Books in Brief

2014

The Mystery of Mercy Close — Marian Keyes (This was funny and fun, with just a touch of serious, the way Keyes always is.)

Codex — Lev Grossman (This is bookish fun, the way Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour-Bookstore is bookish fun.)

Only Love is Real: A Story of Soulmates Reunited — Brian L. Weiss (I want to believe it, but the skeptic in me is having a hard time.)

The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach (This one is a beautifully-executed, John-Irvingesque, first novel.)

The Quiet by Lauren Owen (This is a fine nod to the Victorian gothic novel with a wonderfully spooky ending.)

(audio version) The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (This was like taking an abnormal psych course. You have to curb your instinct to start eyeing everyone you know suspiciously. Very interesting and informative — if not a little scary — nonetheless.)

Life Before Life by Jim B. Tucker (This is a little more believable than Weiss’s books due to its scientific nature, but it still leaves many unanswered questions.)

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (This is a well-executed and literate psychological thriller/horror story that I don’t recommend reading when you’re alone and/or having trouble sleeping.)

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol (What’s not to like about a story that begins with a witch stealing stars and a devil stealing the moon?)

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (All’s well that ends well.)

The Adrian Mole Diaries  by Sue Townsend (I laughed out loud nearly thirty years ago and did this go-round, tool.)*

A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (I had forgotten that not only is this a great ghost story, but that it’s also funny in places.)*

Positively 4th St.: The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and  Richard Farina by David Hadju (This is a fascinating look at an era through four people. Dylan doesn’t come off too well, though.)

2015

1. The Amulet of Samarkand  by Jonathan Stroud (I thought I might not like it, but before I knew it, I couldn’t put it down. Great fun!)

2. The Small Room  by May Sarton (This is a powerful mid-20th-century look at the meaning of excellence and its cost.)

3. Shopaholic and Sister by Sophie Kinsella (This isn’t my favorite, so far, in the shopaholic series — didn’t make me laugh as much as others — but it was still fun. How could Kinsella ever not be fun?)

4. Little Bee by Chris Cleave (This is a harrowing and informative tale whose characters are very well drawn.)

5. Smoothies: 50 Recipes for High-Energy Efficient Refreshment by Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Copening, and Lori Lyn Narlock (The best part is the Fruit Glossary that tells what’s in season when, how to tell if it’s ripe, and the best way to freeze it. Other than that, a few good recipes but not many I couldn’t have thought up myself.)

6. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (I loved this scathing look at just how damaging small town gossip and little lies can be. Moriarty is great at exploring big issues while keeping a sense of humor.)

7. Green Smoothies and Protein Drinks by Jason Mannheim (This one was more informative than the other but I’m not sure if the smoothies will be as tasty. I liked some of the “savory” options, though. We’ll see.)

8. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (A fun tale for readers about a curmudgeonly bookshop owner, the two females who change his life, and the literature that bonds them all.)

9. (audio version) The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (A fascinating book about much, much more than the elephants at Thula, Thula, Anthony’s game reserve in South Africa, but the elephants — and why shouldn’t they? — steal the show.)

10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (I finally read this, which I’ve been meaning to do for about six years. I can see why kids love it. Jeff Kinney is the 21st-century’s answer to Beverly Cleary. I will be reading the whole series.)

11. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjailian (Where to begin to describe this depressing but so well-drawn and original novel? Near perfection.)

12. Neverwhere  by Neil Gaiman (This quest that takes place in “London Below” is a typically imaginative offering from Gaiman. Hard to put down but probably the darkest of his I’ve read, and high on “squirm factor”. Not for the faint of heart but great fun if you’ve got a strong stomach.)

13. Eat Yourself Thin: Superfoods and Recipes to Boost Metabolism and Burn Fat by Gill Paul and Karen Sullivan (I don’t believe in superfoods or eating yourself thin, but I knew this book would have some healthy recipes in it. It does, and I’m eager to try many of them.)

14. Smile by Raina Telgemeier (This YA graphic memoir frames some important life lessons around a tale that is full of adolescent angst told with a sense of humor. I like Telgemeier’s artistic style.)

15. Smut by Alan Bennett (About halfway through the first story, which I didn’t really like that much, I decided, “I’ll probably like the second story better.” Self fulfilling prophecy? I definitely did like it better, but I think it all had to do with Betty. Betty was a great character.)

16. Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Give this one to all the middle school girls you know who read graphic novels. Raina Telgemeier does middle school very well.)

17. (audio version) The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills (the next best thing to rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. Finally, we get away from gossip and get to know Harper Lee. Amy Lynn Stewart does a good job of narrating, although I’ve never heard a Monroeville, AL accent, so I’m not sure how authentic her accent is when she reads those parts.)

18. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Forget all the comparisons to Gone Girl. They’re not the same. This is just a good ol’ thriller with typical thriller twists and turns, requiring suspension of all disbelief. I couldn’t put it down.)

19. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (I guess I was on a Raina Telgemeier kick. Very unusual for me to read three books by the same author in less than a month. My favorite is Smile, but they’re all good.)

20. (audio and print) The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett (a novel of obsession that obsessed me. I fell right into this hard-to define book — love story? ghost story? historical fiction? mystery? — and couldn’t stop listening/reading.)

21. The Devil in the White City  by Erik Larson (This little piece of forgotten American history is a bit unevenly written, but such a fascinating read that it can be forgiven.)

22. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (full of flaws, but I still enjoyed it, especially its nod to The Secret Garden).

23. (audio) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (as magical the second time around as it was the first. So much about this book ought to annoy me, and yet I adore it — must be a spell. The audio is a superb way to “reread” it.) *

24. The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud (Bartimaeus has certainly taken hold of my heart. Stroud has created a superb world for exploring 21s-century ills. I loved that Kitty became a major character. Hope she triumphs in the next book.)

25. (audio) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (always think I don’t like post-apocalyptic literature but can’t name a book I’ve read in the genre that I didn’t like. This one will go down as a favorite. I loved the subtle humor and its hopeful nature.)

26. Perfect Timing by Jill Mansell (the perfect antidote to some very stressful days. Laughed out loud more than once, and I knew the girl would get the guy — and which guy — in the end.)

27. (audio) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (by Marie Kondo (yes, it is a life-changing read. Best and most inspiring book on getting one’s house in order I’ve ever read/listened to.)

28. Packing for Mars  by Mary Roach (classic Roach — investigative science reporting with an attitude and ironic sense of humor — that made me very glad I didn’t choose to be an astronaut. )

29. I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50 by Annabelle Gurwitch (laugh-0ut-loud funny, especially for us women of a certain age.)

30. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals (heartbreaking, harrowing tale of the integration of Central High in Little Rock, AK in the 1950s. Couldn’t put it down.)

31. Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Harry Potter meets Hunger Games for adults because the themes are more complicated. Rated R for violence. Great fun?)

32. How to Be a Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis (laugh-out-loud funny in places, and boy, did I ever recognize myself, The Reader.)

33. (audio) The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) (she fooled me. I really didn’t see that coming. And I immediately downloaded the second in the series.)

34. You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn (a hilarious and honest, he-said, she-said look at marriage.)

35. Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (a charming, timeless children’s story about much more than the clever dog for which it’s named.)

36. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Judy Blume for grownups is not too different from Judy Blume for kids.)

37. The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey (a devastating, poignant examination of growing up with a very troubled sibling.)

*These titles were rereads.

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