Book Club Mom’s July recap – walking, planting, reading and dreaming

We’re still in the middle of summer, but when July comes to a close, I always feel the rush of days and weeks, hurtling towards fall. And even though fall is my favorite season, my house will be a little less full in a month…children leaving the nest.

I’m also in the middle of my library’s summer reading challenge. This year, it’s called A Universe of Stories, created to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. So I’ve been reading and listening to books outside my usual genres, to complete different categories of the challenge. I listened to two audio books on my walks and I managed to squeeze in a couple books of my own choice, too!

Check out my reviews here:

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Audiobook review: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

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

Those People by Louise Candlish

I was happy to meet a new (to me) indie author, Jennifer S. Alderson. If you haven’t met Jennifer yet, please stop by and say hello!

Who’s That Indie Author? Jennifer S. Alderson

If you are a self-published or indie author and would like to be featured, email me at for more information.

I also posted and author update for Geoffrey M. Cooper. His new medical thriller, Nondisclosure, is available now:

BC Mom’s Author Update: new medical thriller by Geoffrey M. Cooper

I also did a little dreaming this month, wishing for unlimited time to read some best sellers and some classics.

Book Club Mom’s dream list TBR

Book Club Mom’s classic dream list TBR

There have been more Friday Fiction shenanigans in a new chapter of “A Man and His Phone.” Feel free to jump into this little series and relive the drama of the twenty-something dating world!

Friday Fiction – A Man and His Phone

Images: Pixabay

I like to think about grammar and new word uses – can you relate to that? Here’s a post about the more recent trend of the word “relatable.”

Grammar check – is relatable a real word?

After reading Those People by Louise Candlish, I thought about all the despicable characters in books I have read, and then I made a list!

Books with unlikable characters – can you add to the list?

I watched The Right Stuff movie as part of the Universe of Stories challenge. Even though there was a lot of hype about the movie when it was released in 1983, I had never seen it!

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

And last, I was happy to be featured on Norah Colvin’s blog in her special School Days, Reminiscences feature. Be sure to visit Norah’s blog below:

School Days, Reminiscences of Barbara Vitelli

Did you have a good month? What was the best book you read? For me, I’d say Sounds Like Titanic.

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Summer reading sum-up

The best part about reading challenges is that they shake up your shelf. You may say you’re going to read a certain genre or try an audio book, but do you? A bingo card that promises a chance to win a raffle is a great motivator!

Our library’s summer reading challenge is coming to a close and I’m ready to turn in my bingo card. I didn’t fill all the squares, but I got a bingo. I also read and did some new things. Maybe I’ll win a prize!

Here’s a rundown of the squares I filled:

Listen to an audio book: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Read a children’s classic: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Choose a book because you like its cover: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Read a book set within the past 20 years: Death in a Mudflat by N.A. Granger
Read a book about a musician: David Bowie – A Life by Dylan Jones
Read or listen to any book you choose: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine
Read a book in a genre you don’t usually read: Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt
Read a book you own but haven’t read: Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Read a book set in a place you’d like to visit: The Dry by Jane Harper
Read a book suggested by a librarian: Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb

I also did some fun activities!

Watch a movie based on a book: The Martian starring Matt Damon
Check out and listen to a music CD: Louis Prima – His Greatest Hits
Read a magazine on our library’s online service, Flipster: Good Housekeeping
Submit a review for a book you read this summer: David Bowie – A Life by Dylan Jones

And my favorite, because look at this cool leaf I made:

Attend a program at your library: Leaf Casting Workshop – (read how here)

This is a magnolia leaf. I’ll be painting and sealing it next month!

How was your summer? Did you do any challenges? What did you read?

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor


Classic children’s books don’t get any better than this story about a spoiled, but frail and lonely ten-year-old orphan girl who is sent to live on a vast English moorland manor, with a reclusive uncle she has never met. In a delightful transformation, fresh air, exercise, surprise friendships, returned health and the newfound wonders of a secret and neglected garden are the springtime magic that brings Mary Lennox and her new family together.

Mary has lived a privileged life in India, waited on by her Ayah and knowing nothing about good manners or other people’s feelings. Her parents have died of cholera and now she must learn how to be kind to others and do things for herself. She’s been warned that her uncle has little interest in children. In fact, Archibald Craven is determinedly away when Mary arrives at Misselthwaite Manor and she is left in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, and the young housemaid, Martha Sowerby.

There are many secrets at Misselthwaite, including long corridors, hundreds of unused rooms and strange noises in other parts of the house. She’s told to stay in her own rooms when indoors, so Mary explores the outdoors where she finds many gardens and meets the groundskeeper, Ben Weatherstaff, and a friendly robin. When the robin flies to the top of a tree in an enclosed garden with no apparent door, Mary knows she must find a way in.

Once discovered, it’s a secret Mary longs to share with someone she can trust. And when she meets Dickon, Martha’s younger brother, she knows he is the perfect friend to tell. Dickon knows all about gardens and the creatures on the moor and has a magic about him that makes him glow with happiness. As the two children plant flowers and clear out the weeds, Mary learns about the unbearable unhappiness the garden represents to her uncle. And the alarming cries in the night reveal another secret about the manor.

As Mary befriends the people in her small world who struggle with their own problems, she entrusts them with her secret and learns that the greatest joy comes with helping each other. It’s a delightful story in which goodness rises to the top of much loss and sadness. The author does not shy away from these realities; she tells of them plainly and shows that faith and a little bit of springtime magic are no match for Misselthwaite’s troubles.

There is more to tell, but some secrets are better enjoyed first-hand. I recommend The Secret Garden to all readers, young and old, who enjoy books about children, friendship and the joys of finding a way out of unhappy times. I especially enjoyed this Tasha Tudor Edition, published in 1962 by Harper Collins. The artist’s illustrations are beautiful and give the reader a wonderful picture of Burnett’s story.

I read The Secret Garden as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a children’s classic.

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The Martian – the book and the movie


Who believes that the book is always better than the movie? I usually feel that way, but sometimes the film adaptation of a book removes the storytelling weaknesses, takes the good parts and makes an excellent story even better. That’s the case here with the movie version of The Martian.

I very much enjoyed the book version and the huge success of Andy Weir’s book is something all self-published authors can aspire to. The book was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. Here’s his success story:

Andy Weir, Image:

Andy Weir, a software engineer, has always enjoyed studying relativistic physics, orbital mechanics and manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel. He started writing it in 2009 and spent a great deal of time researching. It was originally self-published in 2011. He first offered it for free (in serial format) on his website. Weir’s chapters were popular and he developed an enthusiastic fan base. His readers urged him to offer it in Kindle format on Amazon. This 99¢ Kindle version was hugely popular and became an Amazon best-seller, selling 35,000 copies in three months. That got some publishers’ attentions. Weir sold the audiobook publishing rights to Podium Publishing in 2013 and soon after, Crown Publishing bought the print rights. Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights the same year and the movie, starring Matt Damon, hit the theaters in 2015.

The story is about astronaut Mark Watney, who is stuck on Mars after being separated from his crewmates during a dangerous wind storm. The team thinks he’s dead and they reluctantly escape in their Mars Ascent Vehicle. How will he survive the huge challenge ahead of him, in a NASA habitat, with no communication and only a limited supply of food and water?

I liked both reading and watching how Watney improvises and uses his mighty brain to survive. He overcomes what to a normal person would be impossible challenges and becomes the hero we all want to see. Matt Damon does a great job in the role. His sense of humor and human side make him all the more likable. The movie is directed by Ridley Scott and also stars Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. Click here for IMDb’s listing of the full cast and crew.

I thought the book was very good, although it was a little heavy on the math and science. And that’s why I think the movie is even better, because the story rises to the top. It’s what we all want in this type of film: action and a feel-good finish. As with all action films, viewers need to let go of analyzing whether or not events could actually happen and just enjoy the story.

I recommend both the book and the movie to science fiction fans and all movie-goers who enjoy action stories about heroes and overcoming adversity. I also recommend reading the book first because I don’t think the story would be as enjoyable if you’ve already seen the movie.

Click here for Book Club Mom’s review of the book.

I watched The Martian as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to watch a movie based on a book.

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Summer Reading Challenge – Libraries Rock!

When I think about summer, I think of sitting outside somewhere on a nice warm day, with an iced tea close by and a book in my hand. Summer reads should be fun and not too difficult, right? They should be easy to pick up, put down and pick up again because we all know what happens to our attention spans when the weather gets hot!

Summer reading challenges are in full swing at the library where I work. This year’s theme is Libraries Rock! I’m all signed up and have begun working on my BINGO card. Most of the squares are for reading, but some of them involve attending library programs, visiting museums and signing up for walking challenges. I’m hoping to win a prize, but I’ll have fun even if I don’t!

I’m off to make a pitcher of tea and find a shady spot outside. What about you? Are you doing a summer reading challenge? Hope to see you out there!

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton


Newland Archer appears to have it all, wealth, class and every imaginable comfort. Life is not difficult for any in his New York circle. In 1870, appearances are everything to high society and marrying the lovely May Welland will make Archer’s life complete. So complete that he can see exactly how his life will play out, every detail, day after day. Despite a vague malaise, he’s resigned to this future until May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, returns to New York, on the run from a disastrous European marriage. That’s when Archer’s internal torment begins.

Eccentric and free-thinking, Ellen does what she wants. And although the powerful Mingotts and Mansons welcome her return to the family, they expect conformity, not scandal. At the helm is Mrs. Manson Mingott, Ellen’s grandmother, who does what she must to keep the family on course.

I highly recommend this 1920 classic which was initially published in four parts in the Pictorial Review magazine. The Age of Innocence won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and portrays a period of time on the verge of change and in which the New York upper class clings to appearances, convention and the subtle, but highly important details that define them. Like all classics, there is plenty of analysis and you can find some of it here on SparkNotes.

Wharton was born in 1862 and grew up in the New York upper class. Her writing style is full of detail, subtle ironic humor and commentary on a way of life she knew well. I particularly enjoyed reading about the different players in Archer’s world and how they plotted behind the scenes. Fashion, interior décor, dinner parties, the opera, winters in St. Augustine and summers in Newport, Wharton’s characters live in an insulated world, but are nevertheless vulnerable to unhappiness. Women especially had few rights or freedoms. They had to conform or be cast out, as Wharton shows in both May and Ellen. I liked Archer because he’s aware of the problem and is surprisingly modern in his thoughts. Wharton also shows how her characters are uncomfortable mingling with the creative bohemian writers and artists in New York, a world which Ellen Olenksa represents. I also enjoyed reading about the newly rich outsiders in the story. Julius Beaufort is a successful banker and host to many New York galas, where Archer and his aristocracy flock, but they quickly distance themselves when he faces financial ruin.

The big questions are if Archer and Ellen can resist their passion and whether May and her family can keep the two apart. Some satisfying confrontations underscore how binding their situations are and, to today’s reader, point to solutions their world was not ready for.

The book finishes with a jump to the future in which Archer contemplates his decisions and how his New York society and the larger world has changed. Perhaps this is where Archer belonged all the while.

I’m all set to watch the 1993 movie version of this classic, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. My work friend Mary tells me the movie is very true to the book, something I love to see!


For more about Edith Wharton, check out this 2009 article from The New Yorker.

I read The Age of Innocence as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a book that is considered a classic.

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Summer Reading Challenge – create a movie soundtrack to your favorite book

One of the fun squares on my Summer Reading Challenge BINGO card is to create a soundtrack to my favorite book if it became a movie. For those of you who don’t know, my #1 all-time favorite book is Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk.  Wouk has been writing books for decades, most notably The Caine Mutiny, which was published in 1951 and won the Pulitzer Prize, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, and of course, Youngblood Hawke.

Read all about Herman Wouk in “Who’s That Author?” here. And by the way, Wouk is 102 years old and at age 100 published Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author.

So you can make sense of my soundtrack, here’s a quick summary of Youngblood Hawke:

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.

He has a work ethic like no other, writes all through the night, sleeps very little and spends the rest of his time trying to manage his new successful life, with many detours. Pushed to his limits, Hawke ignores recurring symptoms of a head injury from years ago. We watch and hope for the best as he works maniacally and under incredible financial pressure to complete his latest book. His dream is just ahead and we hope for the best.

Here’s my soundtrack!

  • Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  • Talk of the Town – The Pretenders
  • The Book I Read – Talking Heads
  • It’s Hard To Be a Saint In The City – Bruce Springsteen
  • Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
  • I’m So Anxious – Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes
  • Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan
  • Gone Hollywood – Supertramp
  • Life’ll Kill Ya – Warren Zevon

Note:  Youngblood Hawke was actually made into a movie in 1964 and starred James Franciscus, Suzanne Pleshette and Geneviève Page. My song choices are my own. You can check out the details of the film here.

I created this movie soundtrack as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge.

What’s your favorite book? Can you make a soundtrack for it?

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Summer Reading Challenge – Build a Better World 2017

It’s time to plan my summer reading list and, like last year, I’m all signed up for our library’s Adult Summer Reading Challenge. This year, it’s a BINGO board. I’m hoping to fill in all of the squares so I can win some prizes. I already have my eye on a couple of the baskets on display!

One of the challenges is to listen to an audio book. I’ve never done that so I will be forced to try something new. It gets busy at my house in the summer and I’m hoping I won’t fall behind. How do you feel about summer reading challenges? Do they stress you out or do they motivate you?

Look for this logo on my posts and follow along with my challenge.


I have completed these challenges as of 9/1/17:

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My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton
My Name Is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout


How do you put the hushed experiences of your childhood into words?  Should you?  Does recreating oneself and assimilating into New York’s diverse population give you enough distance to promise happiness?  Lucy Barton, narrator in Elizabeth Strout’s most recent novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, tries to do these things as she reflects on her family, marriage and friendships.

In her narration, Lucy tries to explain her evolution as a fiction writer.  She talks about her past, particularly a period of her life in the 1980s, when she was hospitalized for nine weeks for an unidentified infection.  Her mother, whom she hasn’t seen for years, boards a plane for the first time and travels from Amgash, Illinois to be with Lucy.  She provides an unexpected comfort.

Her being there, using my pet name, which I had not heard in ages, made me feel warm and liquid-filled, as though all my tension had been a solid thing and now was not.

Not a surprising reaction, until Lucy tells about a lonely childhood, growing up hopelessly poor and living in a garage until she was twelve.  She’s estranged from her father, who suffers from a traumatic war experience in Germany.  Other unnamed events haunt Lucy and her brother and sister, who coped in their own ways.

As they pass the time in the hospital, however, Lucy and her mother connect through her mother’s stories about other people in Amgash.  This opportunity to become mother and daughter is not completely fulfilled, however, because they only dance around the tough subjects.

Lucy’s story moves between her time in the hospital, her childhood and marriage, bringing the reader to the present in the final pages of the book.  A chance meeting with a popular fiction writer makes her wonder about her own career.  The writer tells Lucy’s writing class, “You will have only one story.  You’ll write your one story many ways.  Don’t ever worry about story.  You have only one.”

I’m not sure I completely understand this book.  It’s extremely readable, but for someone who likes to know the facts, it’s also frustrating.  Everything in the story is vague:  Lucy’s illness, her past, her relationships, her marriage.  I had a hard time getting a grip on the message.  What’s probably the point is how nearly impossible it is to understand relationships and how hard it is to talk about painful memories.  Maybe the only way to do that is forget the past and connect in any way you can, as Lucy does in the hospital with her mother and when she returns to Amgash for the last time.

The only solid relationship in the story is between Lucy and her doctor, who becomes a father figure to her, yet Strout deliberately leaves him unnamed and he fades from Lucy’s life once she leaves the hospital.  I wanted to know more about this character.

The danger of a fast read is in missing important themes.  I may have to re-read this one to understand it better.  Have you read Lucy Barton?  What was your reaction?

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The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

The Beginner’s Goodbye
Anne Tyler


When Aaron’s wife suddenly dies, there’s no time to resolve the big and small issues in their marriage.  As a thirty-something widower, he can’t bear to go back to their house.  His memory of what would have blown over as a meaningless tiff hangs inside, unresolved.

Dorothy had come at just the right time in his life.  Disabled by a childhood fever, he’d spent a lifetime being managed by his mother and sister, Nandina.  Dorothy’s indifference and matter of fact personality had been just what he needed.  “What’s wrong with your arm?” she had asked when they first met.  When he explained, she said, “Huh” and they moved on and fell in love.  But their marriage was not exactly typical.  Dorothy’s medical career kept her self-focused and inattentive, on the surface.  That’s what Aaron had wanted after all.

After Dorothy’s death, Aaron wades through the early paralyzing months of grief and he remembers what he had loved about his wife, as well as a mix of other pointless marital misunderstandings.  And when Dorothy first appears by his side, he can’t make sense of her presence, but it could be his chance to make things right.

Several nice parallel stories make The Beginner’s Goodbye a refreshing read.  The title’s tie-in with Aaron’s experience is one of them.  As an editor of a family-run vanity press, his good-bye experience fits in well with the company’s beginner’s series, guides to help readers through life’s passages.  Tyler’s message seems to suggest a gentle and guided change through difficult times. I like that.  Aaron may be lost in the trenches of unhappiness, but even his predictable and monotonous office life offers new possibilities, if only he will notice.  I like that too.

Aaron’s relationship with Nandina also changes when he moves in with his sister.  Nandina, unmarried, still lives in their childhood home.  Living there, even temporarily while his house is fixed up, makes Aaron vulnerable to her doting ways.  Is it a step forward or backward?  A surprising twist in circumstances shows Aaron that nothing stays the same, and that’s good.

I enjoyed reading The Beginner’s Goodbye because of its refreshing outlook, even in tragic circumstances.  I have read several of Tyler’s books, but nothing recent and thought this was a good way to get back into my Anne Tyler reading mode!

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