Saturday, January 25, 2020

CHALLENGE: What's in a Name?


I haven't joined an actual challenge in quite a while, other than the Canadian Book Challenge which I haven't officially completed in a while, or the RIP challenge, which isn't a challenge for me when most of what I read is mystery and suspense books. Anyway. The challenge is now hosted at Carolina Book Nook; head there to sign up.

I participated in the What's in a Name for many years, from 2008 until 2014 when I DNF'd with 3/5 books read. But I'm feeling the need to make a list of possible books, and this is the perfect challenge for that. The topics this year, with my possibilities are:



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Newest Additions to Shelves




Top Ten Tuesday topic today is the most recent additions to my shelves. This will give me a chance to write some mini-reviews of books I've recently finished, and a chance to look forward to some books upcoming. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Arty Reader Girl - check her blog out for links to other participants, and to find future topics.


  • To the Land of Long Lost Friends: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #20  by Alexander McCall Smith (Jan 17)
  • My library has been slow to add this to its catalogue, but I finally got myself on the waiting list, should be a few weeks til I get to spend some lovely time in Botswana with some old friends.



Still Midnight by Denise Mina (Jan 11)
I'm listening to this great Scottish police mystery, the first of five books with Alex Morrow as the tortured lead character. With only two hours left to read, I definitely will listen to more of these books.


  • Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (Jan 5)
  • Quick graphic novel read that takes place on the last night of pumpkin season at a pumpkin patch with two high-schoolers who will be heading off to university. It's a sweet friendship book, with amazing food as the two friends make it a night to remember.



  • We Met in December by Rosie Curtis (Dec 30, 2019)
  • Cute little British rom-com that I listened to to start the year. (Should have read this in December, obvs) Two great main characters sharing a flat with other housemates but are interested but know they shouldn't get involved - it's actually a house rule. But as the year proceeds...


The Art of Theft: The Lady Sherlock Series, Book 4 by Sherry Thomas (Dec 29, 2019)

This series does not disappoint at all! Charlotte and her merry gang of misfits head to France to try and obtain a painting that may contain some blackmail information about a client. We learn more about Mrs Watson's previous life, Charlotte's sisters continue to be a part of the story, and Charlotte and Lord Ingram continue their back and forth. Moriarity's are still always in the background. Fans of Sherlock Holmes should enjoy.


  • We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Dec 25, 2019)
  • I borrowed the audio book after seeing this book on the Tournament of Books 2020 play-in list. I think I get what the author was aiming for, but I found it too bleak, and upsetting to enjoy. Set in a slightly future America, where race relations have not improved like you might hope, a father is trying to get his mixed race son surgery to prevent his birthmark from spreading. I didn't like the father and his blaming, and the author knew readers wouldn't like him and he even gives a speech defending his decisions, but it didn't help me. 


The Huntress by Kate Quinn (Dec 9, 2019)
  • My neighbour teacher brought this historical book in for me, with great recommendations and I can't wait to get to it. 


  • Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (Dec 5, 2019)
  • I'm in the process of reading this book, a longlist book from last year's Bailey's Prize for Fiction. Set in Maryland, a Chinese-American Jimmy is trying to open up a new restaurant, separate from the family Beijing Duck House. There are a bunch of characters, and I'm not completely sure what the main plot is yet. It is okay so far, and it reminds me of another book that I haven't quite been able to recognize.



  • Disappearing Earth  by Julia Phillips (Dec 5, 2019)
Now this book had a lot to recommend. First of all, the setting was in the far east of Russia, in the area known as Kamchatka Peninsula. I was not familiar with this, wouldn't even have thought people lived in this area; luckily a map is included. Bonus. The book starts with the disappearance of two young girls that we read from their perspective. The rest of the book, one chapter for each month, seems to become a series of stories about other characters in the area. Some of these characters are connected to each other, and then near the end, everything starts to come together in a satisfying way. 


  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (Dec 3, 2019)
  • I did enjoy this book but I read it in the weeks before Christmas, and I didn't get to get absorbed in in time-wise, which is too bad, because Chevalier is one of my favourite authors, and in another time, I should have loved this one because it had embroidery. Chevalier writes historical fiction so well, and her research on a topic is always enjoyable.
  • Set in the early 1930s, after WW1 in London, our main character, Violet has lost her brother and fiance in the war, and is a spinster. She is expected to look after her mother, with no regard to her choices. She rebels a bit, and gets a job in a nearby town, lives on her own, and gradually begins to make a life. She discovers a group of embroiderers at a cathedral, and finds her artistic side. She also makes friends with a male bell-ringer at the cathedral, and we get to learn a lot about bell-ringing. Chevalier covers a lot of social territory and commentary, including family obligations, women's roles in society, lesbians, unhappy marriages that won't divorce so lead to affairs, single mothers, and friendships. I would recommend this one especially for fans of historical fiction, England between the wars, and women's fiction. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

TOP TEN TUESDAY: New (female) Authors from 2019





Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week, my first week of 2020 posting, is a bookish discovery from last year. I'm choosing to highlight the new authors I discovered, and they all happen to be women. Some were so good I read more than one of their books.
For more topics, and links to other posts, see That Artsy Reader Girl, who hosts this weekly meme. 



1. Sherry Thomas
Author of the Charlotte Holmes mystery series, I really, really enjoyed this series. The first book, A Study in Scarlet Women, read the delightful Kate Reading, was a good start, and I had fun seeing how Thomas would feminize all the roles from the classic Sherlock Holmes series. By the time I got to the second and third books, I did the unusual for me - I listened to them back to back. I never do that with series! But A Conspiracy in Belgravia ended on a cliff hanger, and I was enjoying my walks with Charlotte, so I immediately downloaded the third book, The Hollow of Fear, and it picked up exactly where the other book ended. I walked a lot that day! This series is funny, exquisitely plotted, and has a large cast of delightful characters. I've already started my year by listening to the fourth edition, The Art of Theft. 



2. Dervla McTiernan
Cormac Reilly is my favourite new Irish detective. The tone feels a bit like Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, and Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike. I read both of McTiernan's books, The Ruin and The Scholar, and both were excellent. Waiting for the next book...


3. Sally Rooney
I became aware of Normal People when it was on the Bailey's Prize for Fiction longlist and ended up reading this as an ebook from Netgalley. I quite liked Normal People, enough to listen to Conversations With Friends as an audiobook. Both books didn't have the nicest people, but I liked the Irish vibe. 


4. Elly Griffiths
I heard about the Ruth Galloway archeologist series all around Librarything, and once I decided to read the first one, The Crossing Place, I proceeded to read another three. The personal life of Ruth is far more interesting than the mysteries she gets called in to consult on. Her relationship with the police DCI, Harry Nelson is the best part of the series, along with everyone's favourite druid, Cathbad. For some reason, books five, six and seven are missing from the libraries - both book and online, that I use. I'll have to find them somewhere.


5. Jacqueline Woodson
I listened to this blank verse memoir read by the author. It was engrossing, and lyrical, and excellent. A little girl growing up in South Carolina and New York, during the 60s and 70s, with the Civil Rights movement in the background. Just so well done.
I'm already on the waiting list for her latest book, Red at the Bone.


6.  Lisa Genova
I would definitely read another book by Genova, even if they all seem to be a disease of the week type books. I think she is more famous for Still Alice, about Alzheimer's that many people have recommended to me. Inside the O'Briens is about a Boston father who is diagnosed with Huntington's disease, a horrible hereditary disease. How the grown children and his wife, and he himself react and deal with their new reality is realistic and heartbreaking. I'll look for one of her other books for sure - Still Alice, Left Neglected, Every Note Played.


7. Melanie Benjamin
Benjamin seems to take real people and writes about their lives, but writes them as fictional, which makes a great narrative. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about Truman Capote (and I'm reading Furious Hours right now, about Harper Lee, and Capote comes up). I loved the crazy 1970s setting of New York City and the decadent lifestyle of Capote. Some of her other books cover people like Tom Thumb, Alice Liddell (Alice in Wonderland), Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Mary Pickford and Frances Marion. 



8. Susan Orlean
I love finding a new nonfiction author that tells a great story. Like everyone else, I liked the Library Book in how it covered many connected topics - the fire at the LA library, the history of libraries and librarians, all the good book stuff. I have her book Rin Tin Tin to read, the biography of the famous dog, and her more famous book, The Orchid Thief. 


9. Jasmine Guilllory
I'm not really much of a romance reader, but listening to The Proposal just before Christmas was the perfect book to listen during the craziness of December. The Proposal is actually the second book in this loosely connected series. The first book, The Wedding Date, has characters who are friends withe the main characters in The Proposal. The story was light, and you obviously hope they will get together, but my ultimate takeaway was how glad I'm not in the dating scene.


10. Rachel Kushner
The Mars Room was a well done story about women in prison, and while it wasn't an uplifting story, it was well written, and I liked how all the strands came together. Kushner has another book, The Flamethrowers, that I'd like to read. 

Lots of great new authors with many more books to look forward to by them. Sigh, So Many Book, So Little Time.




Saturday, January 4, 2020

LIST: Best Books of 2019

Top Five Books of the Year
1. Milkman
2. Where the Crawdads Sing
3. Murder at McDonalds: Killers Next Door
4. A Conspiracy in Belgravia
5. Olive, Again

25 nonfiction: 112 fiction = 137 books
90 female     46 male;  1 collection of assorted; 1 husband and wife;
78 audiobooks      16 ebook  26 library   


Best Mystery
A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (+ the other 2 in the Charlotte Holmes series from this year) What a fabulously fun series!

Honourable Mentions Best Mystery (because I read a lot of mysteries)
The Ruin, and The Scholar by Dervla MacTiernan
Well done mystery series set in Ireland, Cormac Reilly, is my new favourite police detective

Best Start to a Series 
Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
I read the first four in the Ruth Galloway series


Best End to a Series
The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
I was glad the Flavia series ended, but it ended well after ten books

Best Historical Series
Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor - 
I'm still loving the Irish Country Doctor series (1960s Ireland) 
Also Hugh de Singleton (1300s England) I read 3 more in this series this year

Best Recommended Book 
Bad Blood by John Carryou and Educated by Tara Westover were both highly recommended during Nonfiction November the year before, and they lived up to their hype

Best Childrens 
Al Capone Shines My Shoes, and Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko 

Best Young Adult 
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Best Book by a New to Me Author
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Truman Capote and the original housewives of New York, based on true events, and fabulous!

Favourite Characters
Lara Jean, Margot, and Kitty Song, the three sisters from the Jenny Han series, To All the Boys I've Loved Before. 

I read PS I Still Love You, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean to complete the series.


Best Science Fiction/Fantasy
Saga by Brian K Vaughan
- I read Vol 8& 9, but these were the only sci-fi/fantasy books I read this year, clearly not a genre I read much of

Best Historical Fiction 
The Chillbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
- love some British mid-century fiction!

Best  Book by a Tried and True Author 
I didn't realize how reliable Ann Patchett was, but the two books I read this year: Commonwealth, and The Dutch House were excellent and are sending me on a hunt for her backlist, other than State of Wonder and Bel Canto which I've read.

Best Apocalyptic/Dystopian
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker


Best Short Story Collection 
I'll throw Olive, Again in this section because she has to go somewhere. I was a little worried to read this as I so loved Olive Kitteridge, but this collection of connected stories, all connected somehow to Olive was as excellent as this first one. I do love Olive.

Best Short Story 
The only short story I listened to this year was from the Irish Country Doctor series, a short called Home is the Sailor by Patrick Taylor

Funniest 
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde was probably the funniest book I read, although it was a ghost story.

Most Heartbreaking
Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
The patriarch of a Boston family gets a terrible hereditary disease.

Creepiest Novel
You, by Charles Benoit
This was a YA Sync from the summer, and was a second-person POV, and dealt with disturbed teenagers. Creepy, but quick.

Best Debut Book
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Lovely epistolary midlife crisis story told through letters between a British farm wife and a Danish museum curator. 


Best Re-read
This one is easy - both The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, and The Guernsey Literary and Pototo Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer were as good on rereads as they were the first times I've read them 

Best Audiobook 
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and read by the author was a delightful experience. I'm not generally a poetry fan, but this was done in a blank verse style and was very moving
The Dutch House gets honourable mention for best audiobook because it had Tom Hanks narrating, and I'd listen to him read his grocery list

Most Unique Book 

Milkman by Anna Burns
I hesitate to recommend this one, but you would know very early on if the writing style worked for you, and it really worked for me. I loved the voice of the main character, a twenty something girl, with a boyfriend, trying to survive the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Very Irish stream of consciousness style, with no proper names ever used. It could have been annoying, but I got caught up with the style and her voice, and how she tried to manage living and the circular style of story-telling. 


Best Nonfiction (since I read so many nonfiction this year, I have broken this down a little more)
  
Best Nonfiction: science/history
A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford by Richard Reeves
I really enjoyed this biography of the physics/chemistry famous scientist from the early 1900s.

Best Nonfiction: nature
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  
Best Nonfiction: memoir/autobiography
Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood by Leah Remini
If you've watched the TV show Scientology, you should try this book. I liked hearing more of Leah's experience; she's a hoot.

Best Nonfiction: true crime
Murder at McDonalds: Killers Next Door by Phonse Jessome
This was a local book, based on a murder in Cape Breton that was horrific over twenty years ago. 




A few books I loved by couldn't find a category for!
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty does great with large casts of how-are-they-related characters that have lots of twists and come together at the end

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This could have been best mystery, best nature book, best book about loneliness, best audiobook (Cassandra Campbell was a narrator), best heartbreaking book and best book to live up to its hype.  For all these reasons, it was one of my favourite books of the year.