Audiobooks recommended by Book Club Mom

Image: Pixaby

I like to listen to audiobooks while I walk. Here are a few to help you burn off those holiday treats!


Dear Martin by Nic Stone, narrated by Dion Graham

Great Young Adult audiobook about the complicated dynamic of American race relations and its impact on high school senior, Justyce McAllister, an African Amercian student on scholarship at an elite school in Atlanta.


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Reynolds

Will knows what he has to do when his older brother is shot dead because, in his neighborhood, the only rules are don’t cry, don’t snitch and get revenge. Less than twenty-four hours after Shawn is killed, Will sets out to take care of the guy he’s sure pulled the trigger.


Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Author’s memoir about a young a privileged white woman who learns to assimilate herself in a diverse population of women at a minimum security prison.


What If? by Randall Munroe, narrated by Wil Wheaton

Have you ever wondered what would happen to the world if we drained our oceans? Maybe you’ve tried to imagine what Times Square, New York looked like one million, or even a billion years ago. All the answers to these and many other hypothetical questions are in this fun and informative book.


What good audiobooks did you listen to this year?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Club Mom’s great reads of 2019

I read some great books this year. Here’s a list of my favorites!


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Is it good luck to survive a plane crash over the Atlantic? Most would think yes, but Scott Burroughs, after a heroic swim to safety, with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to his neck, may wonder. Because he will soon find himself caught between competing government agencies searching for a cause and the media’s ruthless pursuit of a story, any story, even if it’s unfounded. Winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2017 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel.


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Fantastic nonfiction novel, the first of its kind and considered Truman Capote’s masterpiece. The chilling depiction of a senseless 1959 murder of a Kansas family. Capote and his childhood friend, Harper Lee, went to Kansas to research the story and compiled over 8000 pages of notes. They were granted numerous interviews with the murderers, who by then, had confessed and were in jail awaiting trial. They moved to death row after their convictions, where Capote continued to interview them until their hangings. He became particularly attached to Perry Smith and related to his unhappy childhood.


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Fantastic memoir about Hope Jahren’s experiences as a scientist. Jahren’s field is plants, especially trees, and her interest in them is contagious. She explains the fascinating way in which they grow, reproduce and adapt. Jahren writes beautifully about her profession, its challenges and about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.


Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is turning 50 and he’s at the edge of a crisis: his writing career has stalled and his former lover is getting married. To guarantee he’ll be out of the country on the day of the wedding, Less accepts a string of unusual writerly engagements that take him around the world. His goal? Forget lost love and rework the novel his publisher has taken a pass on. In a comedic series of travel mishaps, Less bumbles through this symbolic journey in search of happiness. Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl whose father has ties to organized crime. She accompanies her father on an errand and meets a mysterious man with powerful connections and won’t fully understand the impact until years later. I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.


Notes from a Public Typewriter – edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti

Guaranteed to put you in a good mood, about the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, owned by Gustafson and his wife, Hilary. When they set up the store in 2013, they put out a typewriter, with paper, for anyone to use. It wasn’t long before customers began to type random, sometimes whimsical and often heartfelt messages for all to see. This book is the combined story of these messages.


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Terrific Young Adult historical novel about three refugee children, caught in different periods of conflict, who flee their countries in search of safety and a better life. In alternating stories, the children face unpredictable danger as they desperately try to keep their families together. Each discovers that, by being invisible, they escape many dangers, but miss chances for others to help them. Published in 2017 Refugee is now included in many middle and high school curriculums. A New York Times Notable Book, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, and both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year.


Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Great memoir about a woman who is hired to play violin in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. What’s turned on is a $14.95 CD player from Walmart, playing a recorded version of a composer’s music, performed by other musicians. The music sounds suspiciously like, but a strategic note or two different from, the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya Clark is six years old when her mother walks out of their shack, a place hidden in the marshes of North Carolina, where racial tension and small-town prejudices are firmly in place in the nearby coastal town of Barkley Cove. Soon her father’s abusive rages drive Kya’s older siblings away, leaving only Kya and her father. Then one day it’s just Kya, known in town and shunned as the wild Marsh Girl. The story begins in 1952 and jumps to 1969, when a young man has died. In alternating chapters, readers learn Kya’s story of survival and how she becomes part of the investigation into his death.


What books were your favorites in 2019? Leave a comment and share your best!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

On using animals and nature as literary devices

I really like when fiction authors include animals and nature in their stories. I don’t mean when animals or trees talk, though. I’m talking about when nature has a strong influence on the story and its characters. Sometimes it’s just the setting that affects the characters, like Jane Harper’s use of a drought in The Dry. Or how Delia Owens uses the marsh to drive the story in Where the Crawdads Sing. Other books have a lot of other things going on, like in Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, but nature’s influence is still prominent. Here are links to these and a few other fiction books that fit into this category.

Fiction

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Dry by Jane Harper


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

And here are some great nonfiction books about nature and animals. They leave me feeling a strong connection between humans and nature.

Nonfiction

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Do you like books that include nature and animals? Can you add to this list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Rules for Visiting
by
Jessica Francis Kane

Rating:

May Attaway has reached a personal crossroads. She’s 40 years old and shares a house with her father (he’s in the basement apartment) and her brother has moved across the country, having broken off from the family. May is a landscape architect for the university in town and one day, she realizes that she doesn’t have many friends, and has lost touch with the ones she’s had. Something is missing and there’s a sadness about May’s family, pointing to her mother’s depression and the years of withdrawal and sickness that led to her death.

May, afraid she will be like her mother, decides to make a fix. So she uses her gifted time off and visits four old friends from childhood, college and her young adult life, hoping that by reconnecting, she will understand how to keep friends and make new ones.

“I was interested in figuring out who I was with other people, and why that person was hard to be with,” she says. She later adds, “It seems to me that your oldest friends offer a glimpse of who you were from a time before you had a sense of yourself and that’s what I’m after.”

May’s story is cleverly framed around descriptions of the many trees and plants she has come to love and understand. Of particular importance is a yew tree that May has cared for at the university. She’d brought the sapling from Scotland and tenderly cultivated until it was ready to plant and now it’s a point of interest on the grounds. Its true significance is revealed at the end of the book

In this feel-good story, May approaches a better understanding of who she is and how to connect with other people, and just as important, how to confront the sadness that has crippled her family.

In a world of fake social media connections, where impressions of the perfect life make others feel disconnected, Kane shows the value of the face-to-face friendship. May rediscovers her old friends and recognizes that the people around her, including a potential love interest, are just waiting to connect.

I enjoyed this hopeful story that started out sad but ended nicely. Rules for Visiting is a quick read that will make you want to catch up with an old friend or make plans with a new one. I recommend it to readers who like stories about friendship and overcoming depression.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones and the Six
by
Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating:

If you like stories about bands in the 60s and 70s, I think you will like this novel. The author was inspired by the band Fleetwood Mac and the relationships between its members, and her character Daisy Jones closely resembles Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac. In this case, I’m lucky to be old enough to remember music from this era and get the feel of these times as they relate to my less wild suburban high school teenage years.

The book is written in interview format and explains Daisy’s beginning as a drug-fueled groupie hanging out with bands in southern California and the rise of Reid’s fictional band, The Six. Daisy is soon discovered as a beautiful and talented signer and songwriter with a distinctive voice, and eventually joins them.

The interviews give the reader a wide perspective of the power struggles and jealousies between front man Billy Dunne and other members, particularly with Eddie Loving, who plays rhythm guitar. Each member battles private struggles as well. Billy fights addiction and wants to be faithful to his wife, Camilla and temptations are unending. Daisy has pockets full of pills and will take whatever it takes to numb her. Drummer Warren Jones often does his own thing, making you question his commitment. Other members, including Billy’s younger brother, Graham, want an equal say in the group’s decisions. Bassist Pete Loving, Eddie’s brother, is thinking he might want a normal life. The band’s keyboardist, Karen, wants to be noticed for her impressive talent, not her looks.

But it’s not just about the logistics of the band’s rise and these struggles. It’s mainly about the undeniable attraction between Billy and Daisy, as well as their alternating creative friction and collaboration. When everything aligns, the intensity is mesmerizing. Should Billy sacrifice his always supportive wife for Daisy? The story is cleverly told, and integrates a fictional album, complete with lyrics, into the account. The secret of who is recording all these interviews is not revealed until the finish, which ties up many other loose ends.

I think the author does a great job explaining how the band takes off and how the creative process works, from songwriting to recording, mixing, producing and marketing the final product, which in this case became one of the greatest albums of the time.

Daisy Jones and the Six is a fast read and has a little bit of everything about this period of music. I recommend it to readers who like stories about music, bands and their creative personalities.

Have you read Daisy Jones? What did you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

What’s That Movie? The Vanishing

Last week, I read Coffin Road by Peter May and, because I am fascinated with Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, I looked for more about the Flannan Islands, which are featured in the book. May references the unsolved mystery of three lighthouse keepers who disappeared without a trace in 1900. What happened?

The Scottish movie The Vanishing offers a possible explanation. It’s an intense psychological thriller that begins when the keepers discover a wrecked rowboat containing a chest full of gold. When another boat with two men approaches, the keepers must decide whether to mention their find to the men on the boat. Their decision leads to a frantic and unnerving cascade of events and power struggle with the visitors and among themselves.

I thought this movie was a perfect supplement to Coffin Road because, although the mystery of the missing lighthouse keepers did not play a major part of May’s story, the setting was the same and it helped me envision these isolated islands, located thirty-two miles off the coast of Scotland’s Harris Island. You would think that the rocky landscape and surging waters would offer the keepers protection from unwanted visitors, but its remote location makes them frighteningly vulnerable, and a perfect setting for an all-consuming scary movie.

I especially liked the dynamics between the three keepers. One of them is a young man who is learning the trade from the other two and is played by Connor Ryan Swindells. I thought his performance was excellent. Gerard Butler plays a family man with four young children and Peter Mullan plays an older man whose wife and children are dead. All three play convincing roles, showing what happens to the mind under extreme stress. The movie was released in 2019.

One note: The Vanishing is rated R for its violence and language that may make some viewers uncomfortable.

What’s your favorite psychological thriller? Is there a movie version?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book on my radar – Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

I have a lot to do in the next week, but I find myself looking for new books to read, instead of churning through many tasks. And I have no business adding more books to my list, but still, I do! Here’s one I’m sure to read in 2020:

From book blurb:

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, halfway across the country, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. In November 2020, Ann was long-listed for the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize.

Book blurb and author info from annnapolitano.com

I tend to gravitate toward coming-of-age stories and books about overcoming adversity. Is this a book you’d be interested in reading? I think it would make a good book club book. What new books are you looking forward to reading in 2020?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Escape the frenzy into the pages of a great book

 

Image: Pixabay

Are you in this picture? If you’re in the throes of holiday frenzy, escaping into the world of fiction can get you through the storm. Here are five books to ease the pressures of the holiday crunch:


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage. As the four parents establish their new lives, the kids are left to figure things out for themselves.


Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer

Clever mystery with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur detectives. If you’ve ever seen some of the Obama-Biden “bromance” memes, you’ll know this pair has plenty of rapport to wrap around a good story line. Who better to solve a mystery than the former President and Vice President of the United States?


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Terrific story about being different and making it anyway. Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious narration, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 

Classic children’s story about a spoiled, but frail and lonely ten-year-old orphan girl sent to live on an English moorland manor with a reclusive uncle. In a delightful transformation, fresh air, exercise, surprise friendships, and the newfound wonders of a secret and neglected garden are the springtime magic that brings Mary and her new family together.


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry is a prickly young widower and owner of a small island bookstore off the coast of New England. Business is bad and his favorite book rep has been replaced by an unfamiliar and quirky young woman. Deep in grief, he spends his nights drinking in the upstairs apartment. A.J.’s climb out of darkness is a charming tale about love, friendship and family.


Are you reading something good to take you away from this busy time? Leave a comment below!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Coffin Road by Peter May

Coffin Road
by
Peter May

Rating:

(and a half)

When a man washes ashore the Isle of Harris and a fellow islander asks what happened, he remembers and recognizes nothing. His only clue is a map in his pocket with a highlighted line up the island’s Coffin Road.

His neighbors know him as Neal Maclean, an author who is writing a book about the mysterious 1900 disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on one of the Flannan Islands. In conversations, Neal plays along, reluctant to admit he knows nothing and hoping his memory will soon return.

It isn’t easy to pretend, however, and after searching through his house, looking for anything to jog his memory, he comes up short. And it isn’t long before his life is in obvious danger. What is up on Coffin Road and what does it have to do with Neal?

In a fast-moving atmospheric mystery set in Scotland’s spectacular Outer Hebrides, where landscape, sky and winds contribute to the story’s mood and effect, Neal rushes to find answers to his ever-increasing list of questions. When a body is discovered on one of the Flannan Islands, he soon becomes entangled in a murder investigation. Is there a connection too, to the unsolved Flannan Island mystery from years ago? (For more about the Flannan Island lighthouse keepers, check out the movie The Vanishing, an excellent psychological thriller.)

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Karen is a rebellious seventeen-year-old, angry at the world and trying to understand her father’s suicide. Her mother is moving on, but something isn’t right and Karen is determined to understand why.

I’ll stop here in describing the plot, because any more would give away too much, but readers should get ready for a much broader story, with global conspiracies and clandestine efforts that point to an environmental disaster.

I enjoyed this standalone novel from 2016 by Peter May, who is a former script writer and editor for British television. I read and liked The Lewis Trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen) and was excited to read Coffin Road. I always like a good memory loss story, so Neal Maclean’s mysterious circumstances fit the bill.

A bit formulaic and with a couple incongruous situations, particularly at the end and regarding Karen’s plot line, I didn’t think this was as good as The Lewis Trilogy. A few typos and a grammar mistake (the old “I” instead of “me” no-no) took a little bit away. I don’t think this is the same publisher as his other books, so maybe it’s related to that. In addition, the environmental story line and implications were interesting, but I didn’t think they fit well into Neal’s mystery. But it was a fun read, always good during a busy time, and I’m looking forward to reading other books by May.

If you’re interested in The Lewis Trilogy, check out my reviews here:

The Blackhouse
The Lewis Man
The Chessmen

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

BC Mom’s Author Update: Kevin Brennan announces publication of new political thriller: Eternity Began Tomorrow

Welcome to Book Club Mom’s Author Update. Open to all authors who want to share news with readers. I recently caught up with Kevin Brennan, who has news about his new political thriller, Eternity Began Tomorrow. Here’s what Kevin has to say:


After taking three years away from indie publishing to query agents on some literary fiction I had in my vault, I decided to write a new novel for the indie market. With climate change in the news nearly every day, and Greta Thunberg storming the nation, a political thriller surrounding the climate-change debate and our current political condition is the result: Eternity Began Tomorrow.

Here’s the jacket blurb:

When Molly “Blazes” Bolan, a young hotshot reporter for an online news outlet, is assigned the biggest story of her career, she’s eager to run with it. Her subject, John Truthing, has built a cultish organization called “Eternity Began Tomorrow” to fight climate change, and it’s starting to snowball big time. As Blazes digs in, she’s both impressed and disturbed by Truthing, a charismatic eco-warrior with revolutionary ideas. Disturbed because his followers are mainly millennials, all hooked on a drug called Chillax and so devoted they would jump off a cliff if he asked it of them. Fact by fact, Blazes uncovers the truth about Chillax, the truth about its maker, Lebensraum Enterprises of Liechtenstein, and the truth about Truthing himself. And just as Molly’s own brother, Rory, gets recruited into the group, Truthing announces his run for president in 2020 as an independent. Blazes knows that the final story in her EBT series could destroy his movement, but she’s torn. The cause is worthy. The stakes are high. And the election of 2020 could decide the fate of life on earth. If Trump wins reelection, it’s all over.

A provocative exploration of society, politics, and human nature in an era of conflict and mistrust, Eternity Began Tomorrow shows us that the truth is never easy to confront and the political is always personal.

One awesome benefit of being an indie author is that we can write and publish our books in a super-timely manner, so EBT, as I like to call it, is actually set in today’s world, i.e., right now. It starts in October 2019 and takes us through the summer of 2020, when—as you might predict—all hell is likely to break loose.

I don’t expect the events in EBT to actually take place, but the book offers plenty of food for thought in this crazy political climate. The world is getting hotter, and so is our own national scene.

Eternity Began Tomorrow is an Amazon exclusive, available right now as an eBook, for $0.99, with a paperback to come in 2020. Check it out here.

In addition to Eternity Began Tomorrow, Kevin is the author of five previous books: Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road, Occasional Soulmates, Town Father, and Fascination. Learn more here.

Be sure to check out Kevin’s WordPress blog, What the Hell. You can also find him on Facebook @kevinbrennanbooks, on Twitter @kevinbrennan520 and on Goodreads.


For information about Book Club Mom’s Author Update,
email bvitelli2009@gmail.com.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!