding of Rose and Joe Kennedy and moving along through the weddings of their children and grandchildren, this book is a great treat for readers (like me!) who just can’t get enough of this famous family.


524665The Kennedy Women: The Sage Of An American Family by Lawrence Leamer     This book provides intimate details about the lives of the daughters and daughters-in-law of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. I was especially interested in the details about Patricia and Jean, the lesser-known sisters.


6030598The Last Lion: The Fall And Rise Of Ted Kennedy by Peter Canellos     Published shortly after Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009, this biography provides a well-balanced portrait of the successes and failings of the youngest Kennedy brother.



447974Sons Of Camelot: The Fate Of An American Dynasty by Lawrence Leamer    Another meticulously researched book, this book focuses on the third generation of Kennedys and how they’ve chosen to carry on the family name and mission.



How about you? Have you read any of these? Is there a particular historical family that intrigues you? Please share–and please visit the current November Nonfiction linkup (just click on the graphic at the top of this post) for more great nonfiction recommendations!


NONFICTION NOVEMBER–WEEK 1: Favorite Nonfiction of 2014

NF November 2014Today marks the beginning of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit the first linkup. A new prompt and linkup will be posted every Monday throughout November. Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!

This week the following prompts are presented:


What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’ve always loved nonfiction and I read a lot of it. So far this year I’ve read a total of 92 books, and 47 of them have been nonfiction. I never really have a plan for what I’m going to read during any given time, so it’s just by chance that half of my books so far this year have been nonfiction. For Nonfiction November, I’m not planning on exclusively reading nonfiction—but I’m hoping to find many more nonfiction titles to add to my TBR list. I’m also hoping to find new-to-me bloggers who share my love for books in general and nonfiction in particular!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I have to be honest—this question is so unfair! There is no way that I can select just one favorite nonfiction title of the year! So–I’m combining these questions to describe the four NF books that I enjoyed the most this year and that I find myself recommending the most often. Ready? Here we go!

empty mansionsEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

If you love to escape by reading about the lives of the impossibly rich, or if you like a good modern day mystery, give this book a try! Huguette Clark was a reclusive New York heiress. Born in 1906, she grew up in incredible wealth, and after an extremely brief marriage (she returned home alone just days into her honeymoon) she eventually owned enormously expensive homes in California, New York, and Connecticut–yet they stood vacant as she lived her last twenty years in a simple New York City hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She gave away millions of dollars in money and gifts to charities, foundations promoting the arts, and to her employees–some of whom never saw her or spoke to her except via phone or through closed doors.

At her death in 2011, her estate was valued in excess of $300 million. However, she’d left TWO signed wills—one favoring 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), and a second will leaving everything to her lawyers, long-time private nurse, and other employees. The question was, had she been in control of her decisions, 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?

When I finished this book, I immediately went online to do some research about what has happened with Huguette’s estate since the book was published—but I won’t share what I found, as I don’t want to create any spoilers for those of you who may choose to read it. This book was not only one of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2014, but it’s one of my favorite books of any genre.

boys in the boatThe Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown

I don’t “do sports” but I love reading about them. I’ve read lots of books about baseball and basketball, but I knew virtually nothing about the sport of rowing (or “crew”) before I started this book. It’s the story of the 1936 US rowing team that won the Gold medal at that year’s Summer Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin. The author paints such a vivid picture of the young men on the team as well as the skill required to excel at this sport–I had absolutely no idea! There’s a lot of anecdotal information about the Depression era that’s very interesting, and it also created a great interest for me about the 1936 Olympic Games.

reading in wildReading In The Wild by Donalyn Miller

I work in educational publishing and I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to help kids learn to love to read. This book discusses in plain language how teachers (and parents) can help children become lifelong readers. Miller 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!

Maeve's TImesMaeve’s Times: In Her Own Words by Maeve Binchy

I was sad to hear of Maeve Binchy’s death a few years ago–so imagine my delight when I learned that a new Binchy book was to be published this year! I was even more excited when I found out that it was to be a collection of nearly 100 of her columns that were originally published in The Irish Times, starting in the 1960s and continuing through 2011. Presented in chronological order, these pieces offer a whole new glimpse into Binchy’s writing style. I had no idea that she had been a columnist, and I devoured this book over a couple of marathon reading sessions in a single weekend. The topics range from humorous slices of life, to character sketches, to news reporting, to controversial opinion pieces. The only thing that tripped me up a bit was the very frequent use of Irish slang and terminology, which I don’t recall encountering too much in her novels. However, this makes total sense in that her columns were most likely intended exclusively for local Irish readers, while she must have known that her novels would find an international audience. I loved this book, and was so grateful to see an entirely new side to one of my favorite novelists.

Honorable Mentions/Just Missed The List:

Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

How about you? Have you read any of these? What types of nonfiction books do you enjoy? Please share—and please visit the first November Nonfiction linkup (just click on the graphic at the top of this post) for more great nonfiction titles!