Short reviews from 2013: The Fault in Our Stars, The Silent Wife and Old School

In celebration of my 7-year blogging anniversary, here are three short reviews of books I read in 2013.

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green

This is the kind of book you are self-propelled to read non-stop until you finish. I loved it because of the many gem-like moments that give you a wonderful, emotional feeling. But this is also a sad story, with heart-breaking moments. Seventeen-year-old Hazel is dying. She meets Gus, a bone cancer survivor, and they fall in love. They have an intense courtship and they know they are short on time.

I think John Green does a great job portraying Hazel and Gus. I have heard others say their conversations are too intellectual for teenagers. I don’t think so and I think he really captures the teenage intensity along with their heightened sense of the loss of time.

Although the story is written through Hazel’s point of view, Green also shows us what it is like to be parents of cancer patients, and how they must prepare themselves for loss. And he shows how Gus and Hazel cling to each other and their friend Isaac, and try to have normal teenage lives.

There are unexpected plot turns and surprising characters, and the story is nicely tied together, with some open endings to keep the reader thinking. I think the ending is uplifting and makes the best of tough loss.

The Silent Wife
A. S. A. Harrison

What’s beneath the surface of a seemingly happy relationship? Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert have a smooth way of being together and it’s worked for twenty-some years. They’ve never officially married, but it doesn’t matter. This is a marriage and they have a nice rhythm, live a very nice life and have everything they want.

Then we get to know them a little better. Todd is a big person with a big personality. He’s made a success of himself in real estate, flipping office buildings in Chicago. He loves Jodi, but has other relationships. Jodi works part-time as a psychologist, seeing patients in their home. She loves Todd, likes taking care of him and making their life nice and comfortable.  She also likes the routine of their life and looks the other way because she’s settled.

Then things begin to happen and the balance is upset. What comes next is a look at how far a person will go to make things right and fair.

Harrison has written a great story and I enjoyed every word. Her characters are fun and, despite the dark side of the plot, strangely likable. The story unfolds in a comfortable and humorous way.  I liked their life, their condo, their conversations and what they ate.  I liked the nice way they had with each other. I think she does a terrific job introducing these characters.

I like the way Harrison builds suspense and then returns to the plot, giving the reader a taste of what’s to come. The story moves at a very good pace and still provides a solid background.

Through therapy sessions that are a required part of Jodi’s training, Harrison explores Jodi’s character, her childhood and the events that shape her. Harrison helps the reader understand these characters by applying psychological theory to their backgrounds. This element adds a nice layer to the story.

There are surprises and twists all the way to the end and that makes it work. I wish I could have read it in one sitting!

Old School
Tobias Wolff

I thought this was a very interesting premise for a book, in which actual authors become characters in the story. Wolff’s story takes place in 1960 at an elite Eastern prep school for boys, which takes pride in its literary connections and achievements. The plot revolves around the school’s literary contest, whose winners are given an audience with famous authors.

Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway are featured and, at a reception in Rand’s honor, students and faculty participate in an extended discussion of her characters and philosophies in Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.

There are more complex parts of the story as well. The narrator, on scholarship to the school, is acutely aware of class distinction and privilege and keeps his modest background and Jewish heritage a secret. He struggles with his own self-image as he mirrors the looks and actions of his wealthy classmates, inviting the false assumption of wealth and class. The contest puts him at the center of a scandal that reveals deceptions and radiates to classmates and faculty. Its conclusion shows Wolff’s characters in their true form.

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Pretty, colorful and unique book covers

Don’t listen to the old saying because book covers are everything. They are often the sole reason we pick up one book, and pass on another. Today, I’m sharing some pretty, colorful and unique book covers.

Pretty covers (also colorful, by the way)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Published in 2019. Did you know that The Dutch House  was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? I loved this book! You can read my review here. (FYI: The winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.)

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim – Published in 2018. From Goodreads:  “debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love, the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices theyre forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that continues to haunt us today.”

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – Published in 2018. In 1969, four siblings sneak through their New York neighborhood to visit a mysterious woman. They hear she’s a fortune teller and that she will tell them the dates of their deaths. Varya is thirteen. Daniel is eleven. Klara is nine and Simon is seven. Should they believe? Read my review here.

The Moment of Tenderness by Madeline L’Engle – Published in 2020. From Goodreads: “This powerful collection of short stories traces an emotional arc inspired by Madeleine L’Engle’s early life and career, from her lonely childhood in New York to her life as a mother in small-town Connecticut.”

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – Published in 2019. From Goodreads: “A novel set in 1953 Tehran against the backdrop of the Iranian Coup about a young couple in love who are separated on the eve of their marriage, and who are reunited sixty years later, after having moved on to live independent lives in America, to discover the truth about what happened on that fateful day in the town square.”

Colorful covers (also pretty, by the way)

All Adults Here by Emma Straub – Published in 2020. From Goodreads: “When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence?”

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner – Published in 2020. From Goodreads: “The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Everything returns with an unforgettable novel about friendship and forgiveness set during a disastrous wedding on picturesque Cape Cod.”

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano – Published in 2020. From Goodreads: “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. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.” Definitely want to read this.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – Published in 2020. From Goodreads: “Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.”

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – Published in 2019. From Goodreads: “Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.”

Unique covers

Almond by Won-pyung Sohn and Joosun Lee – Published in 2017. From Goodreads: “Yunjae was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends—the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that—but his devoted mother and grandmother aren’t fazed by his condition.”

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Published in 2019. 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. Read my review here.

Educated by Tara Westover –  Imagine growing up in isolation, with a father who regarded the government with paranoid distrust, who prepared the family for an impending apocalypse by stockpiling food, fuel and ammunition and “head for the hills” bags. Who made his children work with him in a dangerous scrap yard, where they were often severely injured. This and much more. Read my review here.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson – Published in 2019. From Goodreads: “Kevin Wilson’s best book yet a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with remarkable and disturbing abilities.”

There There by Tommy Orange – Published in 2018. From Goodreads: “Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize.” Want to read this one, too.

What covers have caught your eye?

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Who’s That Indie Author? Gary D. Hillard

Author name: Gary D. Hillard

Genre: Fiction

Books: 12.5 so far: Betts’ Best, Betts’ Becoming, Betts’ Belonging, The Buckman Kids, Road Trip, The Fosters of Camp Algonquin, Page of Swords, Alicia and the Queen of the Forest, Kenny and Stan, Cora Jenny, and the Keeper, Anna, Flossy Underoak. Jessica Jett Takes Off is a work in progress, which I hope to have done in early April.

What’s your story and how did you become a writer? I retired at 57 after twenty-two years as a child and family therapist, and eleven years as a school teacher. I had raised four kids, including two girls I adopted out of foster care, and was a foster parent as well. I came away from my work pretty well burned out, and filled with stories, that I thought needed to be told.

How do you balance your work with other demands? Work wins. I’m single, retired, and my youngest child is 22 years old. I don’t even have a dog at this point.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life: A seven-week cross-country tent-camping trip with my two youngest girls. All done in an early 70s Toyota. It’s pretty much their favorite time, too.

What’s your approach to writing? I wait at the end of a dock, and out of the fog, a story-ship appears. When it docks, I climb aboard and explore, taking notes as I go. It’s magic. There is usually about a day or two in between finishing one book and starting on the next.

Could you write in a café with people around? I could, and have. But most of my writing is early in the morning, in my Vermont cabin. Tunes on, coffee or tea, and the story.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? Nope. Can’t imagine it.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now? Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, is my long-term favorite. Read it. It’s pretty great. I’m currently reading Invisible Americans, by Jeff Madrick, The Poet’s Corner, edited by John Lithgow, and Sunday’s Children, by Ingmar Bergman. I can do multiple books if only one of them is fiction.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader? I spend about four to six hours each day writing on my MacBook. That’s way more screen time than I would like, so I only read paper.

Do you think print books will always be around? I hope so. Something magic about paper and ink.

Would you ever read a book on your phone? I have a flip phone, without internet connection. No books on there. I have to squint to see the texts.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else? Probably a guitar or a mandolin. If it has to plug in, it would be my turntable, a vintage receiver and JBL speakers. Plus maybe ten feet of vinyl records.  Currently listening to Dire Straits.

How long could you go without checking your phone? Days at a time. My kids hate that.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening? Once or twice, when traveling. I’m kind of a fan of silence these days. Wanting to just sit and think about stuff. I love to drive and see where I am, and think about it.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform? I’m on Facebook, and pretty much hate it. I used it to stay in touch with my students, who now have kids of their own. I push my books on FB as well, awkwardly, with some success.

Website and social media links: Bear Hill Books, on FB

Awards/special recognition: My kids think I was a pretty good dad. That’s the best one.

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.

Short reviews from 2013: Fahrenheit 451, The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Weird Sisters

As I approach my 7-year blogging anniversary, I’ve been looking at some of the old reviews I posted. A lot of them are pretty short and I’d love to go back and beef them up a bit, but I think I’d have to re-read the books before I did that. So today I’m just going to share three short reviews of books I liked, but didn’t say too much about!

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is a very well written science fiction from 1950. Despite being written before the explosion of modern technology, Bradbury’s book-burning story makes many timeless observations about censorship and the suppression of original thought and personal interaction.

Bradbury’s seashells as earbuds and the parlors with surrounding interactive screens are hardly a stretch to imagine if you have ever competed with an iPhone, iPod or a flat screen for another person’s attention.

Despite many hopeless characters and some violent destruction, the ending is optimistic as Montag and his hideout professors devise a way to preserve the classics.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Garth Stein

I loved this book. It’s a touching family story told from an original point of view.  Denny Swift is the main character, a husband and father – a family man. His dog, Enzo, tells Denny’s story and gives us simple insights into love, misunderstanding, pain, and loss. He cleverly narrates a sad story and leaves the reader feeling alright about the very difficult job of saying goodbye to the people (and pets) we love. Enzo is a true hero in the way he influences and communicates with Denny, Eve and his family.

You don’t have to know anything about driving a race car or even be a NASCAR fan to enjoy the connection Stein makes between being a champion behind the wheel and taking charge of your own destiny.

This is a fast read with a solid feel-good ending.

The Weird Sisters
Eleanor Brown

It is so nice to read book that is actually upbeat as it depicts characters who struggle and confront difficult problems. Eleanor Brown does just that in The Weird Sisters. This is a story about three sisters who face turning-points in their own lives. It is believable, interesting, funny and emotional as the three face their mother’s illness and their own relationships with their parents and themselves. Anyone who has siblings or children of their own will appreciate the dynamics that occur here.

Brown tells this story through what I guess you would call the plural first person, as she speaks as the collective sisters. In the beginning, I thought there was a fourth sister! It’s a little different and awkward at first, but I got used to it. I think she uses this format to show the unity between Cordy, Rose and Bean.

I thought the Shakespeare references might be overwhelming because it has been a long time since I picked up a Shakespeare play. But they weren’t. They are there because they help explain the way the family communicates with each other. You don’t have to remember exactly what happened in King Lear or Macbeth to get the point.

Other people might think this original style is quirky. I did not. It works and, like the Shakespeare references, the style helps you understand the sisters and their story.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Ritu Bhathal

Author name:  Ritu Bhathal

Genre:  Chickpea Curry Lit – Chick Lit with an Indian Twist!

Books:  Marriage Unarranged, Poetic RITUals

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  What is my story, indeed. I am a British born Indian woman, born to Kenyan born Indian parents who moved to the UK in the seventies from Kenya. I was born in Birmingham, in the Midlands, and was raised with a massive extended family around me. After school, I went to university to study to become a teacher, my dream since I was seven. Along the way, I developed a passion for reading, thanks to my mother, and the urge to write stories came from the wonderful books I grew up reading. I would write short stories as a child and won a competition at school which definitely gave me more of an urge to write.

The beginnings of this novel started twenty years ago, as I was preparing for my own marriage. I would write little bits, then save and file away my installments. Life happened and with the addition of a husband, in-laws and then two children, there was precious little time to think about my book.

Almost fifteen years after I started writing it, I created my first blog, and realized that I had a story I really needed to finish, and hopefully publish. I also uncovered a hidden love of poetry by taking part in challenges and ended up with a poetry anthology out in the world too!

I have to say that blogging has been hugely instrumental in me getting this book out there.

From finding like-minded souls, to writers I have grown to love and admire, I have managed to learn so much about the writing and publishing process and have got an amazingly supportive team behind me.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  Well that is a tough one! As a wife and mother, my hands are full. Add in being a full-time teacher, and you must be wondering where I find the time!

Writing and reading, for me, are a release. I find that when I write, or read, I sink into a world that is all mine, with no interruptions. So, during term time, I make time in the evenings, to do both. I get the kids settled, then I have my time. I’m not a huge television watcher, so that helps. In the holidays, I know my teen and tween will be sleeping late in the mornings, so those couple of hours are perfect, before they all wake up, to get creative. It’s all about making time to do what you love.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  Oh my… just one? Finding out we were pregnant for the first time. I suffer from PCOS and had great difficulty in falling pregnant, so after a few years of disappointments, and upsets, seeing that little plus sign on a pregnancy test, then having it confirmed by the doctor was something else. Seeing the little heart beating inside our baby bean at that first scan brought tears to our eyes! Now, as that little bean gets older, the tears are caused by his attitude…but that’s teenagers for you.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I proudly call myself a plantser! I fall heavily in the middle. I usually start off as a true pantser. I get an idea and let it fly. Then I realize that without a skeleton plan, at least, I am going to trip up, so I create more of an outline. But I don’t over-plan. I know the gist of the story. I have an idea of where I’d like us to end up, then I let my characters take me there! It can make for a fun journey. I mean, with this new release of mine, I had no idea I’d end up with a homosexual character, who ends up crying out for a book of his own, with his antics!

Could you write in a café with people around?  Honestly, I have tried this, but I am too much of a people person, and I end up in conversations with everyone. I do like the idea though, so there have been countless times my computer and I have journeyed to a coffee shop, and a few words have been typed. But not many. In all honesty, I think I prefer to people watch, or talk. After all, there is inspiration in every situation, don’t you think?

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  The characters in my book are British born Indian Sikhs, with a home language of Punjabi. They tended to speak English, with a smattering of Punjabi words within. I tried to convey the meaning of the words through how they said things. Initially I had some whole sentences, but then translating was tedious, and the language glossary page count was rivaling that of the book, so I decided to lessen the second language, and use the power of inference instead!

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  I always stumble with this question of a favorite book. It is a tough one, as I have read and loved so many books! As a child, anything by Enid Blyton was my favorite, or A.A.Milne. Then I started Danielle Steele books. My mother had the Flowers in The Attic series by Virginia Andrews, which I absolutely loved, but there was one book of hers that I reread many times, My Sweet Audrina. I think I was captured by the twists and turns that Andrews would create in her writing. Right now, I am about to start the fourth book in the Cliffside Bay series, by Tess Thompson. It is a Small-Town Romance set of books, with a host of interwoven stories written from the perspective of the different residents of the town.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  I am not as much a fan of hardbacks as others, because they can be cumbersome to hold when reading. I do love a paperback, but space doesn’t permit me to buy many, so for convenience, my Kindle Paperwhite is my faithful companion. And it has the added bonus of a back light, so I don’t have to disturb my Hubby Dearest at night, if I am engrossed in a book, and it is so light!

Do you think print books will always be around?  Oh, most definitely. How could the bookstagrammers of the world create such enticing book posts without the paperbacks to play with? Sure, you can get the photo of a cover on a screen but seeing the spine of a book on a bookshelf… there’s nothing to beat that! I know of many readers who will not read anything other than print books.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I try to keep my Kindle with me at all times, but I can forget, and this is why I have the Kindle app on my phone. I don’t do it often, but I have, on occasion, read on my phone, while sitting at the doctor’s surgery, or if I have a spare moment.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  I currently own an Android phone and have never had an iPhone. Though, having said that, I recently bought a MacBook Air, so who knows… an iPhone might be on the cards!

How long could you go without checking your phone?  Hands up, I admit I am terrible. Unless I am at school, during the teaching day, my phone is near me and if I am bored, I will pick it up and check notifications. My Hubby Dearest has me down in his phone as #Valiyey, translation Girl of the Hashtag! But then, I have to keep on top of my Social Media for my Author brand… (see, I have an excuse!) I dread to think what one of those apps would tell me about my phone usage! But then again, my brother lives in Finland, and I have two Finndian (their mummy is Finnish, to their daddy’s Indian, hence, Finndian) nephews. So, we use the video call functions a lot so we can all stay in touch.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I have to confess to being a non-listener. I prefer to read my books, instead of listening. If I was a commuter, I might have got into listening to audiobooks, but my drive to work is short, and the kids are with me. They’d refuse to listen to a book in the car, favoring their latest music!

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  As I mentioned earlier, I do love social media. I am active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram mainly.

Website and social media links:
WordPress Blog Website: But I Smile Anyway
Author Website:
Twitter: @RituBhathal
Instagram: ritubhathalwrites
Facebook: @butismileanyway (But I Smile Anyway) and @RituBhathal (Author, Poet and Storyteller)
Goodreads Author: Ritu Bhathal

Click here for more information about Ritu’s latest book, Marriage Unarranged.

Awards/special recognition:  Best Blogger at the Annual Bloggers Bash 2017 and Best Book Blog at the Annual Bloggers Bash

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.

Happy New Year!

Hi Everyone and Happy New Year!

I’ve had fun seeing what all the book bloggers read in 2019 and now it’s time to begin again! I’m not doing any reading challenges this year, but I always like to have a short-term plan for what I’m going to read.

So here’s what’s in store for January:

I just started A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It’s on loan from the library on my Kindle and due soon, so that’s first. OMG I am tearing through it. I’m already sure I will give it a good review!

Next up is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I’m reading it for my mystery book club at work. We decided to return to one of the first of the genre and this one goes way back. The Moonstone was first published in 1868!

I got two books for Christmas and I can’t wait to start them. I’ve been talking about reading a Howard Hughes biography and this one is Howard Hughes – the Untold Story by Petter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske.

I also got You by Caroline Kepnes. If you don’t know about this book, it’s also a series on Netflix and Season 2 just started. I’m going to read this first, watch Season 1, then move on to either the sequel called Hidden Bodies or watch Season 2 first. Can’t decide!

I hope you have some fun things and some good books lined up for 2020. What’s the first book you will read?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

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?


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.


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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On using animals and nature as literary devices

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


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

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the jacket blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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