New York Public Library’s Top 10 Checkouts of All Time

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Did you see the New York Public Library’s Top 10 Checkouts of All Time? They published the list this month to mark their 125th anniversary. I bet you know all ten of these books. Six of them are children’s books, but what about Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown? It didn’t make the list, but it made Honorable Mention and here is how the library explains it:

By all measures, this book should be a top checkout (in fact, it might be the top checkout) if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated Goodnight Moon when it first came out. As a result, the Library didn’t carry it until 1972. That lost time bumped the book off the top 10 list for now. But give it time.

Years ago, libraries weren’t even open to children and, as explained in this recent Washington Post article, Anne Carroll is credited with “introducing an entire generation of children to libraries in the early 20th century.” She just wasn’t a fan of Goodnight Moon and a couple others.

Here are the Top 10 Checkouts:

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  3. 1984 by George Orwell
  4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Thanks very much to K. for sending me this article!

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Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk – still my favorite!

One of the best things about looking back at your all-time favorite books is reliving the great feelings you had when you read them. And no matter how many new great books I read, I’ll always go back to my number one all-time favorite book, Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk.  Last year, I was excited to learn that a couple of my blogging friends (Annika Perry’s Writing Blog and Pamela Wight at RoughWighting) had added it to their 2019 reading lists. How fun to see that people are still reading this book that first hit the scene in 1962!

Youngblood Hawke is the story of a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist. Publishers, agents, Broadway producers, filmmakers, real estate developers and, of course, women, all want a piece of this larger-than-life, good-natured and ambitious personality. Hawke’s goal all along is to make enough money so that he can really get down to business and write his most serious work, something he calls his American Comedy. There are lots of ups and downs and many detours. At 800 pages, it’s not exactly a fast read, but it’s lots of fun and well worth the commitment.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’s read Youngblood Hawke, but there are lots of fans out there. Check out these reviews and maybe you’ll add it to your list!

The average rating on Goodreads is 4.04
Amazon rates it at 4.5
This review from the LA Times says “’Youngblood Hawke’ Is No Turkey”

Are you tempted?

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Click here to see Book Club Mom’s Top 15 Faves.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone
by
Wilkie Collins

Rating:

Serious mystery readers may already know that The Moonstone is considered “the first and greatest of English detective novels.” Those are the words of T. S. Eliot, poet, playwright, literary critic and winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature. I read The Moonstone, which was first published in 1868, for the Whodunits mystery book club at the library where I work.

Wow. It’s a whopping, 482 pages of dense type, with footnotes, so I had to go hard to get it read by my deadline, but it was totally worth it!

The story begins in India, with the Storming of the Seringapatam by an English Imperialist army, during which a valuable gem is stolen from a religious icon. John Herncastle brings the famous Yellow Diamond back to England and, when he dies, it goes to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her eighteenth birthday. It’s an act of revenge, though, because the gem is rumored to be cursed and Herncastle’s family hates him. And a mysterious trio of Indians has been lurking in the shadows ever since Rachel’s cousin, Franklin Blake, brought the Diamond, aka The Moonstone, to the family’s home in Yorkshire.

Rachel wears the Diamond for her birthday party and by morning it’s missing. The local police manage to offend the servants and soon, the famous Sergeant Cuff is called from London. He discovers an important clue, and the investigation takes off. Rumors from London suggest the gem been pawned and secured in a bank vault. If true, how did it get from Yorkshire to London?

The narrative is from many points of view, beginning with Lady Verinda’s butler, Gabriel Betteredge. He quickly becomes Cuff’s sidekick as they try to unravel the events that led to the lost Diamond. Other narrators include a poor relation, Miss Clack, who is eager to share her carpetbag full of religious pamphlets and Franklin, who was also Rachel’s love interest before the gem went missing, and is now under suspicion. Many additional characters contribute clues, but they don’t always lead in the right direction: Rosanna Spearman is a plain housemaid (and former thief) with a deformed shoulder, and she knows something. Philanthropist Godfrey Ablewhite is another love interest and “Limping Lucy” Yolland holds a letter that may explain a lot.

The mystery is set in both the coastal region of Yorkshire, where a scary tract of quicksand may have swallowed up some answers, and in London, where shady lender Septimus Luker has an office and family lawyer Matthew Bruff wields an imposing legal influence.

Halfway through the book and you wonder if the mystery will ever be solved. It will, but there’s a lot to discover, through briefly introduced characters in the beginning, and new characters, all leading towards a twisted and spectacular finish.

While not an easy read, I totally recommend The Moonstone as an example of how it’s done. I’m only giving it 4.5 stars, however, because of its difficulty.

And here’s something interesting: the book was originally published in serialized format by Collins’s good friend, Charles Dickens!

Have you read The Moonstone? What did you think?

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow
by
Amor Towles

Rating:

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov appears before Russia’s Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. It’s all because of a 1913 revolutionary poem published in Rostov’s name, deeming him a threat to the country. Instead of execution or a trip to Siberia, the Committee orders the Count to serve the rest of his days under house arrest at the famous Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where the new Bolshevik regime has taken over the second floor.

Rostov has lived in luxury at the hotel for four years, but his new chambers are in the hotel’s crowded attic and he must abandon most of his belongings. And so begins the Count’s new life within the walls of the hotel.

Rostov may be accustomed to riches, but that hasn’t made him soft. He knows that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

In a terrific story that spans over thirty years, Rostov redefines his “citizenship” at the hotel, which is the center of Russian history, culture, politics and international travel. And just as the Metropol is the hub of activity, the Count becomes central to many relationships, both personal and political.

From a charming nine-year-old girl, Nina, to a moody chef, an exacting maître d’, a seamstress, a famous actress, politicians, businessmen, an old friend and many others, these relationships expose Rostov to the country’s great social and political upheaval and the Western world’s reaction to it. Insulated from hardship and persecution, the Count may just be “the luckiest man in all of Russia.”

In 1938, Nina returns to the hotel and asks Rostov a great favor, and this is when the Count’s life’s purpose begins. Story lines and relationships take on new meanings as Rostov, now an older man, plans for the future.

I loved every word of this book because it includes all the things I value in a great story: historical setting, passage of time, strong relationships, loss, big themes, and an interconnected plot that comes together by equal amounts of planning and chance.

What a feat for Towles to create such a relatable character as Rostov. Although the Count’s aristocratic life has made him into one man, it’s his ability to adapt and his empathy for people that makes him so endearing. Towles mixes that in with a proper man’s honor, a sentimental soft spot and adventuresome wile, making Rostov’s character one I will think about for years to come.

I highly recommend A Gentleman in Moscow. I was a little late to the party in reading it, but I’m in good company. It made Bill Gates’s top reads of 2019 (see the list here and read his Goodreads review here).

Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? What did you think?

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A great reading year for fiction and nonfiction – check out these recommended reads!

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It’s been a great reading year and the perfect time to share the books I’ve enjoyed. I’m ready to curl up with a good book, are you?


Fiction

Leaving the Beach by Mary Rowen

The story of a young woman and her search for happiness. Set in the working class town of Winthrop, Massachusetts, readers get to know her in alternating time periods—in the 1970s and ‘80s as an awkward teenager and college student, and in the 1990s as a young adult.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Highly recommend this terrific story of complicated family dynamics. You’ll want to read it all at once to know how it works out!


Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

Debut collection of 13 coming-of-age stories, set in Houston, and told mainly by one character. An uncensored look at a struggling population with a hopeful finish. One of Barack Obama’s Top Picks of 2019.


Nonfiction

The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the
Story of my Father by Janny Scott

Interesting biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter Janny Scott. A history, spanning four generations of a wealthy family that settled on what’s called the Main Line outside of Philadelphia.


Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Young Adult graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky.


How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in
Thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery

The more Sy Montgomery studies animals and nature, the more she knows that humans have a lot to learn about the creatures that share our world. In this book, she describes her unique relationships with 13 animals and what they have taught her.


What good books did you read in 2019?

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Mysteries and thrillers to keep you guessing

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I read some good mysteries and thrillers this year, some debuts and others by established authors. Great for seasoned readers of this genre and everyone in between! Take a look:


Back of Beyond by C. J. Box

Tense murder mystery set in Yellowstone National Park, with a suspended investigator on the heels of a wildnerness adventure tour, sure his son is in danger.


Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

A conflicted Texas Ranger is in hot water with the force for helping out a family friend facing murder charges. Forced to turn in his badge, he goes rogue with a new investigation.


A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

Entertaining historical mystery, set in England during World War I. The first book of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, introducing Bess as a highly skilled young nurse aboard the doomed HMHS Britannic.


The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

When Vincent deVries of Stanhope & Sons summons his Wall Street investment banker team to a compulsory meeting, the last thing they expect is to be trapped in an elevator, meant to be the setting for an escape room activity.


Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Fictionalized account of the 1876 murder of Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic free spirit in San Francisco, who dressed like a man and earned a living catching frogs for restaurants.


The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope has another crime to solve when her neighbor, Joanna Tobin, goes missing and an influential professor is murdered. Could Joanna, who is off her meds, be responsible for the professor’s death?


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Debut novel and a mystery/courtroom drama in which a young mother stands trial for the murder of her 8-year-old autistic son.


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.


Those People by Louise Candlish

On the problem of despicable neighbors, here’s a new book about a couple that moves into an idyllic and award-winning neighborhood in South London and drives the families to desperation.


What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

It’s 1975 when two sisters disappear from a busy mall outside Baltimore, Maryland. They separate at the mall and never come home. Thirty years later, a mysterious woman returns and claims to be one of the missing girls.


Did you read any good mysteries or thrillers this year?

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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?

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