December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

One final sunset for 2015. Happy New Year, dear friends!

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Books Read in 2015

Orchard Window by Daniel Garber

It's that time of year again and while I still have quite a few reviews to compose, I want to share my year-end list now rather than after I'm finally caught up. Other than the very light months of July, October, November and December, I'm pretty pleased with my year of reading.

1.  Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
2.  The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
3.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
4.  The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

5.  Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's by Meryl Comer
6.  Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
7.  The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
8.  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
9.  Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

10. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
11. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
12. The Bear by Claire Cameron
13. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
14. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
15. The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones
16. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
17. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

18. Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
19. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
20. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
21. The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
22. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

23. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
24. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
25. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
26. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

27. Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
28. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
29. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
30. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

31. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

32. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
33. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
34. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
35. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
36. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

37. Lost and Found by Jacqueline Sheehan
38. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
39. The End of Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher
40. A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

41. Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

42. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

43. Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers: Kitchen Stories from Mary's Farm by Edie Clark
44. The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

I find it very interesting to look at back on my year of reading, particularly this past year. I sure didn't do much reading this fall, did I? And while most people do a lot of reading when they're on vacation, I find that I'm too distracted to settle into a book, with the exception of the flights to and fro. We had our granddaughter with us for over three weeks this summer and we spent a couple of those weeks in Oregon, so I only finished one book in July. And then there was my amazing trip to Germany in October, followed by a hectic month at work in November. I sampled a lot of my books in December, setting aside those that no longer appeal to me and stacking on my nightstand those that I still want to read in 2016.

So, the stats:

Total Books Read: 44
Print Books: 23
ebooks: 1
Audio Books: 20
Fiction: 35
Nonfiction: 9
Female Authors: 33
Male Authors: 11
New-To-Me-Authors: 29
Classics: 0
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 0
Mystery/Thriller: 10
Teen/Young Adult: 3
Childrens: 2
Memoir: 4
Read a Second Time: 1
Borrowed: 27
From My Stacks: 17


5 stars: 2
4.75 stars: 2
4.5 stars: 9
4 stars: 16
3 stars: 9
2 stars: 6

And now for my favorites, listed in the order in which they were read. (Links provided above.)

Top Ten (plus two):

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (4.5/5)
2. The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (4.5/5)
3. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (4.5/5)
4. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (4.5/5)
5. The Bear by Claire Cameron (4.5/5)
6. Wonder by R.J. Palacio (5/5)
7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (4.75/5)
8. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Brackman (4.5/5) 
9. Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova (4.75/5)
10. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (4.5/5)
11. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (5/5)
12. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (4.5/5)

Honorable Mentions:

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman (4/5)
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (4/5)
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (4/5)
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (4/5)
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky (4/5)
The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (4/5)
The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (4/5)
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (4.5/5)
The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey (4/5)
The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos (4/5)
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (4/5)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (4/5)
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (4/5)
Lost and Found by Elisabeth Egan (4/5)
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (4/5)
Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers by Edie Clark (4/5)

December 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

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December 28, 2015

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
2014 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Kirsten Potter
Finished on May 28, 2015
Rating: 2/5 (Meh)

A National Book Award Finalist
A PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

Publisher's Blurb:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

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.

I love post-apocalyptic and dystopian tales, but Station Eleven was a disappointment. Had I not been listening to this on audio, I am fairly certain that it would have been a DNF. I only continued because I was curious to see how it would end. I am definitely in the minority, as I see most of my blogmates gave it five stars on Goodreads, but since it's been six months since I finished, I can't remember enough to tell you why it failed to entertain me (bad blogger!). Give it a try. Perhaps you'll have a better experience than I did.

December 27, 2015

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
2015 Washington Square Press
Finished on May 25, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)


Publisher’s Blurb:

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People think him bitter, and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.

Ove's well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors, a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters, who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove's mailbox with their U-Haul. What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community's unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

A word-of-mouth bestseller that has caused a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman's irresistible novel about the angry old man next door is an uplifting exploration of the unreliability of first impressions, and a gentle reminder that life is sweet when it is shared with other people. 

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Fredrik Backman's novel is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

This delightful novel could easily be read in a day or two. It took me an entire month, though, mainly because I was on vacation and busy with other things earlier in the month. However, reading for just 10-15 minutes each night was a nice way to savor this gem of a story. I fell in love with Ove, whose struggles with grief tugged at my heartstrings, while his stubborn inflexibility made me laugh out loud. This is one to own and read again!

Favorite Passages: 
She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realised that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she loved for the rest of his life.
“Now you listen to me," says Ove calmly while he carefully closes the door. "You've given birth to two children and quite soon will be squeezing out a third. You've come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You've learned a new language and got yourself an education and you're holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I'll be damned if I've seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now....I'm not asking for brain surgery. I'm asking you to drive a car. It's got an accelerator, a brake and a clutch. Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well." And then he utters seven words, which Parvaneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he'll ever give her. "Because you are not a complete twit.”

Final Thoughts:

While this feel-good novel may make you laugh, it will also touch you on a deeper level. Ove is an unforgettable character and I look forward to reading this charming book again in the coming years. Highly recommend!

The Five Books I Want to Read This Winter

I have high hopes of reading from my shelves in 2016. Yes, the shiny new titles often call for attention, but I want to read some of those books that called out to me five or ten years ago. I think I'll wind up with a mix of old and new, but I hope to focus on what I actually own. These are the five that are currently on my nightstand (or on my Nano). What do you think? Which should be the first for 2016? I'm leaning toward Like Family.

I've had an ARC of this one for a couple of years now, but I didn't want to read it too close to reading All the Light We Cannot See. I think enough time has passed so I won't get the two mixed up.

This one has been on several of my "soon to be read" lists on this blog. I say it's high time, don't you?

I've wanted to listen to the audio production of this book for at least a year. My library still doesn't have it available to download, but I was given a subscription to for Christmas and it's the first thing I purchased. Can. Not. Wait!
My dear friend, Bellezza, sent me this gorgeous novel for my birthday earlier this month. Don't you love the cover art? We fly home from Oregon on New Year's Day and I have the following two days off before returning to work. I think I'll spend next Saturday curled up on my couch with a cup of hot tea and this lovely book.
I've read a lot of books by Rosamunde Pilcher, but for some reason I've let this one languish for far too long on my shelves. I loved the way she described everyday life in The Shell Seekers and look forward to visiting Cornwall once again through her eyes.

How about you? Do you have a list of books you'd like to read this winter or do you just grab whatever catches your eye? Do you know what will be your first book of 2016?

December 26, 2015

Happy Boxing Day!

Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day from Oregon! I hope you all had a great day with family and loved ones. I'm looking forward to a week of relaxation with no customers! I plan to sleep late, catch up on blog-hopping (and posting, maybe) and walks along this beautiful ocean.

December 17, 2015

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Young Adult Fiction
2014 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Ariadne Meyers
Finished on May 13, 2015
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

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.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I thoroughly enjoyed John Green’s young adult book, The Fault in Our Stars, so when I started hearing a lot of praise for this new “must-read” teen novel, I decided to give the audio a try. It held my interest, but it was far too predictable (and young) for my taste. I figured out the “mystery” very early on and became bored with the storyline, eager to reach the ending and see how the author tied things up. Not a book I’d recommend, but it did help pass the time while traveling.

December 16, 2015

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Maggie Hope Series #1
2012 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Donada Peters
Finished on May 5, 2015
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Heralding the arrival of a brilliant new heroine, Mr. Churchill's Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge--and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined--and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family's hidden secrets, she'll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin's murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series (set after the Great War), so when the first installment of Susan MacNeal’s series became available at my library, I decided to give it a go. Several of my friends have enjoyed this series and while I liked the historical aspects of the novel, I didn’t fall in love with the characters or narration. It was a good listen, but I doubt I’ll continue with the remaining books. I prefer to read mysteries with a little more substance and suspense. This one felt a bit juvenile and the characters lacked depth.

December 9, 2015

December 8, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
2015 Random House Audio
Read by Kimberly Farr
Finished on April 25, 2015
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher’s Blurb:

From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author—now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career—a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family's life.

"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family—their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog—is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

Depressing. Dull. Disappointing. 

These are the words I jotted down as soon as I finished A Spool of Blue Thread nearly eight months ago. Unfortunately, I didn't include any other details (and the plot has all but vanished from my memory), so I can't elaborate on my reaction to the novel.

After reading Noah’s Compass (another Anne Tyler novel) in 2010, I wrote:

I'm not sure why I keep reading Anne Tyler. I've yet to fall in love with anything she's written, but every time she writes something new, I feel compelled to give it a try. I've read (and liked) Ladder of Years , A Patchwork Planet , Back When We Were Grownups , The Amateur Marriage , and Digging To America, but I really can't say I loved any one of those.

Final Thoughts:

I think it’s time to admit that I’m simply not a fan of Anne Tyler’s writing.

December 6, 2015

The Precious One

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
2015 William Morrow
Finished on April 24, 2015
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Love Walked In, Belong to Me, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk—her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observation and Willow’s na├»ve, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.

I became of huge fan of Marisa de los Santos’s novels many years ago when I discovered Belong to Me and Love Walked In.

Love Walked In is much more than chick lit. (I'd probably call it women's fiction.) While some readers have criticized the book for its predictability and contrived coincidences, I found it to be a very satisfying story filled with humor, touching moments, believable dialogue and characters that stay with you long after you close the book. (from my review for Love Walked In)


I loved the vividly depicted characters and how the author slowly allows the reader to get close to them. Even the prickly ones... think I almost gave up, sure that it was going to be nothing more than another book about women's friendships... Sure, Belong to Me borders on fluffy chick-lit, but the writing is oh, so beautiful. Not lyrical in the sense of Pat Conroy or Rick Bragg, but beautiful, descriptive phrases that force you to pause and go back for a second reading. And no wonder: It turns out that Marisa is also an award-winning poet.

This is a book about love & friendship, trust & loyalty, and ultimately the strength of family ties... I found myself getting teary-eyed on several occasions, yet this isn't a depressing read. More than a guilty pleasure, this intimate and engaging read is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy, spring afternoon and one you'll want to share with all your girlfriends. (from my review for Belong to Me)

Unfortunately, I was not as enamored of de los Santos’s third novel, Falling Together. I couldn’t get interested in the story and gave up after a hundred pages. So, when an ARC of The Precious One arrived early this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was hopeful for another satisfying read. I did finish reading the book, but it wasn’t until the last quarter that it finally grabbed me. And, it took me three weeks to read, which tells you that it wasn’t exactly calling out to me.

Final Thoughts:

I wouldn't categorize Marisa de los Santos's books as romances, but she sure can write some beautiful passages about falling in love. Looking back at my Goodreads rating, I must have enjoyed this book better than I remember, as I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Since I don’t like to revise my ratings with the passage of time, I’ll leave it alone, although if I were to rate it today, I’d knock half a point off and say it was good rather than very good. de los Santos's books will appeal to fans of Jojo Moyes and Rainbow Rowell, as well as Anne Tyler and Beth Hoffman. If you haven’t read her early works, I highly recommend Love Walked In and Belong To Me. These are two books that remain on my keeper shelf for future rereads.

December 2, 2015

Wordless Wednesday {more or less}

A Trip of a Lifetime {Day Two - Vienna}

Vienna skyline

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Gothic Stephansdom

Capistran Chancel at St. Stephen's Cathedral

Pestsaule (Holy Trinity) Column.
Erected after the Great Plague in 1679.

An Eleve at the Spanish Riding School.
One of the first female students ever!

Imperial Chancellory Wing 
at the Hofburg Imperial Palace.

Hofburg Imperial Palace. 
Official residence and workplace 
of the President of Austria.

Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor

Theseus Temple in the Volksgarten 
(People's Garden).


Austrian Parliament Building 
with the Pallas Athene Fountain.

Athena and Nike

Museum of Natural History

Mozart in the Burggarten.

The Schmetterlingshaus 
(the Imperial Butterfly House)
and the Palmenhaus (Palm House)
 at the edge of the Burggarten.

Back on board for the Captain's Welcome Dinner.

Click on image for full size version.