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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!

New Photo Friday - Pets

New Photo Friday

Good gracious is this ever overdue. Again, I apologize for the long silence there. Today I have a new photo to share with you and some fun news about Fredrik Backman. Those who know me and my book review history know I adore Fredrik Backman’s work. He’s absolutely astounding. Anyone who asks me for book recommendations can be fairly certain I’ll mention his name. So of course, I’m delighted that his next book, BEARTOWN, is coming out at the end of April. In addition to that, the film version of A MAN CALLED OVE has been chosen by Sweden to compete in the foreign language Oscar category. I saw this film and just adored it—it’s true to the essence of Ove and the man Backman created. Of course, I would have liked for it to be about three hours longer so they could have flushed out more of the delightful supporting characters from the plot, but it’s a film. What can ya do?

On to New Photo Friday. Last weekend Rufus and I went to a dog fair in the area, so today’s photo comes from that trip. I was quite smitten with this St. Bernard puppy. She was a bit resistant to having her picture taken, so I was delighted to catch this shot.

New Photo Friday - Pet photography

I’ve started setting up a mini studio with some new-to-me equipment I was fortunate to acquire. So you’ll probably see some pictures from that new set-up in the near future.

One last little book tidbit—o.k., really it’s a big, honkin’ bite—for those in the Northeast Ohio area. Another author I recommend regularly and obsessively is Craig Johnson. Hopefully you already know he writes the Walt Longmire mystery series…which the TV series LONGMIRE is based on. He’ll be at the Strongsville Public Library on Wednesday, May 24th. Save this date and register NOW. It’s free, but I’m fairly certain the event will fill fast, so make sure you get your spot. I’m just thrilled he’ll be here in the area. Hope to see you there.

Happy Friday, friends. Have a great weekend!

2016 Favorite Fiction - And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

2016 Reading Favorites

I feel like I just wrote about my favorites for 2015, yet here it is the end of 2016 already. This year I read 105 books by 104 different authors–Fredrik Backman was my only repeat (maybe I’ll fit another one in before the technical end, but we’ll go with 105). Of the 104 authors, 81 were authors I had never read before.

The breakdown looked like this:

Fiction – 76
Nonfiction – 29

Male authors – 63
Female authors – 41
(one book was a male/female team)

Print books – 74
Audiobooks – 30

73 books were written by American authors; 12 authors are from the UK; and the remaining titles were from Canadian, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Israeli, Australian, Irish, South Korean, and Vietnamese writers.

And 14 books were debuts.

So from that vast array of books, I’m offering you my favorites in three categories: fiction, non-fiction and audiobooks. I’m including 10 for fiction, 6 for non-fiction and five for audiobooks. I wasn’t able to winnow my 6 non-fictions down to 5. Picking the best non-fiction was my hardest task. I read great non-fiction this year. I’ll start with the audiobooks:

2016 Favorite Audiobooks

2016 Favorite Books - IQIQ – written by Joe Ide, read by Sullivan Jones. This was the best of both worlds. A fabulous book and an amazing performance. I reviewed this one for Audiofile Magazine.

Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil – written by Lezley McSpadden and Lyah Beth LeFiore, read by Lisa Renee Pitts. If I could nominate an audiobook performer for an Oscar, it would be Lisa Renee Pitts for this narration. It is astounding. The book is emotionally charged and the sparks fly from Pitts as she reads. Loved it! This was another review for Audiofile Magazine.

Night Work – written by David Taylor and read by Keith Szarabajka. I was floored by this duo last year with Taylor’s debut and Night Work resonates just as strongly. Szarabajka is fantastic and these are great suspense novels from Taylor. An Audiofile Magazine review.

Charcoal Joe – written by Walter Mosley and read by Michael Boatman. Boatman picked up all the wonderful nuances in Mosley’s writing and just made this an engaging listen. In addition to my review for Audiofile Magazine, this audiobook was picked as one of their 2016 Editors’ Favorites in the mystery & suspense category.2016 Favorite Books - Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus – written by Steven Rowley and read by Michael Urie. This audio made me laugh and cry and drive an extra time around the block. If you haven’t read or listened to this one, don’t find out anything about it…don’t read reviews or dust jackets, just start it. You’ll appreciate it more. And Urie does a fantastic job delving into all the range of emotions then pulling those same emotions from his listeners. I reviewed it for Audiofile Magazine.

2016 Favorite Non-fiction

2016 Favorite Books - BallsBalls: It Takes Some to Get Some – Chris Edwards. Far and away my favorite book of 2016. I reviewed this for Shelf Awareness and it was chosen as one of their favorites of 2016 as well. I wasn’t expecting the level of amazingness I experienced when I requested the book, so I was wonderfully surprised. I hope you’ll check this one out. It’s so worth it!

Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World – Baz Dreisinger. Our prison and “justice” system is an issue I’m interested in and constantly wanting to understand better because I feel it is a high priority for our society. This book is incredibly enlightening and looks at prisons on a global level. We can and should learn a lot from Dreisinger’s project.

Moranifesto – Caitlin Moran. I just posted this review to the blog earlier this week. I loved every bit of this book. Moran is insightful, funny and incredibly smart. I want to share this book with every female who is important to me. Which is not to say men won’t love it or benefit from it. Any man that cares about a woman should also check it out. We can definitely use more Caitlin Morans in the world.

Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives – Gary Younge. This is a tough but important read. I can’t say enough about it. I reviewed this for Shelf Awareness and it was also chosen as one of the publications favorite books of 2016. Younge has a unique perspective and does a stellar job on his research for this eye-opening look at the gun epidemic in the United States.

2016 Favorite Books - You Will Not Have My HatePilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis – Mark Shriver. I am so fascinated–and inspired–by Pope Francis, so I was very excited to get this book for review. He’s an amazing human being and Shriver does a lovely job of illuminating the man who leads the Catholic Church now. We can use more Pope Francises in the world too.

You Will Not Have My Hate – Antoine Leiris (trans. by Sam Taylor). This short work is beautifully and powerfully written. I read it in one night and it will stay with me forever. As I recover from the awful, ugly hate that filled our presidential election this year, I’m inspired by Leiris work.

2016 Favorite Fiction

The Bo2016 Favorite Books - An Obvious Facty Who Escaped Paradise – J.M. Lee (trans. by Chi-Young Kim). I was so excited to see a new book from J.M. Lee, the author of The Investigation. And The Boy Who Escaped Paradise did not disappoint. Lee is an incredible writer. I hope we are able to enjoy a long career from this talented man.

An Obvious Fact – Craig Johnson. A regular on my favorites list, Craig Johnson continues his string of hits with the newest Walt Longmire. The subtle allusions to The Dukes of Hazzard really won me over in this one. What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s.

Property of the State – Bill Cameron. The first of this new YA series from Bill Cameron is spectacular. You don’t have to be a young adult in years to love the start of this new series. I’m looking forward to more of it.

Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Backman (trans. by Henning Koch). Another regular to my favorites list, Backman makes two appearances this year. His third full-length novel is as wonderfully rich and thought-provoking, as delightfully funny and as creatively beautiful as his previous works. 2016 Favorite Books - And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer – Fredrik Backman (trans. by Alice Menzies). I laughed and cried and sat in wonderment at this beautiful novella. It’s a treasure.

The Opposite of Everyone – Joshilyn Jackson. This was my introduction to Jackson’s work and I’m hooked. I loved the depth of character, complexity of plot and amazing atmosphere. She has rich themes and great language. What more could you hope for in a great reading experience.

Hanging Mary – Susan Higginbotham. Higginbotham’s historical novel about Mary Surratt  kept me fascinated and engrossed the entire time. I read a number of historicals this year. When a person or event is intriguing to me, I’m captivated by the way a writer can mold and craft a story around those elements from history. Higginbotham does a stellar job with the woman who was hanged for Lincoln’s assassination.

King Maybe – Timothy Hallinan. Tim’s Christmas novel, In Fields Where They Lay, is getting a fair amount of attention, but I am giving kudos to King Maybe from earlier in the year. With two books out in a year, you’d wonder if maybe the quality would suffer. Well rest assured, that’s a no go. King Maybe is top notch. I’ve never been disappointed by a Hallinan novel and this was no different.

2016 Favorite Books - DarktownHitman Anders and the Meaning of It All – Jonas Jonasson (trans. by Rachel Willson-Broyles). I had a little bit of a love affair with the translations this year. I was especially drawn to Scandinavian fiction and this is one of the handful I really enjoyed. The social commentary, the style of humor it all works well for me.

Darktown – Thomas Mullen. This was a powerful historical novel. Not an easy one by any means, but so authentically done and that’s what makes it so amazing. We’ve made advancements as a society, but Darktown also reminds us how much we haven’t changed. This is the level of book that changes you after you’ve read it.


And there you have it. My finalized list of favorite reads of 2016. What topped your list of favorite books this year?

It always ends up being a bit of a struggle to finish these lists. There are a few titles you know right away are on the list, no question. Then you struggle with about 8 titles to fill the remaining 4 or 5 slots. At least that’s the way it is for me. There’s always a few more I’d like to include. I could give you two or three more for each of my categories. I guess that’s the great thing about reading. There’s a lot of crap out there, no doubt. But there’s also a lot of wonderfulness as well. So here’s to a 2017 filled with a lot of wonderful books for you. Happy Reading!

Book Review - Fredrik Backman

Book review :: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

First line: “There’s a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of the floor, has pitched a green tent.”

Book Review - Fredrik BackmanIt isn’t Black Friday yet, but I have my first literary gift recommendation for 2016. Fredrik Backman’s new novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, is stunning. This beautiful little book is a gem of a read that will be devoured in a couple of hours at most, but will demand to be read over and over.

Backman’s amazing stroll through the lives of three generations–father, son and grandson–will make your heart smile through the tears your soul cries. He paints a debilitating disease using his magnificent brush of creativity. In phrases only he could compose (and Alice Menzies deserves accolades for her astounding translation), the man who brought us Ove, Elsa and Britt-Marie, tells a mesmerizing story of minds that betray before the bodies wears out. A story of sons and grandsons who have to say goodbye to someone who’s still with them. In his letter at the book’s opening, Backman says, “This is a story about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.”

Parts of the book take place in the man’s mind, a lovely little town square that he says gets smaller every day. The faces of the people that pass are fuzzy. They look familiar but he simply can’t focus in on exactly who they are. The man’s grandson, Noah, sits with him in his mind. “Noah’s feet don’t touch the ground when his legs dangle over the edge of the bench, but his head reaches all the way to space, because he hasn’t been alive long enough to allow anyone to keep his thoughts on Earth.”

The man’s wife also visits him in his mind. She’s been dead awhile now. “Her hair is old but the wind in it is new, and he still remembers what it felt like to fall in love; that’s the last memory to abandon him. Falling in love with her meant having no room in his own body. That was why he danced.”

While the heart-breaking dementia invades the man’s mind, Backman helps the reader experience his glorious life–his blessings as well as regrets.

This gorgeous, little volume has less than 100 pages and includes delightful, color illustrations throughout. After you get a copy for yourself–this is one you’ll want to keep, but really what Backman don’t you want to keep!?–snag some extras to tuck in stockings, to share with friends and family who might be experiencing something similar, or just to gift to someone you care about. I’d add a package of tissues to the gift though. You won’t get through this one without crying.