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?

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!

My Friend Anna – The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams

My Friend Anna – The True Story of a Fake Heiress
by
Rachel DeLoache Williams

Rating:

In 2017, Rachel Williams, a young woman working for Vanity Fair magazine in New York, made friends with a 26-year-old woman named Anna Delvey. Delvey was living in a swank hotel and claimed to be a German heiress. The two became fast friends and Anna brought Rachel into her world, treating her to expensive restaurants, nightclubs, workouts, saunas, and pedicures. Anna claimed to be negotiating a big idea – a private art club, housed in the historic Church Missions House on Park Avenue. A couple months later, Anna invited Rachel and two others to join her on a lavish, all-expenses paid vacation in Marrakech, Morocco.

That’s where it all went south. When Anna’s credit cards didn’t work in Marrakech, she persuaded Rachel to put the charges on her own cards, including a Vanity Fair American Express expense account, assuring Rachel she’d pay her back as soon as she talked to her bank. The charges totaled over $62,000 and Anna began to drag her feet. After two months of promises (my favorite line from these conversations: “Would Bitcoin be okay?”), Rachel began to understand that she’d been conned.

My Friend Anna is the story of how Rachel, 29, dealt with being duped out of a large amount of money, which included providing authorities with information and evidence that led to Anna’s arrest. The charges were grand larceny and theft of services from Rachel and others of more than a quarter million dollars. Rachel testified at her trial and wrote this book.

This story has gawkers’ appeal. You read it because you want to know how anyone could fall for a scam like this and you’re glad it’s not you! The author fell for her friend’s tales of wealth and billion dollar trust fund. And her fatal mistake was taking out her own credit card to cover the costs of their vacation. I didn’t feel too sorry for her, however. The book deal and HBO’s purchase of the story have probably taken the sting out of this friendship gone wrong.

That said, I tore through the story and enjoyed reading how it all unraveled. I especially liked the text message exchanges, which while they were repetitive and a bit whiny, reflected Rachel’s desperate attempts to get her money back. I would have liked to know more about Anna, whose past is revealed late in the book. For most of the story, she’s an enigma.

Of course, when I finished, I wanted to see just who these people were. To round that out, here’s a good interview from ABC Nightline:

So all in all, a good, fast read, a little light on substance, but entertaining.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood
by
Truman Capote

Rating:

A non-fiction novel. What is that, exactly? Many believe that the pioneer of this genre was Truman Capote. His best selling book, In Cold Blood, is a chilling depiction of a senseless murder. In a 1966 New York Times interview with George Plimpton, Capote explains his decision to write a book about the brutal 1959 murder of a Kansas family:

The motivating factor in my choice of material—that is, choosing to write a true account of an actual murder case—was altogether literary. The decision was based on a theory I’ve harbored since I first began to write professionally, which is well over 20 years ago. It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the ‘nonfiction novel,’ as I thought of it.

The result was In Cold Blood. Published in 1966, it became an instant success and is considered Capote’s masterpiece.

On November 14, 1959, Herb Clutter, his wife, Bonnie and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, were brutally murdered in their Holcomb, Kansas home. Their killers, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, were two ex-cons looking for fast cash. They’d heard that the Clutters had a safe full of money and drove over 400 miles across the state to rob the family. When they discovered there was no safe, and very little cash, the two men killed the Clutters in a rage.

I was curious about this book, but I had avoided it for many years. I don’t like reading violent crime stories, but as a Capote fan, I knew I had to read it. While the story is about the crime and the investigation, it is equal parts a picture of a small middle-American farming town and a psychological study of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. While I had no sympathy for these men, I was fascinated with their back stories. Hickcock’s insistence on robbing the Clutters, along with Smith’s unpredictable reactions to people and situations led to killings that may not have happened on a different day.

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 Hickock and Smith, 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.

In Cold Blood was first published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker in 1965. It was published in book form the following year. How Capote organized this vast amount of information and assembled the story is extraordinary.

Capote made a lot of friends in Kansas, but he also made some enemies. He was particularly close to the lead investigator, Alvin Dewey, but Duane West, a prosecuting attorney, hated Capote. West called the book “garbage” (but he didn’t read it) and claimed that it wasn’t factual. He said that Capote made Dewey into a hero, when the real hero was a man named Rohleder, who captured important evidence in his photographs. Some townspeople felt they were not accurately portrayed and others have criticized the account as being inaccurate. My sense is that there were a lot of big egos in town and readers need to decide for themselves.

What is definitely true is that Capote’s writing is excellent, as I expected. And as a side note, this book isn’t nearly as violent as current true crimes and thrillers. Have you read In Cold Blood? What did you think?

For more Truman Capote, visit these links:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“House of Flowers”
“La Côte Basque”
Who’s That Author? Truman Capote
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Here comes fall – books to match the season!

It’s not quite fall, but I’m already thinking fall colors. Colorful sweaters and flowers are obvious, but have you seen these fall-colored books? What looks good to you?


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson:

An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming. “Red at the Bone is fall’s hottest novel.”—Town & Country


Underland by Robert Macfarlane

From the best-selling, award-winning author of Landmarks and The Old Ways, a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future.

Hailed as “the great nature writer of this generation” (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett, the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, returns with her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone’s radar. Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own…shell.


A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman

From the author of the national bestseller The Submission comes the journey of a young Afghan-American woman trapped between her ideals and the complicated truth in this “penetrating” (O, Oprah Magazine), “stealthily suspenseful,” (Booklist, starred review), “breathtaking and achingly nuanced” (Kirkus, starred review) novel for readers of Cutting for Stone and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.


I always get excited looking at book covers and these all look good to me, especially The Dutch House and Red at the Bone. What would you add to your list?

Note: all links and descriptions are from Amazon.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book
by
Susan Orlean

Rating: 3.5

On April 29, 1986, a devastating fire tore through the hallways and stacks of the Los Angeles Public Library. It raged for over seven hours before firefighters could put it out. When it was over, 400,000 books had been destroyed and 700,000 books damaged.

The city’s Central Library, built in 1926, had no sprinklers, no fire doors and many fire code violations. That explains why it took so long to contain the fire, but what caused it? Was it faulty wiring? Was it arson? It’s never been determined, but for a while, a man named Harry Peak was a suspect. Peak was a charmer and a compulsive liar who enjoyed being in the spotlight. He claimed to have been there, then he changed his story, many times. Peak was arrested, but never charged.

The Library Book is a look at the “single biggest library fire in the history of the United States” and how the library coped with this major loss. It’s also a detailed chronicle of the city’s library system. From 1844, when the earliest library in Los Angeles was established, to present day, where library staff work at the beautifully restored Central Library.

I enjoyed reading The Library Book, but it wasn’t what I expected. I thought I was going to be reading a mystery about the fire, but discovered that the book is more of a sentimental history book about libraries and librarians, patrons and administrators. As a library worker, I related to a lot of the descriptions and agree with the author’s observation that libraries are much more than a place to get books. They are as much community centers as they are places of enrichment, learning and exploration.

I also liked reading about how the city saved many of the damaged books, by freeze drying them for two years, with help from McDonnell Douglas, Airdex and NASA. Library staff helped too, just days after the fire, by sorting through and packing books to be shipped off for restoration. I would have liked more on this part of the story and was frustrated to instead find many strung-together chapters with little connection to the fire.

To be fair, the book’s title is true to what’s really inside: a book about a library. But publicity and hype made it sound different to me. I’m glad I read it and learned a few things, but I thought it was a little boring. However, anyone who has special attachment to libraries or childhood memories about visiting them will enjoy the descriptions.

I found a very interesting video about the fire and you can watch it here:

 

Have you read The Library Book? What did you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

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

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

Rating:

Here’s a quick – read-in-an-hour – book that is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. I learned about Notes from a Public Typewriter from my blogging friend Charley over at booksandbakes1 and I’m so happy I got my hands on the book!

Notes from a Public Typewriter is all 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 fit the mood of the store perfectly because Gustafson has a soft spot for old typewriters. His grandfather’s 1930s Smith Corona is on display at the register.

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. From confessions and affirmations to marriage proposals and humorous ditties, Gustafson, his wife and their booksellers have seen it all. They share the best of the best in this little book. When you finish, you’ll feel a little more connected with the world.

I don’t want to share too much because the fun is in reading the messages and seeing the store for yourself! Notes from a Public Typewriter is a feel-good book you’ll want to keep on your coffee table. It would be a great gift for a friend, too!

Thank you, Charley, for telling me all about this book. Books and Bakes is one of my favorite blogs so be sure to visit and see Charley’s creative day-trip posts, book reviews and Poloroid snaps.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

What’s That Book? Football for a Buck by Jeff Pearlman

TitleFootball for a Buck

Author:  Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:

What’s it about?
This book highlights the rise and fall of the United States Football League (USFL), which lasted for three seasons in the 1980s. It dives into the incredible highs that the league experienced, such as enticing the talents of Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White to play in the league. But it also goes into detail on the laundry list of reasons why the league failed so quickly, as well as its ties to current US President, Donald Trump, who was one of the league’s team owners.

How did you hear about it?
I follow Pearlman on Twitter, so I was pulled in as he shared info about the book during the reporting process. I have also read two of his previous books, Gunslinger and Sweetness, which are biographies on Brett Favre and Walter Payton, respectively.

Closing comments:
It is impossible to read this book and not draw parallels between Trump’s actions now and how he acted in the USFL, despite that being over 30 years ago. Whether you support him or not, Trump was a key contributor to the eventual downfall of the league. Backed by a series of bold lies, he convinced the other league owners that a move from the spring to the fall to compete directly with the NFL was not only necessary, but it would allow the USFL to win a lawsuit against them for creating a monopoly on professional football. Instead of the slow, steady progress that the league initially aimed for, the immediately-shoot-for-the-moon path instead catapulted the USFL directly into the sun as it faded away into football history.

This book was especially interesting to read after the Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed this past spring as it also attempted to provide football for fans during the NFL offseason. That league was shut down after half a year due to some of the same pitfalls as the USFL, but after reading more about both leagues, it was clear the USFL had a lot of things right that the AAF didn’t. The USFL had some of the best football players in the world, while the AAF primarily had NFL rejects. And with Vince McMahon’s reboot of the XFL planned for next year, it’ll be curious to see if one of the other biggest egos in sports entertainment will take the history of these failed leagues and turn his venture into a success.

In closing, the reporting and storytelling by Pearlman are top notch as usual. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pro football history.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an associate editor for a medical publishing company and graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a football fan his whole life, cheering for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed at http://austinvitelli.com/thephillysportsreport/.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

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

Rating:

In 1994, Piper Kerman, was a recent graduate of Smith College when she became romantically involved with a woman who was deep into a heroin smuggling scheme. Soon, out of a combination of infatuation and boredom, Piper agreed to help with the business. The ugly reality and danger of moving drugs, however, made her nervous, so she eventually broke free, moved across the country and started a new life.

Piper’s old life caught up with her, however, and in 1998 she was indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. In 2004, after years of delays, due to other pending indictments and sentencings, Piper was ordered to report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury where she would serve thirteen months.

Orange Is the New Black is Piper’s memoir about her experience in this minimum security prison. Her story was published in 2010 and was adapted for Netflix in the Emmy award-winning show of the same name. Season 7, its final season, is scheduled for release on July 26.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, who does an excellent job adapting her voice to many characters. I thought her voice sounded familiar and that’s because Campbell is an audiobook superstar. She’s narrated over 700 titles, has won four Audie Awards and is in Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame.

Piper’s engaging story tells of a young a privileged white woman who learns to assimilate herself in a diverse population of women. While life at Danbury is far different from anything she has experienced, she approaches it with a positive attitude and develops strong friendships with her “bunkies” and other women in the prison. Of course, she has many regular visitors from the outside, including her journalist fiancé. And she receives a lot of mail and books and remote support from her family, including plenty of money to get what she needs at the commissary.

Many of the women at Danbury are in far worse shape, serving long sentences, separated from their children, and with few visitors. Piper’s empathy seems genuine, though and, despite the differences, the women find ways to connect and support each other.

I enjoyed listening to this memoir. I’m late to the party in learning about the book and the show, but I’m glad I finally got to it.

Today, Piper Kerman is an outspoken advocate for women in prison. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family and teaches writing in two state prisons as an Affiliate Instructor with Otterbein University.

Have you read or listened to Orange Is the New Black? Have you watched the show? I plan to watch eventually!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Right Stuff – the book by Tom Wolfe, the 1983 movie and how we got to the moon

Image: Wikipedia

Did you know that we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing? On July 20, 1969, the United States Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the moon. Six hours after the lunar module landed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon!

The race to space began over a decade earlier, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957. In response, the United States formed the Mercury Seven, a group of seven pilots who began training to be the first Americans in space. They were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. This was the beginning of the new astronaut profession and, between 1961 and 1963, all seven flew into space. All this training led to the historic moon landing in 1969.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff is about this group and the test pilots that came before them, including Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Wolfe’s critically-praised book was published in 1974 and became the Academy Award-winning film in 1983.

I recently watched the movie, starring Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and even a very young Jeff Goldblum. I enjoyed the movie very much because, even though I knew about the Space Race, I didn’t see the movie back in 1983 and didn’t know much about the Mercury Seven. What is the most impressive is the tremendous risk these men were willing to take to venture into the unknown. They suffered setbacks and failure and Gus Grissom died in a pre-launch test. But the public’s adulation of these men marked the beginning of America’s fascination with space exploration.

The Mercury Seven/Image: Wikipedia

At three hours, it’s a longer film than most, and I had to split it into two nights, but I’d recommend it. Seeing the cast as young actors was also fun!

Have you read The Right Stuff or watched the movie? Maybe you’re too young, but if you’re around my age, you will remember the lunar landing!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!