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Favorite Books: Beartown

Favorites of 2017 – The Rest of the Story!

It is the last day of 2017. I sort of feel like “where did it go?” and then I sort of feel like, “dear God, please get us out of this year already.” It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, for sure. So here’s hoping we all have a much better 2018. To try to get myself in a positive frame of mind, I’m finishing my favorite books lists from 2017. At least these were a shining spot of the year.

First, my favorite non-fiction. I’ve really started to enjoy reading non-fiction again. I find so many great books on topics I’m fascinated with and want to learn more about. I had a good crop this year and here are the best of the best for me:

Favorite Books: Garden of the Lost and AbandonedGarden of the Lost and Abandoned – I was so inspired by the story of this beautifully selfless woman who finds the best in those who are “lost and abandoned.” If you need a faith-in-humanity story, this is a perfect choice. And it’s stunningly written by filmmaker Jessica Yu. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness and also interviewed Yu. 

Ghost of an Innocent Man – This is a heart-breaking story of the cancer that continues to plague our “justice” system. It is also an incredible story of determination. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

A Stone of Hope – Another book that deals with the criminal justice system, but in this case a lucky twist of fate kept Jim St. Germaine out of the adult prison system and in a program that rehabilitated him. He’s now an incredible young man making a difference in the lives of others like him and advocating for programs similar to the one that changed his life. Inspiring! I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: A Stone of HopeClimate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet – Environmental issues are a high priority to me. I’m always interested in ways I can live a life that’s kinder to the Earth and will help ensure it’s around for future generations. This book presents both the liberal and conservative viewpoints as it’s written by former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and former head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. Together they show how doing what’s best for the planet is actually best for everyone, even financially. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Born a Crime – This one was also on my favorite audiobook list. And as I mentioned over there, it actually came out in 2016, but I didn’t stumble on it until this year. I can’t say enough about it. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s insightful, it’s smart. It’s just plain wonderful. I disliked my next three books after this one because they didn’t make me feel all the emotions this one did. I’ll have to revisit those books at some point, I think. But Born a Crime will definitely stay with me for a very long time. This was a rare title I managed to squeeze in outside my reviewing. 

Hope was a dominant theme in my favorite non-fiction this year. Go figure.

Next my favorite crime fiction. Since this wasn’t as large a percentage of my total reading this year, I’m keeping this list to five as well. Here are my faves:

Favorite Books: The Western StarThe Shimmering Road – Hester Young mesmerized me with her debut, The Gates of Evangeline, so I was excited for this new title. It’s very different and still amazing. It touches on some immigration themes but never gets preachy. First and foremost it’s a great mystery. Love this one. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness and did a mini-interview with Hester Young. 

Righteous – Another sophomore title. This one is the follow up to Joe Ide’s IQ. I’m hooked on this series. It’s fun and fresh, a hero I can cheer for, smart humor, sharp dialogue. I can’t wait for the next one! I reviewed Righteous for Shelf Awareness.

The Western Star – I show absolutely no signs of tiring of this series. Each book is distinctive in plot, but rich in all the strengths of Craig Johnson’s talents: brilliant humor, crackling dialogue, empathetic characters–and colorful characters–atmosphere that carries you away, rich themes. It’s acutely evident that Johnson loves storytelling. And for me, I love listening. I reviewed this one for both Shelf Awareness and AudioFile Magazine.

Favorite Books: The WantedBluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke ranks among my favorite contemporary writers. Her works have all captivated me and Bluebird, Bluebird was no different. The internal conflict within her characters is as fascinating, if not more, than the conflict defining the plot. She allows us into their psyches and we’re able to understand them at an intimate level. Locke’s writing style has subtle flair and she makes the amazing complexity seem simple. Timely, rich themes wrapped in a gripping suspense novel. First-rate! I reviewed Bluebird, Bluebird for AudioFile Magazine.

The Wanted – This one slipped in under the wire. Elvis and Joe’s return is a most welcome one. I missed Scott, Maggie and Starkey in this one, but Robert Crais made it up for it with a superb crop of supporting guests and a fascinating plot. While I had nitpicks with the audiobook recording, I was still glued to it with excitement. I’m so thankful that the series that hooked me on the crime genre still makes my heart race. I reviewed The Wanted for AudioFile Magazine

And finally, I have my list of favorite general fiction. This is the largest percentage of my reading these days but not by much. It’s almost an even split between these three categories once the kids and YA are removed, but since this is a slightly larger percentage, I’ve chosen six titles instead of five. And you’ll see that some of the titles in this list could fit into other identified genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, etc), but I don’t read enough collectively in any of those genres to pull out a complete list of favorites. So from the remainder of my reading, here are my favorites:

Favorite Books: BeartownThe Refugees – I don’t read a lot of short stories, but it seems like when I do, they’re amazing. I should really read more. And Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection is a great motivator to do so. The Refugees is timely, and it’s an incredibly moving look at the individuals, not collective groups we can dismiss but individual people, human beings. And Nguyen’s writing is something to luxuriate in. He does in a short story what some writers aren’t able to accomplish in a novel. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Ginny Moon – I fell in love with Ginny Moon and you will too. This little girl with a mammoth personality and a bothersome disability is exquisitely drawn in the novel that bears her name. She makes you laugh and cry and worry and celebrate all as if she was .your own precious loved one. Ginny Moon is special and so is this book. I reviewed it and interviewed Benjamin Ludwig for Shelf Awareness

Beartown – Fredrik Backman continues to amaze me with his work. His ability to depict the most intimate elements of character, whether it’s a cantankerous old geezer or a troubled, teenage girl or a young, gay man, is astounding. He understands human nature and that’s universal. He’s funny as hell and despite his deprecating remarks to the contrary, he’s a smart cookie. You can’t go wrong with any of his books, but Beartown’s darker theme will especially appeal to my fellow crime fiction lovers. If you haven’t given Backman a try yet, what are you waiting for? I reviewed Beartown for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: The Color of Our SkyBeasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – This fantasy novel entranced me with the magical beauty of the story and the enchanting writing. The book’s charm made its fantastical elements believable. Instead of saying, “that would never happen,” we WANT it to be able to happen, so somewhere it must be happening. And that somewhere is in Ruth Emmie Lang’s world of Weylyn Grey. I reviewed this gem of a debut for Shelf Awareness.

The Color of Our Sky – Another amazing and powerful debut novel. Amita Trasi created such a compelling tale of female friendship amid extraordinary devastation. Whereas Beasts is fantasy, The Color of Our Sky is realism at its finest. It’s weighty but so very worth it.   I reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.

This Is How It Always Is – I listened to Laurie Frankel’s book on audio and while I wasn’t over the top about the narration, I adored the story itself. The struggles of a family to protect their own, do the right things and make the right choices are potent. But having the best intentions doesn’t always create optimal results. This Is How It Always Is portrays that in all its splendor. And I reviewed it for AudioFile Magazine

So that’s it for 2017. I lapsed on my recording keeping this year so I don’t have exact totals on what I read, but I’m planning to get back on track for 2018. I’ve already set up my spreadsheet. I miss not knowing those details. I do know I reviewed 73 books for Shelf Awareness and 28 books for AudioFile Magazine. I also participated in 7 book tours. So at the bottom end of what my total could be this year I read 108 books. 

Here’s to at least as many in 2018! I don’t have much in the way of reading resolutions for 2018 except to continue trying to better myself. Non-fiction provides me with education and fiction feeds my capacity for empathy. So I can’t lose unless I don’t read!

I hope your 2017 was a good year for reading. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments for everyone to see. And have a very happy (and safe) New Year!

Book Review - How to be Everything

Book Review :: How To Be Everything

First line: “If you’ve picked up this book, it’s probably because you’ve had trouble narrowing down ‘what you want to be’ to one thing.”

Book Review - How to be EverythingGrowing up, I knew for certain I wanted to be a teacher, a lawyer, an architect. When I started college, I was in a program for architecture. When I graduated I received a degree in English and sports medicine. I also was only a few credits away from minors in nutrition, psychology and religion. I just loved to learn. There were very few classes I took that I didn’t devour. And the classes I didn’t like usually had more to do with the instructor and how he/she presented it than the material itself.

Since college, I’ve worked as a cast member for The Disney Store, a receptionist/administrative assistant, a high school English teacher, a technical writer, a coordinator of online learning, a webmaven, a book reviewer and a virtual assistant. Whenever I had to go through the torture of a job search, I didn’t know what to look for. I have a lot of skills–good skills–but I never had a specialization that helped determine the job title I needed to enter in the search engine. Heck, I didn’t even know what that job title was. So when I learned about Emilie Wapnick’s book How To Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still)Don’t Know What They Want To Be When They Grow Up, I knew I had to read it.

How To Be Everything is a mix of therapy and self-help. Therapy in the sense that it’s reassuring to know there are other multipotentialites (someone with many interests and creative pursuits) out there. I’m not an alien. I don’t have career ADD–well, maybe I do, but others do as well, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, multipotentialites, in general, have some darn impressive superpowers: idea synthesis, rapid learning, adaptability, big picture thinking, and relating and translating. How To Be Everything is self-help in the sense that it provides exercises and activities to assist readers in identifying their goals and work styles and how to pursue them.

In true multipotentialite fashion, I have some characteristics several work styles: the Group Hug Approach–I’m definitely overwhelmed when there are too many disconnected projects–the Einstein Approach–there isn’t enough time for the hobbies I enjoy–and the Phoenix Approach–when I get obsessed with something, I want to know everything there is to know about it. The one that didn’t match my personality hardly at all was the Slash Approach. And ironically, that’s probably what best defines my current employment situation: webmaven/virtual assistant/freelance writer/….

How To Be Everything will hook any multipotentialite floundering for a foothold in a society that doesn’t quite recognize their strengths. It will provide direction for those grasping at job titles to enter in their search engines. Informally written but informationally-rich, How To Be Everything puts the audience at ease. And let’s face it, if you’re job searching, stress is probably at a pretty high level, so ease is welcome. Even if you aren’t job searching, having a sense of direction is reassuring; knowing you’re a member of the club is priceless. The reading goes quickly but to milk this gem for all it’s worth, bring your pencil and put some time into the questions and activities. I’m certainly discovering a rich pay-off.

How To Be Everything is available in hardcover from HarperOne.

Goodreads - Brown Dog Solutions

My review today of How To Be Everything is part of the TLC blog tour. You can discover what other bloggers are saying about it by checking out the complete tour schedule here.

Dual Book Review :: The Wisdom of Moms & Amazing Dads

I‘m kind of addicted to National Geographic books. It’s probably partly due to my love of photography. National Geographic sure knows how to do photography. Today I have two gorgeous little gift books to share with you just in time to pay tribute to the moms and dads in your lives.

The Wisdom of Moms: Love and Lessons From the Animal Kingdom

First line: “Moms can be feathered or furry, they can live in the mountains, at the water’s edge, or in the desert.”

The Wisdom of MomsThis little gem is chock full of glorious, color images of mothers and their offspring in the animal kingdom, among them a flamingo, bulldog, owl, dolphin and one of my personal favorites, the meerkat. The images are accompanied by little facts about the species and their parenting practices as well as lovely quotes related to parenthood, motherhood, love and life. Spread out throughout the book are short sections on characteristics of mothers, such as loyalty, compassion and grit. The narrative tells how the corresponding animal displays that trait.

The images are awe-worthy and the quotes are well-chosen. The variety of animals gracing the pages is terrific fun. Some regulars we expect to see everywhere–the graceful giraffe–and some that aren’t so common–free-range pigs! The Wisdom of Moms is a treasure for any animal lover, but it’s certainly the perfect gift this Mother’s Day. I’m not sure I can part with my copy of this one, though, so I will have to go get another one for my mother.

One of my favorite quotes from the collection is from Barbara Schapiro, “Sometimes the laughter in mothering is the recognition of the ironies and absurdities. Sometimes, though, it’s just pure, unthinking delight.” The Wisdom of Moms is certainly pure delight, but instead of unthinking it’ll have you pondering your own mom, guaranteed.

Goodreads - Brown Dog Solutions


Amazing Dads: Love and Lessons From the Animal Kingdom

First line: “There is that one special person who is always your biggest fan, your most tireless coach, and your friend no matter what: your dad.”

Amazing DadsThe companion book to The Wisdom of Moms is Amazing Dads. Set up in the same format, the book is packed with beautiful, bold images of animals throughout the world. The jacana and its spindly little off-spring practically tweet from the page. Meanwhile, it’s hard not to conjure up memories of Nemo as the brilliantly orange clownfish pop in their sea of blue.  The quotes range from heartwarming to humorous. And the facts accompanying the images are fascinating. Did you know that a male Japanese puffer fish spends nine days drawing intricate sand patterns on the ocean floor? Then the female deposits her eggs in the center. From hedgehogs to eagles, parenting in the wild is stunning, entertaining and magical. Amazing Dads captures that beautifully.

Either book will make beautiful gifts, but the pair complement each other wonderfully. Anyone who loves one with cherish the other…take it from me, I’m not relinquishing mine. National Geographic knows how to engage an audience with sharp, striking pictures and both The Wisdom of Moms and Amazing Dads are well-endowed with those images. And you really can’t beat the price on these little beauties either. Be sure to check them out!

Goodreads - Brown Dog Solutions

My reviews of The Wisdom of Moms and Amazing Dads is the kick-off post of the TLC Book Tour these great gift books. You can find out what other bloggers think about them by following the tour, listed here.

Book Review :: The Compassionate Achiever

I have to apologize. I was supposed to get this review posted last week and was on track to do just that, then everything got overwhelming. So, a little late, but hopefully still doing it the justice it deserves, I present to you The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success by Christopher L. Kukk.

First line: “My wife, Elly, and I were on an elevated train traveling home after spending the day in Boston, when a loud blast fractured the silence of the car.”

The Compassionate AchieverUsing a slew of science combined with a hearty dose of anecdotes and topped with a smidgen of analytical thinking, Dr. Christopher Kukk illustrates how the old adage, “look out for number one” is not really the secret to success. Instead, individuals need to be compassionate achievers if they hope to sustain meaningful success. By practicing compassion people will see more constructive relationships, improved intelligence, and increased resiliency.

Kukk makes it a point to emphasize that when he talks about practicing compassion, “recognizing a problem or caring about another’s pain and making a commitment to help, he isn’t saying they should become door mats. It’s possible to have compassion without sacrificing yourself in the process.

Kukk has devised a four-step process to cultivate the compassion he defines and illustrates in part one of the book. Part two breaks down the four steps: Listen to Learn, Understand to Know, Connect to Capabilities and Act to Solve. And the final section of the book highlights the ripple effect of one’s work from Part 2.

Kukk’s obvious passion for his compassion plan is contagious. It’s motivating and hopeful. His positive presentation of the content will invigorate readers to give it a try in their own lives and be more cognizant of the behaviors that hinder it. He explains that “Compassion, like love, is a positive-sum game: by giving more, you get more. Your compassion reserves can never be depleted within you.” And Kukk offers ideas for how his audience can work on the skills necessary to master the steps of compassion.

The analogies and simple daily behaviors that Kukk offers makes becoming a compassionate achiever seem attainable for anyone if they open themselves up to the concept. The rewards are plentiful both intrinsically and extrinsically. It’s had a powerful effect on me, and I feel as though our current political climate and it’s trickle-down effect make this the perfect time for people to be picking up The Compassionate Achiever.  It really should be required reading for everyone.

Goodreads - Brown Dog Solutions

My review today of The Compassionate Achiever is part of the TLC blog tour. You can discover what other bloggers are saying about it by checking out the complete tour schedule here.

Brown Dog Solutions | Moranifesto Book Review

Book Review :: Moranifesto

I wanted to sneak this review in before my end of the year lists because it will definitely be one of my favorite reads. This is my first experience reading Caitlin Moran, and after I finished Moranifesto, I wanted to subscribe to The Times of London in order to read her regularly. She now rates on my list of heroes. My review first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Hope you enjoy!

First line: “So welcome to my second collection of writing.”

Brown Dog Solutions | Moranifesto Book ReviewCompiling a generous collection of her London Times columns written since 2011 and adding brief introductions for each that tie the anthology together, Caitlin Moran (How to Build a Girl) has composed a manifesto. “After twenty-three years of commenting on things, you’re not really just commenting on things anymore. You’re starting to…suggest alternatives. You’re forming a plan.”  Moranifesto is her plan: a shrewd combination of culture, politics and feminism; witty and intelligent, honest and silly; a conversation worth joining.

Moranifesto is divided into four sections, each including humorous articles intended to entertain–like “I Am Hungover Again” where she concedes the fact she will “never learn to have just two glasses”  because she simply doesn’t want to–sidled up next to thoughtful pieces offering social commentary, such as Moran’s thoughts–oozing with sarcasm–in “Women Getting Killed on the Internet.”

“I’ll be frank–it does my head in to see someone who lives in a democracy, wears artificial fibers, drives a car, has a wife who can vote and children whom it is illegal to send to work up a chimney, saying, on the Internet–invented in 1971!!!!–‘NOTHING CAN CHANGE!'”

Her love letter to books in “Reading is Fierce” will endear her to bibliophiles, while her capitulation in “It’s Okay My Children Do Not Read” may make them cringe. Moran offers advice, reveals encounters with celebrities and laughs in the face of decorum. She’s blunt and colorful, inspiring and authentic. Moranifesto exposes the many facets of this complex, wickedly smart woman. Missing it would definitely be a crime.

Book review: Balls by Chris Edwards

Book review :: Balls

Earlier this week, Chris Edwards’ debut released. My review of Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some was my first to appear in Shelf Awareness Pro, so it’s a little longer than the reviews I have from SA Readers. I am just delighted to post it today with their permission because right now this is my absolute favorite book of 2016. It blew. me. away. I hope you’ll give it a try. And if you do, let me know what you think! Here’s what I thought…

First line: So I’m standing there, peeing at a urinal for the first time.

Book review: Balls by Chris EdwardsIn this bold memoir about gender dysphoria and gender confirmation surgery, Chris Edwards explains, “That feeling of finally being complete—of being who you really are—trumps everything.” It ultimately takes Edwards more than three decades and 28 surgeries to realize his consummate body, but in 1974, at five years old, he already knows his true gender. It’s everyone around him who seems to be confused, so in his childish wisdom he deduces the answer is as simple as a haircut:

“Since everything about me was boy-like—my clothes, my toys, my obsession with all superheroes except for Wonder Woman and her lame, invisible plane—I put my five-year-old brain to work and determined that the only thing lumping me in with the girls was my hair length.”

However, a haircut doesn’t stop the female body from developing around the man locked inside. Throughout high school and college—breasts, menstruation, estrogen and a sorority—Edwards battles depression and thoughts of suicide. Using a cunning blend of heartbreaking sincerity and humor, he navigates his audience through this excruciating stage of his life:

“I was apparently too scared to actively take my own life, I drove around without a seatbelt on, hoping for someone to hit me. And I was hit. Twice. But both times the car was parked and I wasn’t in it.”

When Edwards, through the help of an amazing counselor, is finally able to share his battle with his family and friends, he finds support, compassion and encouragement. Despite his first instinct to move away and transition, Edwards remains at his job in a Boston advertising firm and courageously opens his quest to the company’s board members, his colleagues and the clients. While everyone doesn’t always understand, he patiently educates them—and his readers. Edwards also invites everyone to laugh with him—learning to pee standing up, mistakenly inviting the wrong woman on a date. His stark openness and dogged determination allow the audience to identify with him through their similarities, instead of fearing the differences.

Balls is a stunning self-portrait of an exceptional man, an inspiration for others who may be a gender not recognized by those around them. And it is a primer for those fortunate enough to be born “complete.” With eloquence and grace, as well as sharp wit and brutal honesty, Edwards explains to his audience, “The key to understanding gender dysphoria is realizing that sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally different and completely separate things.” More than anything, he exemplifies the definition of bravery. From opening himself up to his family, friends and colleagues to sharing the intimate details of his story with the entire world, Chris Edwards has no shortage of…um…MOXIE! 😉 Smart, funny, genuine and uplifting, Balls is sure to win a lot of hearts.