2016 Reading

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Allison has
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Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Pages: 336 p
Published: September 2014
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Why did I wait so long to read this book? I LOVED it! What a wonderful way to kick off a new year of reading. There really isn't a main character. It's an interesting technique. And the different storylines thread together well, overlapping but weaving together. I used to say that I'm not a fan of dystopia, but that's not really true (thanks Hunger Games and Divergent). This isn't so much a doomsday story, though, and it hooked me from the beginning.

Ok, here's what the publisher says:
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.







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Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
Author: Shonda Rhimes
Pages: 336 p
Published: November 2015
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I listened to this on the recommendation of Snarkypants. And I'm so glad I listened to it rather than read it. Shonda Rhimes tells it like it is. And hearing her voice tell it like it is is superior to my internal reading voice attempting to tell it like it is for Shonda.

I admit, I have watched a few episodes of Grey's Anatomy and have never seen Private Practice, Scandal, or How To Get Away With Murder. I really didn't know much about Shonda Rhimes. Now that I've listened to her wit and wisdom and become BFF with her, it's a whole new world of binge-watching opening up before me.

I'm not a working mom. But I am a working woman struggling with keeping it real in the face of society's expectations. And I found a lot of wisdom in her lessons.







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Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
Author: Julie Berry
Pages: 368 p
Published: September 2014
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A very fun book!

From the publisher:
There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.







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Title: The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty
Author: Vendela Vida
Pages: 224 p
Published: June 2015
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I love the premise: a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysteriously urgent business. As she is checking into her hotel, she is robbed of her passport, wallet, money, and identification. The woman suspects a conspiracy between the hotel staff and the police who investigate--she knows she will not get her belongings back. Through an interesting series of events, she becomes linked to a well-known American actress and in the process loses even more of herself.

It was an interesting, fast read.











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Title: The Life We Bury
Author: Allen Eskens
Pages: 303 p
Published: October 2014
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I liked it (didn't love it) even though I predicted the outcome. I could tell it's a first novel--and I hope to read more by this promising author.

From the publisher:
College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran--and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?






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Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Pages: 230 p
Published: January 2007
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I don't quite know where to begin with this book. I liked it a lot. It's a Young Adult novel and I can't wait to talk to my students about it. It's quite controversial and is a banned book. But there's nothing in it that I don't hear the students say, so the language isn't shocking. I listened to the book, performed by the author, and he made it come alive.

From the publisher:
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.





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Title: Staying at Daisy's
Author: Jill Mansell
Pages: 512 p
Published: March, 2011
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jill Mansell doesn't disappoint. When I need a feel-good book, I reach for a Mansell. I love that I the characters are flawed and funny. The secondary characters are rich, too.

From the publisher:
Daisy MacLean is the manager of Colworth Manor, a beautiful county hotel. In the year since her cheating husband was killed in a car accident, she's been purposefully single. She doesn't trust handsome and charming men, so former rugby star Dev Tyzack clearly doesn't stand a chance with her, and the two initially grate on each other—but they can't deny their increasing attraction. Unfortunately, Daisy's past is getting in the way of her future, in more ways than one. With a madcap crew of characters, including unlucky-in-love chambermaid Tara and Daisy's gregarious father, this screwball romantic comedy piles on the humor and humanity for a clever, absorbing, and very enjoyable read.





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Title: You
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Pages: 432 p
Published: September 2014
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, it's been hyped as the next Gone Girl and so far none of those comparisons have panned out for me. I liked how social media is used, it is definitely a timely novel. I really liked it, in a creepy way.

From the publisher:
When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.









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Title: The Nothing Girl
Author: Jodi Taylor
Pages: 250 p
Published: May 2014
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This book has everything fun: an unlikely heroine, complicated love, simple love, comic misunderstandings, an almost Shakespearean hero, bad guys, good guys, and an epic ending. I suspected some of what was going on but the story moves so quickly and is so charming, it didn't even matter. A very enjoyable book, it left me wanting more!

From the publisher:
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.

With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world's most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!



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Title: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 345 p
Published: February 2010
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The narrative switches from WWII-era Leningrad to modern, small-town Washington state with a stop in Alaska. The fairy tale kept my attention when the modern characters were predictable and a bit unlikable. The end left me a little flat, but overall a good choice for my book group!


From the publisher:
Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.














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Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 448 p
Published: February 2015
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Kristin Hannah is known for her family dramas and love stories. This is the second of her books that I've read with a back drop of World War II. Hannah tells the tale of two sisters torn apart by the Nazi occupation of France, and their struggle to survive. It is well-researched and I was engaged from the beginning. I'm so glad I've been to France, especially to Paris, so that I knew the general neighborhoods and locations mentioned.

From the publisher:
FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious GΓ€etan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.







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Title: The Passenger
Author: Lisa Lutz
Pages: 320 p
Published: March 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fast, thrilling read. I thought the characters were compelling, if not terribly complex. There are so many layers to this novel and it's fun to peel them back, wondering who the main character actually is.


From the publisher:
In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?





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Title: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 409 p
Published: September 2012
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Considered a YA novel, I was hooked from the beginning. The ending left my jaw hanging open! Each of the characters has many layers and is not the cliche they seem on the surface. The supernatural, myth, aspect of the story fascinated me. I can't wait for more in the series!

From the publisher:
It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.


Interview with the author:


The author made a trailer:









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Title: The Last Detective
Author: Peter Lovesey
Pages: 331 p
Published: July 1991
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From the publisher:
Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is the last detective: 'not some lad out of police school with a degree in computer studies' but a genuine gumshoe, given to doorstopping and deduction. So when the naked body of a woman is found floating in the weeds in a lake near Bath with no-one willing to identify her, no marks and no murder weapon, his sleuthing abilities are tested to the limit. Struggling with a jigsaw of truant choirboys, teddy bears, a black Mercedes and Jane Austen memorabilia, Diamond persists even when 'the men in white coats' decide they have enough evidence to make a conviction. It's just as well: for despite disastrous personal consequences, and by following the real clues hidden amongst Bath's historic buildings and intertwined with its literary past, the last detective exposes the uncomfortable truth ...

I really enjoyed this book. The focus of the tale shifted from character to character, giving plenty of back story.



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Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 439 p
Published: September 2013
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This second book in the series left me wanting more!

From the publisher:
If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he's not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan's secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

I'm enjoying the characters--they are typical teens who are believable. The adult characters are also more fleshed out in this book. I just can't wait for more in the series!



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Title: Blue Lily, Lily Blue
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 391 p
Published: October 2014
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Although I adore this series, this is the weakest link. There isn't as much plot in this book but there is a lot of great dialogue and the relationships between characters deepens. But this book focuses on Blue. And I still can't wait for the fourth and final book--how does it end?

From the publisher:
Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.

Mothers can disappear.

Visions can mislead.

Certainties can unravel.

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Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 272 p
Published: April 2014
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A re-read for my book group. I listened to the audio version and was as enchanted listening to it as I was reading it. A book about books, and people who love books. There was much to discuss, too.












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Title: Purity
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Pages: 576 p
Published: September 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'm not really sure what I think about this book. I mean, Franzen is a truly great writer. I didn't connect to the characters and kind of didn't care for much of what happened to them. The wonderful writing kept me turning pages, though. A couple of the characters were so over-the-top in their character that it was too too. Yaknow? I didn't love it but I also didn't hate it.

From the publisher:
Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother--her only family--is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world--including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.










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Title: Something Missing
Author: Matthew Dicks
Pages: 294 p
Published: July 2009
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is a fun escape--a heist story, and I love those!
From the publisher:
A career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes, Martin considers himself one of the best in the biz. After all, he’s been able to steal from the same people for years on end—virtually undetected. Of course, this could also be attributed to his unique business model—he takes only items that will go unnoticed by the homeowner. After all, who in their right mind would miss a roll of toilet paper here, a half-used bottle of maple syrup there, or even a rarely used piece of china buried deep within a dusty cabinet?

Even though he's never met these homeowners, he's spent hours in their houses, looking through their photo albums and reading their journals. In essence, Martin has developed a friendship of sorts with them and as such, he decides to interfere more in their lives—playing the part of a rather odd guardian angel—even though it means breaking many of his twitchy neurotic rules.

Along the way Martin not only improves the lives of others, but he also discovers love and finds that his own life is much better lived on the edge (at least some of the time) in this hilarious, suspenseful and often profound novel about a man used to planning every second of his life, suddenly forced to confront chaos and spontaneity.




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Title: Be Frank With Me
Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Pages: 304 p
Published: February 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A quirky, quirky novel.

From the publisher:
Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.


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Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 439 p
Published: April 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The fourth and final installment of the Raven Cycle.

Series recap:
If you're unfamiliar with the series, here's a quick rundown of the plot: The Raven Cycle follows four teenage boys from the prestigious Aglionby Academy in Virginia: Richard Gansey III, Ronan Lynch, Adam Parrish, and Noah Czerny. After being killed in a bee attack (and brought back to life) as a child, Gansey has been on an unstoppable mission to uncover the truth behind Virginia's mysterious "ley lines" and the secret of the ancient Welsh king, Glendower, whom he believes is buried somewhere on the ley lines. His search for Glendower accelerates when he meets Blue, a townie from a family of psychics. Since birth, Blue's fate has been written in the stars: if she ever kisses her one true love, he will die. Thus, she avoids boys — especially Aglionby boys. But when she meets Gansey and his friends, she gets sucked into their search — and she finds herself falling a little bit in love with them all. Despite her growing love for the Raven Boys, she cannot forget one simple truth: her psychic family predicts that Gansey will die before the next St. Mark's Eve.
h/t: Bustle

I suppose part of my love of this series has been listening to the audio version with the incredible performance by Will Patton. He is a gifted narrator. I will miss this magical, fantasy world and this cast of characters. After four books, I feel as though they are my friends, almost. It's the same fond feeling I get with some of my students--I wish our relationship would last outside the parameters of the classroom (and in this case outside their fictional world).

One thing I didn't like is how some characters are developed for the sake of developing characters. They don't serve to move the plot along and make random appearances throughout the series.

Other than that, I will definitely read more by this author.




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Title: Musseled Out
Author: Barbara Ross
Pages: 304 p
Published: April 2015
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is the third installment of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. I absolutely love the setting in Mid-Coast Maine and the cast of characters who are so real! There are solid twists and turns and a couple of red herrings.

From the publisher:
The busy summer tourist season is winding down in Busman's Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden senses trouble simmering for the Snowden Family Clambake Company. Shifty David Thwing--the "Mussel King" of upscale seafood restaurants--is sniffing around town for a new location. But serving iffy clams turns out to be the least of his troubles. . .

When Thwing is found sleeping with the fishes beneath a local lobsterman's boat, the police quickly finger Julia's brother-in-law Sonny as the one who cooked up the crime. Sure, everyone knows Sonny despised the Mussel King. . .but Julia believes he's innocent. Proving it won't be easy, though. It seems there's a lot more than murder on the menu, and Julia needs to act fast. . .

And I found out the 4th is available now!




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Title: Don't You Cry
Author: Mary Kubica
Pages: 320 p
Published: May 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


This is the third novel by this author. She writes thrilling, twisty stories. I listened to this audio book and wonder if I would have loved it if I had read it instead of really liking it as a listen. I liked the setting--how the story switched location from a Chicago neighborhood to a suburb immediately outside the city. Even though I have never been there, I had a sense of place. And I felt the cold!

I didn't care much for the narrator; Quinn Collins did not grow on me. She was too stereotyped and cliched. I don't know if the reader is supposed to like her, but she was way too self-centered and shallow. I almost wish there had been some narrative from Esther Vaughn's point of view. Esther was a compelling and complex character. I was very caught up in her story! I didn't relate well to Alex Gallow, the 18-year-old sad sack of a boy, either. I thought he was kind of whiny.

From the publisher:
In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.




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Title: The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy
Author: Rachel Joyce
Pages: 352 p
Published: October 2014
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It's not a prequel nor is it a sequel, but it's a companion book which can stand alone, to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This time, the story is told from Queenie Hennessy's perspective. It took awhile to get into it, but Queenie is a very human character. Told through flashbacks to the four years Queenie worked with, and secretly loved, Harold Fry to the ending of her life in hospice. The secondary characters at the hospice were rich. There is a tender sense of inevitability in this story--set at a hospice.

From the publisher:
When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait?

A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past. As the volunteer points out, 'Even though you've done your travelling, you're starting a new journey too.'

Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was the beginning.







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Title: The Nest
Author: Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Pages: 368 p
Published: March 2016
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a much-hyped book. At first, I didn't get it--why the hype? But when I finished it, I get it. It's a look at siblings, dynamics, and inheritance. They're actually rather unlikable characters but they are very real people, warts and all. Their inheritance, dubbed The Nest, is as much a character as any of the siblings. I liked the story arc. And it's a debut novel from a promising writer.







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Title: With Malice
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 316 p
Published: June 2016
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It's a YA thriller. I thought the relationship between Jill and Simone was well-developed. The parents were stereotypes, which was annoying. But it's a good concept, told through flashback, court documents, emails, and text messages.

From the publisher:
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.



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Title: The Pursuit
Author: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Pages: 320 p
Published: June 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#5 in the series and it's got all the snappy dialogue and adventure of the others. This series is so much fun! Diamonds, castles, catacombs, contagions, and intrigue!

From the publisher:
Nicolas Fox, international con man, thief, and one of the top ten fugitives on the FBI's most-wanted list, has been kidnapped from a beachfront retreat in Hawaii. What the kidnapper doesn't know is that Nick Fox has been secretly working for the FBI. It isn't long before Nick's covert partner, Special Agent Kate O'Hare, is in hot pursuit of the crook who stole her con man.

The trail leads to Belgium, France, and Italy, and pits Nick and Kate against their deadliest adversary yet: Dragan Kovic, an ex - Serbian military officer. He's plotting a crime that will net him billions . . . and cost thousands of American lives.

Nick and Kate have to mount the most daring, risky, and audacious con they've ever attempted to save a major U.S. city from a catastrophe of epic proportions. Luckily they have the help of an eccentric out-of-work actor, a bandit who does his best work in the sewers, and Kate's dad, Jake. The pressure's on for Nick and Kate to make this work - even if they have to lay their lives on the line.






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Title: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Pages: 512 p
Published: January 2014
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is quite a book--a rags to riches tale, an immigrant tale, and kind of a tale of the evolution of consumerism. I really enjoyed it. I loved Lillian's brash voice. I could hear her in my head. I wasn't sure if I should root for her or despise her, she makes some terrible choices but rises from the most horrifying circumstances.

From the publisher:
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.

Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" -- doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.

Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.






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Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 228 p
Published: May 2014
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

From the publisher:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.


I liked that the main character was an unreliable narrator--that was suspenseful. I liked the exploration of privilege and greed and how the Liars are fighting that life. I didn't much care for the adult characters, they weren't well-developed; they were cliches. I liked the author's use of fairy tales and legends.




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Title: The Royal We
Author: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Pages: 455 p
Published: April 2015
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was a great summer read! Not only did I love the main characters, the secondary characters are quite real and very enjoyable, too. It was hard not to compare this story with William & Kate.


From the publisher:
American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy-tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess. But it's adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall - and thus Bex who accidentally finds herself in love with the eventual heir to the British throne. Nick is everything she could have imagined, but Prince Nicholas has unimaginable baggage: grasping friends, a thorny family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a native. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex reflects on what she's sacrificed for love -- and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.







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Title: The Invisible Ones
Author: Stef Penney
Pages: 399 p
Published: August 2011
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


I liked this book, a lot. Because it's set in the 80s, there isn't a reliance on whiz-bang technology so the story unfolds at a slow pace; which isn't saying this book is slow, it gripped me from the beginning and there is a lot of well-developed tension. It reminds me of old-style detectives, like Philip Marlowe.

From the publisher:
Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium in a hospital bed. But before the accident that landed him there, he had promised to find Rose Janko. Rose was married to the charismatic son of a travelling gypsy family, Ivo Janko. When Ray starts to investigate her disappearance he's surprised that her family are so hostile towards him. The Jankos have not had an easy past. They are a clan touched by tragedy - either they are cursed, or they are hiding a terrible secret. Could it be that Rose's discovery of that secret led to her disappearance all those years ago? Soon Ray wishes that he'd never asked the question.




Let me add: I listened to the audio because the narrator is Dan Stevens, who is incredible! Stevens is of Downton Abbey fame, he is Matthew Crawley.






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Title: Desire Lines
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Pages: 320 p
Published: December 1998
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I love this author. She writes about real people. Flawed people. And in this book, the setting of Bangor, Maine, is evocative of the actual city. Maybe that's why I felt connected to the people. I thought it was interesting how Kathryn becomes frozen in time, unable to process the loss of her best friend. It shades every relationship and situation she is in, even after ten years.

From the publisher:
On the night of her high school graduation in 1986, Kathryn Campbell's best friend, Jennifer, vanished without a trace. It's been ten years since then, but Kathryn still feels the conspicuous void in her life - and the nagging, guilty sense that she has failed her friend.

When a divorce sends Kathryn reeling back to the Maine town where she grew up, the young journalist finds herself face-to-face with her past. At twenty-eight, she's been living for far too long on memories and questions; now she needs to take a hard look at her own life at the same time that she is delving into the mystery of what happened to her friend.

As she explores the seemingly random series of events that led up to Jennifer's disappearance, a pattern slowly begins to take shape. All the puzzle pieces are at her fingertips - it's a matter of whether Kathryn can put them together in a way that makes sense. As she faces her own fear and grief, she is finally able to come to terms with the ways in which the loss of her friend has shaped her life and the lives of those who knew her. In the process, Kathryn realizes that if she is ever going to understand the circumstances of Jennifer's disappearance, she is going to have to expose herself to the same risks and dangers. Ultimately, Kathryn's quest to find out the truth becomes a quest to save her own life as she races against time to keep Jennifer's fate from becoming hers.








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Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Pages: 368 p
Published: February 2012
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There are a lot of story lines that are dealt with head on: a sibling in prison, a love of literature, PTSD from serving in a war, family dynamics, and finding yourself. It's set in 1987, which allows for a bit of innocence because of the lack of technology. And the LGBTQ aspects of the story are beautifully handled.

I loved the characters of Ari and Dante. Actually, all the characters are complex. I loved that the parents weren't idiots, absent, or stereotypes.


From the publisher:
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.






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Title: Broken Harbor
Author: Tana French
Pages: 533 p
Published: July 2012
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the fourth installment of the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. They are stand alone books with a thread of characters from previous books--so they don't need to be read together or in order.

This is a compelling book. I actually listened to it for six hours straight--I was lost in the story and lost track of time, while knitting. I loved the narration. And the writing is rich, there were times I backed up the audio so I could hear bits again. I also read it in bed, because I couldn't wait to see how it ended.

Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is the lead detective and his newbie partner, Richie Curran, makes a nice foil. However, toward the end of the story, I wasn't sure if Mick was a reliable narrator or not. Another deft layer.

From the publisher:
In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin – half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned – two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.

Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family, one summer at Broken Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . . .











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Title: The Summer We Read Gatsby
Author: Danielle Ganek
Pages: 304 p
Published: May 2010
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Finished re-reading The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek. I remembered liking it, that it was about sisters, that there was some romance, mystery, and a lovely beach setting but I didn't remember anything else. It was a solid re-read and I'm excited to talk about it with my book group. My original review stands, although I would give it 3.5 instead of 4.











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Title: Before We Visit the Goddess
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Pages: 224 p
Published: April 2016
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I was reluctant to pick up this book. Even though it was part of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Minimalist Reading Guide, I hesitated. But I'm so glad I read it. It's a beautiful tale of multi-generational women who uncover their loving bond through revealing their inner selves. I'm not doing a good job of explaining this, but, it's a lovely book that explores relationships and expectations that mothers, daughters, and granddaughters have of each other. The writing is lyrical, there were several sentences I re-read because of their beauty and simplicity.

From the publisher:
The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgivable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover—but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak, and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

A couple of stand out quotes:
-“He gave me a look. I was not sure what it meant. Overnight, I had become expressions-illiterate.”

– “She says, ‘Why are you attracted to self-sabotage?’ I don’t know Dr. Berger. It is because it takes less courage to hurt oneself than to hurt others?”



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Title: The One-In-A-Million Boy
Author: Monica Wood
Pages: 304 p
Published: April 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I don't even know where to start with this book--it's an examination of loneliness, friendship, and family. It's about the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and who we are. I liked that the central figure is never named, only referred to as The Boy. I listened to it as well as read it--and my only complaint is that the narrator doesn't quite capture the Maine accent, it sounds more like Boston. Other than that, the narration is deft!

From the publisher:
For years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig, largely absentto his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness records obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son s unfinished Boy Scout badge.For seven Saturdays, Quinn does yard work for Ona Vitkus, the spry 104-year-old Lithuanian immigrant the boy hadvisited weekly.Quinn soon discovers that the boy had talked Ona into gunning for the world record for Oldest Licensed Driver and that s the least of her secrets. Despite himself, Quinn picks up where the boy left off, forging a friendship with Ona that allows him to know the son he never understood, a boy who was always listening, always learning.













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Title: Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide -- Revised & Updated
Author: David N. Daniels, Virginia Price
Pages: 128 p
Published: May 2009
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Getting back into school mode, I decided to see how I can play off my strengths and strengthen my weaknesses.

I liked that the self-test is easy. But more than that, I liked the layout of the type analysis. Highlighting pitfalls and the progressive steps to take to avoid them. I need the reflective activities that are throughout the book--from the breathing/centering activities to the journal prompts. This can help me be an even more effective teacher.


From the publisher:
The First and Only Scientifically Determined Enneagram Personality Test and Guide

A centuries-old psychological system with roots in sacred tradition, the Enneagram can be an invaluable guide in your journey toward self-understanding and self-development. In this book, Stanford University Medical School clinical professor of psychiatry David Daniels and counseling psychologist Virginia Price offer the only scientifically developed Enneagram test based upon extensive research combined with a self-discovery and personal-development guide.

The most fundamental guide to the Enneagram ever offered, this book features effective self-tests to determine simply and accurately what your personality type is. Daniels and Price provide step-by-step instructions for taking inventory of how you think, what you feel, and what you experience. They then guide you in your discovery of what your type means for your personal well-being and your relationships with others, and they show you how to maximize your inherent strengths. Brimming with empowering information for each of the nine personality types—Perfectionist, Giver, Performer, Romantic, Observer, Loyal Skeptic, Epicure, Protector, and Mediator—this one-of-a-kind book equips you with all the tools you need to dramatically enhance your quality of life.




*************************************************
Title: The Forgetting Time
Author: Sharon Guskin
Pages: 304 p
Published: February 2016
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I liked that there was some mystery to this book, some intrigue. I liked that the book included some case studies, from real cases. I liked that the characters were facing situations that pushed them to their limits, and how they responded. And I liked that it's a story about the bonds between mother and child, through layers of frantic worry and grief. The question of reincarnation is fascinating.

From the publisher:
Noah wants to go home. A seemingly easy request from most four year olds. But as Noah's single-mother, Janie, knows, nothing with Noah is ever easy. One day the pre-school office calls and says Janie needs to come in to talk about Noah, and no, not later, now - and life as she knows it stops.

For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has stopped. A deadly diagnosis has made him realize he is approaching the end of his life. His first thought - I'm not finished yet. Once a shining young star in academia, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw it all away because of an obsession. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he didn't care - something had to be going on beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for that something else. And with Noah, he thinks he's found it.

Soon Noah, Janie and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years - and when that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.




*************************************************
Title: Norwegian by Night
Author: Derek B. Miller
Pages: 303 p
Published: June 2012
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

There were a couple of draggy parts, mostly the flashbacks, but I thought it was quite good. There is some humor, some mystery, some thrilling parts, and the relationship between Sheldon and the boy he rescues is sweet. One of the interesting plot devices is the dementia question--Sheldon's wife had hinted that he suffers from it and Sheldon's story unfolds contradicting that notion. But does he?

From the publisher:
He will not admit it to Rhea and Lars - never, of course not - but Sheldon can't help but wonder what it is he's doing here..

Eighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband. An ex-Marine, he talks often to the ghosts of his past - the friends he lost in the Pacific and the son who followed him into the US Army, and to his death in Vietnam.

When Sheldon witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment complex, he rescues her six-year-old son and decides to run. Pursued by both the Balkan gang responsible for the murder, and the Norwegian police, he has to rely on training from over half a century before to try and keep the boy safe. Against a strange and foreign landscape, this unlikely couple, who can't speak the same language, start to form a bond that may just save them both.






*************************************************
Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
Pages: 418 p
Published: May 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I couldn't put this book down. Flawed, shallow, poignant characters.

From the publisher:
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.





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Title: Alice's Tulips
Author: Sandra Dallas
Pages: 256 p
Published: September 2001
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Alice lives with her mother-in-law on their Iowa farm while her new husband is fighting for the Union in the Civil War and her story is told through letters written to her sister Lizzie. Letters to Lizzie and quilting are the bright spots in her hardscrabble life.

I love the letter format, although there is a lot of dialogue. And the detail of the difficulty that war places on those on the home front is rich.


From the publisher:
Alice Bullock is a young newlywed whose husband, Charlie, has just joined the Union Army, leaving her on his Iowa farm with only his formidable mother for company. Alice writes lively letters to her sister filled with accounts of local quilting bees, the rigors of farm life, and the customs of small-town America. But no town is too small for intrigue and treachery, and when Alice finds herself accused of murder, she discovers her own hidden strengths.




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Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Pages: 343 p
Published: July 2016
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. Unfortunately, it read like fanfiction--not that there's anything wrong with fanfiction, but I missed the complexity and nuances of JK Rowling's writing!

It was fun to revisit the characters and meet the next generation of Potters-Grangers-Weasleys.

From the publisher:
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.




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Title: Serpent (NUMA Files #1)
Author: Clive Cussler
Pages: 480 p
Published: June, 1999
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


I read this for a book group. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have finished it. It was predictable. The characters were flat and cliche. I wasn't interested in the setting or the plot. I gave it a "meh."

From the publisher:
On the bottom of the icy sea off Nantucket lies the battered remains of the Italian luxury liner, Andrea Doria. But few know that within its bowels rests a priceless pre-Columbian antiquity—a treasure that now holds the key to a puzzle that is costing people their lives. For Kurt Austin, the leader of a courageous National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) exploration team, the killing begins when he makes a daring rescue of a beautiful marine archaeologist. The target of a powerful Texas industrialist named Halcon, Nina Kirov was attacked off the coast of Morocco after her discovery of a carved stone head that may prove Christopher Columbus was not the first European to discover America.

Soon Kurt and Nina embark on a deadly mission to uncover Halcon's masterful plan—an insidious scheme that would have him carve out a new nation from the southwest United States and Mexico, and ride to power on a wave of death and destruction. With Austin's elite NUMA crew attacking the murderous conspiracy from different sides, an extraordinary truth emerges; that Columbus may have made a fifth, unknown voyage to America in search of a magnificent treasure. And that the silent, steel hull of the Andrea Doria not only holds the answer to what the explorer may have found—but the fate of the United States itself.




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Title: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald
Pages: 300 p
Published: July 2014
My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I tried three times to get into and finish this book. I was determined to get through it. I didn't enjoy it. I should have realized I wouldn't because I don't like birds. So I couldn't connect with a woman who works through grief by training a goshawk. I thought it would be more about her grief process. But it is more like a book about birds. Blah. I finished it! Why, oh why did it win so much praise?

From the publisher:
When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer's eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.




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Title: Born Standing Up
Author: Steve Martin
Pages: 207 p
Published: November 2007
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I've always enjoyed Steve Martin so I was excited to hear is memoir. It's specific to his years in stand up comedy. By listening to the audio I missed seeing the photos included in the book--but I feel like I gained a lot by hearing him read it.

From the publisher:
In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of "why I did stand-up and why I walked away."

Emmy and Grammy Award winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been a writer. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.

At age ten Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory. The dedication to excellence and innovation is formed at an astonishingly early age and never wavers or wanes.

Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely. It took Martin decades to reconnect with his parents and sister, and he tells that story with great tenderness. Martin also paints a portrait of his times-the era of free love and protests against the war in Vietnam, the heady irreverence of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late sixties, and the transformative new voice of Saturday Night Live in the seventies.


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Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 254 p
Published: September 2006
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was Gillian Flynn's debut novel--and it was a quick read. For a debut novel, it was intricate and twisty. I was a bit disappointed in the very end of the book, it felt rushed. And I wish there was more of Camille's stay at the psych hospital. For a piece of plot that was stressed it wasn't developed enough.

From the publisher:
Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.



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Title: The Ghosts of Belfast
Author: Stuart Neville
Pages: 336 p
Published: October 2009
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a gritty, dark book. The violence and language were cringe worthy. But I can't stop thinking about it. In my penchant for reading Irish lit, this thriller gripped me from the first words. The main character is unlikeable but I liked him. I felt sorry for him, even though he is a very bad man. It's a complex story. But it's excessively violent. It will take me a while to decide if I want to continue the series. I almost think I will, for although I am drained by this book, I want to know more!

From the publisher:
Fegan has been a “hard man,” an IRA killer in northern Ireland. Now that peace has come, he is being haunted day and night by twelve ghosts: a mother and infant, a schoolboy, a butcher, an RUC constable, and seven other of his innocent victims. In order to appease them, he’s going to have to kill the men who gave him orders.

As he’s working his way down the list he encounters a woman who may offer him redemption; she has borne a child to an RUC officer and is an outsider too. Now he has given Fate—and his quarry—a hostage. Is this Fegan’s ultimate mistake?



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Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 336 p
Published: September 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the book I want my friends to read. It's the intricacies of relationships--siblings, steps, parents--a meditation of what family is. When I finished I wanted to re-read it immediately.

From the publisher:
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.






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Title: Chains
Author: Laure Halse Anderson
Pages: 316 p
Published: October 2008
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A great historical fiction book! I was so saddened by Isabel's treatment--Mrs. Lockton is petty and cruel.

From the publisher:
Freedom. In 1776 New England, that word is on everyone's lips. But for 13-year-old Isabel, the word holds a different meaning, especially after the only mistress she has ever known dies, and instead of receiving the freedom promised, she and her younger sister, Ruth, are sold to the Locktons, a wealthy New York family.

In a matter of hours, Isabel has to leave bucolic Rhode Island for the hustle and bustle of colonial New York City - a community intensely divided and caught up in the American colonies struggle for independence. As Isabel tries to work out her own freedom, she soon finds herself a pawn in a game of cat-and-mouse between the Locktons, who are fierce supporters of the king, and the growing rebel forces trying to take over the city.

Alliances are made and promises are broken, and Isabel learns the hard way that the "freedom" she's being asked to spy for does not extend to her. And when her beloved Ruth is sold off, she begins to discover that the only freedom she'll ever have is the freedom she takes for herself.



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Title: Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Author: Eli Brown
Pages: 318 p
Published: June 2013
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A re-read for my book group. Still a fun read. Here's my original review.









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Title: The Woman In Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Pages: 352 p
Published: July 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I thought this was a very taught thriller. I resented having to put it down! The narrator, Laura "Lo" Blacklock is a high-end travel writer with the opportunity of a lifetime--she is tapped to fill in for her boss and go on the maiden voyage of a boutique, high-end, luxury cruise ship. This could be the big break of her career. Just days before she is to embark on this opportunity, she is burgled and attacked by an intruder; on the heels of the burglary she has a major blowout with her boyfriend which puts her relationship status in jeopardy. Sleep deprived and anxiety riddled, Lo embarks on a cruise through the fjords.

It's a classic mystery thriller--an unreliable narrator, a claustrophobic setting, and suspense to spare.

From the publisher:
In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…











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Title: Paris for One & Other Stories
Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 288 p
Published: October 2016
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This collection of stories is just the bon bon of a book that I needed: Romance, resillience, and coming into one's own. I really want the author, Jojo Moyes, to write the story of my life. Her care of characters and details, her witty dialog would make it a great story. What I mean is, she can take the ordidnary and elevate it to the extraordinary.

From the publisher:
Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She’s never even been on a weekend away—to anywhere, and certainly not with her boyfriend. Everyone knows traveling abroad isn’t really her thing. But when Nell’s boyfriend fails to show up for their romantic mini-vacation, she has the opportunity to prove everyone—including herself—wrong. Alone and in Paris, Nell uncovers a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid. Adventurous, funny, and charming, Paris for One is vintage Moyes—as are the eight stories that round out the collection.





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Title: Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day
Author: Aaron Sams, Jonathan Bergmann
Pages: 120 p
Published: June 2012
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A book for school. I liked it. Don't know how it would apply to a social studies classroom, though.

From the publisher:
It started with a simple observation: students need their teachers present to answer questions or to provide help if they get stuck on an assignment they don't need their teachers present to listen to a lecture or review content. From there, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams began the flipped classroom-students watched recorded lectures for homework and completed their assignments, labs, and tests in class with their teacher available.
What Bergmann and Sams found was that their students demonstrated a deeper understanding of the material than ever before. This is the authors' story, and they're confident it can be yours too. Learn what a flipped classroom is and why it works and get the information you need to flip a classroom.

You'll also learn the flipped mastery model, where students learn at their own pace-furthering opportunities for personalized education. This simple concept is easily replicable in any classroom, doesn't cost much to implement, and helps foster self-directed learning. Once you flip, you won't want to go back!

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is the trusted source for professional development, knowledge generation, advocacy and leadership for innovation. ISTE is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology in PK-12 and teacher education. Home of the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), the Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET), and ISTE's annual conference (formerly known as the National Educational Computing Conference, or NECC), ISTE represents more than 100,000 professionals worldwide. We support our members with information, networking opportunities, and guidance as they face the challenge of transforming education.

Some of the areas in which we publish are:
-Web. 2.0 in the classroom-RSS, podcasts, and more
-National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)
-Professional development for educators and administrators
-Integrating technology into the classroom and curriculum
-Safe practices for the Internet and technology
-Educational technology for parents





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Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Pages: 720 p
Published: March 2015
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book stirred up a lot of emotions--I felt joy and horror, sadness, bleakness, affection, hope, love, and curiosity. Physically felt these emotions as I was listening. It is an investment at 700+ pages or 33 hours audio, and I feel accomplished for having finished it. The narrator, Oliver Wyman, had subtle tone changes and vocal characterizations that were amazing. It's a brilliant book. I can't stop thinking and feeling about it. And I mean physical reactions--my heart would pound, I would gasp aloud, I was moved to tears, I chuckled in a couple of places. It's challenging and difficult and beautiful.

From the publisher:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

What I liked: the study of friendship: over decades the four friends squabble, fight, and love unconditionally. The study of art: The characters are linked together by different mediums of art. And art is a thread throughout the book--from music to architecture to visual art. The unfolding of stories: although it is described as the story of four friends it is really about Jude. The author slowly unveils Jude's harrowing life story. The study of family: by the end of the book, friendships have transcended to family.

What I didn't like: the lack of chronology: there are no cultural, historical references at all to anchor this narrative. The lack of professional struggle: there are few instances of characters struggling in their careers, it's highly unlikely that they would all rise to the top of their professions. The continual apologies: if I had a nickel for each "I'm sorry" uttered, I'd be debt-free.




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Title: How It All Began
Author: Penelope Lively
Pages: 229 p
Published: January 2012
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A delightful, light read that follows a chain reaction through all the characters. I really enjoyed it.

From the publisher:
Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer Lord Peters to Manchester, which means his niece Marion has to go instead, which means she sends a text to her lover which is intercepted by his wife, which is . . . just the beginning in the ensuing chain of life-altering events.

In this engaging, utterly absorbing and brilliantly told novel, Penelope Lively shows us how one random event can cause marriages to fracture and heal themselves, opportunities to appear and disappear, lovers who might never have met to find each other and entire lives to become irrevocably changed.







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Title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author: Katarina Bivald
Pages: 394 p
Published: June 2015
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a love letter to book lovers. I liked the references to books. I liked the small-town America setting (it could have been anywhere, not just the mid-west). I liked the secondary characters. I liked the concept. I liked how letters introduced each chapter.

I didn't like the translation, however, I suspect that some of the richness of the story was lost to the relatively simplistic wording of the translation.

From the publisher:
Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy's funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don't understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that's almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.




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Title: The Grand Sophy
Author: Georgette Heyer
Pages: 352 p
Published: 1950
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I haven't read a Regency romance in probably 40 years and this was fun. I love the hijinx of the titular character and how she lovingly teases people into doing what she wants. It's my December library book group selection. Predictable but fun.

From the publisher:
When the redoubtable Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy is ordered to South America on Diplomatic Business he parks his only daughter Sophy with his sister's family, the Ombersleys, in Berkeley Square.

Upon her arrival, Sophy is bemused to see to see her cousins are in a sad tangle. The heartless and tyrannical Charles is betrothed to a pedantic bluestocking almost as tiresome as himself; Cecilia is besotted with a beautiful but quite feather-brained poet; and Hubert has fallen foul of a money-lender.

It looks like the Grand Sophy has arrived just in time to sort them out, but she hasn't reckoned with Charles, the Ombersleys' heir, who has only one thought - to marry her off and rid the family of her meddlesome ways.





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Title: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
Pages: 360 p
Published: February 2010
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I almost forgot to talk about this book. It's historical fiction, set in the 1790s into the early 1800s, in Virginia. The central figure, Lavinia, is an orphaned Irish girl who becomes an indentured servant living in the care of plantation slaves. It's a well-researched look at the harsh reality of plantation life.

There are a couple of slow patches, but overall I was drawn into Lavinia's story and rooted for her. Some of the secondary characters (mainly the Pyke family) are cliched. But overall it was good historical fiction. I'm interested to see how my book group reacts.

From the publisher:
Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.

In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.





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Title: Small Great Things
Author: Jodi Picoult
Pages: 470 p
Published: October 2016
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wow--what a thought-provoking, timely book. The audio version is well performed. All three voices are spot-on!

From the publisher:
Ruth, an African-American nurse, has worked at a CT hospital for nearly twenty years as a labor and delivery nurse. So when a young couple, Turk and Brittany, come into the hospital to have their baby, it is business as usual -- until Turk calls in Ruth’s white supervisor after the birth. He says, “I don’t want her or anyone like her to touch my boy,” and pulls up his sleeve to reveal a swastika tattoo: he and his wife are Skinheads. The hospital is used to making patient requests -- they have women who request female OBs, and others who don’t want be cared for by a resident. So a note is placed on the baby’s file and all African-American staff are exempted from caring from that patient -- meaning Ruth, who is the only Black nurse on the ward. The baby is taken to the nursery a day after its birth so circumcision can be done. However, Ruth’s nursing colleague is called away on an emergency C section and Ruth is the only person in the nursery when the baby has cardiac/respiratory failure. After a brief hesitation – she intervenes – and yet, the baby dies. Not long after that, Ruth learns she has been charged with negligent homicide by the state.

Ruth’s attorney is a white woman -Kennedy McQuarrie- who would not consider herself a racist by any means. Like Ruth, she has a child. But unlike Ruth, her family has never had to think about race on a daily basis. In spite of the evidence and the request of a Skinhead barring Ruth from doing her job, Kennedy knows she won’t talk about race in court, because she’d run the risk of polarizing the jury or the judge and losing the case. But to Ruth, that’s not justice.

As the two women form an alliance, and then an unlikely friendship, Kennedy begins to see that racism isn’t just about intent, but power. That even if Skinheads like Turk did not exist, Ruth would still be fighting an uphill battle. And she begins to seek a way to make a predominantly white jury see that they are responsible for the house they did not build…but in which they live.





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Title: The Xmas Factor
Author: Annie Sanders
Pages: 309 p
Published: December 2006
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It would be easy to dismiss this as *just* chick-lit and pass over it but I'm so glad I read it. The characters are real grown ups. They aren't damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by romance. They are competent women who find themselves overwhelmed by circumstances and they figure out how to resolve them. I liked that.

I liked how the characters' stories finally wound together. It was a count-down to Christmas. I think it will become an annual tradition.

From the publisher:
Meet two women with two totally different approaches to the festive season. Beth: it's only September and already she has performance anxiety. Not surprising when she has agreed to lay on the annual Christmas Eve village bash - the piece de resistance of her husband's former wife - not to mention having to host Christmas for his difficult offspring. New to this frenzied build-up to the festivities, Beth begins to lose sight of what it all means. To her the Christmas lights are looking more like the headlamps of an oncoming train. Carol: glamorous magazine editor, who put her aspirational Christmas issue to bed sometime in July and is so involved in finding a scoop to save her ailing magazine that she fails to notice the impending festive rush. Panicked and wracked with guilt, she is determined to make it a picture perfect time for her little boy and, opting for convenience, books a lovely-sounding cottage in a quaint village. Even the best laid plans have a habit of unravelling - and no plan at all is a recipe for disaster. So when these two Christmases collide, it looks like it's going to be anything but goodwill towards men...





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Title: Little Donkey
Author: Jodi Taylor
Pages: 40 p
Published: March 2015
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A cute holiday read. The continuation of The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor.


















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Title: A Dog Named Christmas; The Stupidest Angel; Never Kiss A Man In A Christmas Sweater
Author: Greg Kincaid; Christopher Moore; Debbie Johnson
Pages: 128 p; 306 p; 187 p
Published: Nov 2008; Oct 2008; Nov 2015
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars; 3.5 out of 5 stars; 4 out of 5 stars


I've been slacking off on recording my reading this holiday season. But I've read a few really fun books:

A very sweet story--with loveable dogs! From the publisher:
When Todd McCray, a developmentally challenged young man still living on his parents’ Kansas farm, hears that a local animal shelter is seeking temporary homes for its dogs during the days leading to Christmas, he knows exactly what he wants for the holidays. His father objects, but Todd’s persistence quickly wins out. Soon the McCrays are the short-term foster family for a lovable pooch the young man names Christmas.

But what about all the other dogs who will be forced to spend the Yuletide season in cages? In the days that follow, Todd uses his special gifts of persuasion to encourage his hometown to participate in the “Adopt a Dog for Christmas Program.” What follows from his small act of kindness will teach his family, and his community, about peace on earth and good will toward men—and animals.

I'm not so sure what to say about this book--it's weird and funny. Profane and wickedly fun. Zombies at Christmas!
From the publisher:
'Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine Cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he's not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn't run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven-year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead.

But hold on! There's an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It's none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel's not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say "Kris Kringle," he's botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen.



A very fun holiday rom-com! From the publisher:
You’ve seen Mark Darcy in the reindeer jumper his mother gave him, now meet Marco Cavelli in this season’s Christmas knit!

For single mum Maggie, Christmas has always been a family occasion – her daughter Ellen filling the house with her bubbly warmth and mistletoe, her dad Paddy having one too many festive tipples, and the traditional family Christmas tree looking like a drunken elf vomited a rainbow all over it.

But this year, with both Ellen and Paddy away for the holidays, Maggie’s facing a truly blue Christmas – alone with nothing but a bottle of Baileys and an M&S turkey dinner.

Until walking the snowy streets of Oxford, Marco Cavelli quite literally crashes into her life – and, complete with broken leg, becomes her unexpected houseguest. All dreamy brown eyes and 6’5” of gorgeousness, the man is hotter and more delicious than a freshly baked mince pie.

Though Maggie always thought it’s a truth universally acknowledged that you never kiss a man in a Christmas jumper?