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.

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!

Image: Pixabay

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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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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Christmas books – there are more than you think!

I recently discovered a genre of fiction I’d never thought about much. Christmas themed books. I’m not talking about the classics, like those pictured here. I’m talking about Christmas mysteries and suspense, Christmas romances, sweet stories, warm stories and stories with dogs. Do a search on Goodreads, Amazon or your local library catalog. You will find too many to count! Here are some classics:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

And here are some others that caught my eye:


Are you looking for a holiday mystery? Many mystery writers are in the game.

19th Christmas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Christmas at Timberwoods by Fern Michaels
Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
Christmas Cookie Murder by Leslie Meier
Christmas Crumble by M.C. Beaton
The Christmas Scorpion by Lee Child
Cremas, Christmas Cookies and Crooks by Harper Lin
Festive in Death by J.D. Robb
Hark the Herald Angels Slay by Vicki Delaney
Homicide for the Holidays by Cheryl Honigford
Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan
The Usual Santas by Peter Lovesey

How about a sweet story? There are plenty of those.

An Amish Christmas by Cynthia Keller
The Christmas Boutique by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Christmas Return by Anne Perry
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber
Home for Christmas by Nora Roberts

Books with dogs? Did you think there wouldn’t be any?

1225 Christmas Tree Lane by Debbie Macomber
A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron
The Christmas Wedding Swap by Allyson Charles
Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt
Pupcakes by Annie England Noblin
Puppy Christmas by Lucy Gilmore

Maybe you’re looking for something a little racy…I won’t tell!

Cowboy Boots for Christmas by Carolyn Brown
A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas by Kim Redford
Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas by Terry Spear
My Favorite Things by Lynsay Sands
An Outlaw’s Christmas by Linda Lael Miller
A Scottish Lord for Christmas by Lauren Smith

Or maybe something new or different.

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Tru and Nelle by G. Neri
Wishin’ and Hopin’ by Wally Lamb

I may try one or two of these during the holidays, especially Tru and Nelle by G Neri, which is about Truman Capote and Harper Lee as children and Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, recommended by my work friend K. How about you? Do you like reading Christmas fiction? What are your favorites?

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing
by
Delia Owens

Rating:

Kya Clark is six years old when her mother walks out of the shack they call home. The falling-down structure is hidden in the marshes of North Carolina, outside the fictional coastal town of Barkley Cove, a place where racial tension and small-town prejudices are firmly in place. The shack is the only place the Clark family knows, where her father’s abusive rages have terrified Kya, her mother and her siblings. Soon her older siblings run, leaving only Kya and her father, who provides her with nothing but fear. And 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 named Chase Andrews has died. In alternating chapters, readers learn Kya’s story of survival and how she becomes part of the investigation into Chase’s death.

Kya may be a “marsh girl,” but she has extraordinary talents that enable her to devise ways to survive and battle her loneliness, trying to understand why everyone has left her. Fearful of other people, she learns how to live as one of nature’s creatures, reaching out to just a few trusted souls who help her.

Then one day, she meets a boy, Tate Walker, who shyly leaves her presents, and a tentative friendship begins. “She’d never had a friend, but she could feel the use of it, the pull.” Their relationship grows and changes with them, opening her eyes to a larger world. But time and outside pressure soon bring disappointment and loss, leaving Kya alone once again.

I don’t want to give away too much, because the joy of this fantastic story is in reading it first-hand. I have always loved books that include nature as a character, with themes of its strong influence on human behavior. Delia Owens, with her unique background as an award-winning wildlife scientist, has created a beautiful coming-of-age story in which nature’s beauty and harsh instincts play a major role. I read this book non-stop over the course of three days, not because I wanted to get through it, but because I was so invested in Kya’s world.

If you’re looking for a high-quality read to fit it before the end of the year, I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing. It measures up to all the hype and the hundreds of thousands of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

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The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers
by
John Marrs

Rating:

When eight self-driving cars suddenly change course, counter to their pre-programmed destinations, their passengers don’t know what to think. Soon, they are told that “it is highly likely” they will be dead in two and a half hours: their cars are set to meet in a fiery crash.

What to do? They have no control. No steering wheels, no brakes. They can’t open the windows or doors and their Internet has been hacked. Cell service is out and their only communication is with the hacker.

Meanwhile, Claire Arden has been called for jury duty, of sorts. She’s the only civilian member of the Vehicle Inquest Jury, formed to decide who’s at fault in a fatal crash involving driverless cars. “Either man or machine is to blame, and you will decide,” she is told. As the debate unfolds, the jury is suddenly alerted to the situation on the roads, which has gone wild, first on social media and quickly picked up by all news organizations. Camera feeds from each car reveal the hostages inside, and their images are plastered for the world to see, and comment on, of course. And it isn’t long until the jury is charged with a new task, an impossible decision.

Set in London, sometime in the near future, citizens are living in the time of a Road Revolution, in which there will be a ban on non-autonomous vehicles within ten years. But there is something more sinister going on, slowly revealed as the story develops.

In addition to his commentary on social media and the overreaching role of government (for this is a dystopian story), Marrs covers many themes, including religion, racism, mental health, sexuality, marriage and parenthood.

Although far-fetched and a little preachy, I enjoyed the original and modern premise of The Passengers. Marrs writes a fast-paced story, matching the frantic efforts to avert disaster. There are many shocks and several interesting sub-plots, including a possible romance, which kept me interested in the story’s outcome. Characters are slightly one-dimensional and stereotypical, however, and Marrs seems to include one from every category. The finish is wild and implausible, but maybe that’s part of the genre. All-in-all, I enjoyed reading The Passengers, which is an easy read and escape when the rest of your life is busy.

While I thought it was a pretty good read, lots of book bloggers loved The Passengers, so be sure to also check out these selected reviews.

The BiblioSanctum
Book Reviews | Jack’s Bedtime Reading
Dee’s Rad Reads and Reviews
Diary of a Book Fiend
Stephen Writes

Have you read The Passengers? Leave a comment and tell me what you thought.

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Back of Beyond by C. J. Box

Back of Beyond
by
C. J. Box

Rating:

Cody Hoyt is a rogue investigator for Montana’s Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department, returning to his home town after the job and more went wrong in Colorado. He’s thirty-eight, divorced, and a recovering alcoholic. When his AA sponsor dies in a suspicious cabin fire, Cody is sure it’s murder. A clue points to a wilderness adventure outfitter and an upcoming trip to Yellowstone National Park. Is this the same trip his teenage son, Justin is about to take?

Cody is determined to stay on the wagon and avenge his sponsor’s death and he will do anything to protect his son. But how can he find Justin and the group which is traveling by horseback in the park’s back of beyond? It’s not long before he has broken too many rules to count and is forced to turn in his badge and weapon. As he goes off on his own, Cody’s only help comes from his ally in the department, Larry Olson.

In an exciting story that alternates between Cody’s investigation and the group’s trip, readers will try to assemble the clues and facts. Meantime, the power struggles and dynamics between the group and its guides is a fascinating study of human behavior. Several characters act suspiciously, some are downright unlikable, and some are fools or just plain weak. Justin is indeed on the trip, as well as two sisters from another family. One has sharp insight and the other has eyes for Justin, giving the story a nice balance of the teenage point of view.

As members dissent and others disappear, readers know it is only a matter of time before the killer is identified. But whether Cody can find the group in time is another matter. Good luck even trying to figure it out. You will need to read to the wild finish to learn all the connections!

Back of Beyond is a highly entertaining mystery adventure. This is the first C. J. Box book I have read and I’m sure I will read more. Of course, there is the required suspension of disbelief during certain developments, but I think that is part of the package in this genre.

What I liked best about the story is the way Box describes Yellowstone because it made me want to book a trip. An avid outdoorsman, Box takes pride in writing about things he knows. I’d say it shows.

C.J. Box is the author of twenty-seven novels, including the popular Joe Pickett series. Back of Beyond is a standalone novel and he has several others, including Blue Heaven (2009), which won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel.

You can learn more about C. J. Box from this short interview from the 2016 ThirllerFest.

Have you read anything by C. J. Box? Are you a Joe Pickett fan? Leave a comment and let me know!

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