Book Consumption: June 2016 (and a Popsugar Reading Challenge Update)

June was a mixed bag of reading filled with books I loved and books I didn’t.  (I even abandoned a book, which I haven’t done in a long time).  If nothing else, it was a productive month.  I read or listened to nine books but I’m struggling to write reviews for all of them.  Instead of wrestling with the task, I thought I’d provide short summaries along with my Goodreads ratings and then list an up-to-date account of my progress with the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  I hope you are enjoying your summer reading experiences as much as I am…

June Books

As You Wish by Carey Elwes with Joe Layden. (Audiobook).  A wonderful book narrated by Carey Elwes who shares many funny and touching anecdotes related to the making of the modern movie classic The Princess Bride.  (A book written by a celebrity – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4 stars

Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.  A story, told in graphic novel form, about Hèléne, her stuggles with a group of mean girls who used to be her friends, and her love of Jane Eyre.  A lovely experience with thoughtful illustrations packing as much punch as the words.  It’s not really a graphic novel but I’m counting it as one. (A graphic novel – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4 stars

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.  A dark retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale that draws heavily on Greek mythology.  I was not a fan of the characters (except for Ignifex, the “Beast”) and the writing annoyed me more than once.   3 stars 

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.   This gem offers a fictional account of the troubling events that started Constance Kopp on the road to becoming America’s first female deputy  sheriff.  Eccentric characters and an interesting plot made for a very enjoyable read.   4 stars

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.  What a fun book!  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this story of a man who falls in love with a woman by secretly reading her security-flagged e-mail interactions with a co-worker.  It’s a well-executed and satisfying piece of fluff.   4 stars

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon.  In West Hall, Vermont, a legendary mystery/ghost story impacts the lives of several present day people.  This is a twisty story that wasn’t quite as scary, thrilling, or suspenseful as I expected it to be.   3 stars

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. (Audiobook).  A sweeping novel of France during WWII that focuses on the decisions, sacrifices and bravery of two sisters and their estranged father.  Listening to this on audio brought the characters to life and allowed me to really savor the story.   4.5 stars

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.  The first book in the Grisha trilogy which begins the tale of Alina Starkov, an orphan who discovers she has an unusual and powerful gift that changes her destiny but also places her in grave danger.  I read this book in a day, staying up well past my bedtime and then dreaming about it all night.   4 stars

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.  World War I, societal constraints on women of the early 1900’s and falling in love are some of themes woven throughout this book.  I loved the setting (a small English village ), the time period (beginning of WWI), the characters and the writing.  Very, very good!   (A book published in 2016 – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4.5 stars


Did Not Finish:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert.  Lifeless and boring.  Even though it’s a classic and on most must-read book lists, I just. couldn’t. do. it.


What I’m currently reading:

  • Made to Crave by Lysa Terkeurst.  Some nuggets of inspiration but I’m struggling…
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audiobook).  Huck can tell some whoppers but he’s got a good heart.
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica.  It’s hard to put this book down and go to bed!

2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge Update

  • A book based on a fairy tale:  The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly (4 stars)
  •  A National Book Award winner:  Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (4.5 stars)
  • A YA bestseller:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (3 stars)
  • A book you haven’t read since high school:  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (4 stars)
  • A book set in your home state:  Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (4.5 stars)
  • A book translated to English:  Spark Joy by Marie Kondo (3 stars)
  • A romance set in the future:  Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (3 stars)
  • A book set in Europe:  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (4 stars)
  • A book that’s under 150 pages:  The Pearl by John Steinbeck (3.5 stars)
  • A New York Times bestseller:  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year:  Lady Susan by Jane Austin – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A book recommended by someone you just met:
  • A self-improvement book:  Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resh (5 stars)
  • A book you can finish in a day:  Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (5 stars)
  • A book written by a celebrity:  As You Wish by Carey Elwes  – audiobook (4 stars)
  • A political memoir:
  • A book at least 100 years older than you:  Persuasion by Jane Austen (5 stars)
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages:  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (4 stars)
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club:
  • A science fiction novel:
  • A book recommended by a family member:
  • A graphic novel:  Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt (4 stars)
  • A book that is published in 2016:  The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (4.5 stars)
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation:  The Professor by Charlotte Brontë – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A book that takes place during the summer:  Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger (5 stars)
  • A book and its prequel:  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – audiobook (5 stars);
  • A murder mystery:  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – audiobook (4 stars)
  • A book written by a comedian:  Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A dystopian novel:  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4 stars)
  • A book with a blue cover:  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book of poetry:
  • The first book you see in a bookstore:  Joyland by Stephen King (4 stars)
  • A classic from the 20th century:
  • A book from the library:  Arabella by Georgette Heyer (4 stars)
  • An autobiography:
  • A book about a road trip:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (3.5 stars)
  • A book about a culture you are unfamiliar with:  Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (3 stars)
  • A satirical book:  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book that takes place on an island:
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy:  The Lake House by Kate Morton (4 stars)

It’s been a satisfying year of reading so far for me.  What good stuff have you been reading lately?




Book Consumption: May 2016

I am a little late with my May reading round-up for two reasons: 1) I read a bunch of books which I’ve been struggling to review and 2) I’ve been traveling with limited access to the Internet so writing has been a bit touch and go.  Looking back,the month was filled with a nice combination of very good entertainment and thought-provoking reflections.

May Books

Killer angels

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  The battle of Gettysburg  is recreated through the perspectives and experiences of the generals who orchestrated it and the men that served closely with them.  Through meticulous research of journals, letters, and eyewitness accounts, the author creates a deeply personal and utterly believable account of the battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in America.  This book is the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction.

My thoughts:  I chose this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge because Gettysburg is about an hour and a half from my home.  I’ve driven, hiked, and biked the battlegrounds numerous times, often at the same time of year the battle took place (hot and humid July).  I don’t normally choose war fiction and thought I would be enduring a dry read just to check a category off the Challenge.  Boy, was I wrong!  This story was not so much about the particulars of the battle as it was about the personal philosophies, strengths, weaknesses, and struggles of the men who fought and died in it.  The portrayals of Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Chamberlain were particularly moving to me.  This was a haunting read and I thought about it for weeks afterward.

(A book set in your home state – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


A Wind in the Door

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle.  The second installment of the A Wrinkle in Time quintet finds Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe, along with some very unusual friends, trying to save the universe by saving Charles Wallace’s life.  They do this by traveling to the microscopic world of Charles Wallace’s mitochondria and interacting with farandolae which live there and give it life.  L’Engle’s wonderful ability to mix science, myth, magic and faith shines in this book.

My thoughts: After enjoying A Wrinkle in Time in April, I decided to revisit the second and third books of the series in the name of nostalgia. Of the first three books in the quintet, I enjoyed this one the most when I was younger.  I still do.  Meg is a little less irritating, the scientific aspects of the story are interesting, and the concept of worlds within worlds within worlds is a thought provoking exercise.  A Wind in the Door was a pleasure to reread.


Gift of the Sea

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles Lindbergh, reflects on many aspects of womanhood in this slim book she wrote on a visit to Captiva Island in the early 1950’s.  Each chapter takes the beach or a particular shell and relates it to a certain aspect of life such as solitude, contentment, marriage, and aging.

My thoughts:  Even though the book is well over 50 years old, it felt like the author was peeking into my own life experiences and describing them in detail.  Mrs. Lindbergh is wise and hopeful in her meditations and I came away from the book feeling more insightful and refreshed for having read it.  I saved this book to read on a short trip to the beach which greatly enhanced my experience of the book (and the beach).  I can see myself returning to this book often as an exercise to reflect on my own life.

(A book you can finish in a day – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle.  To grasp the setting of the third installment of the A Wrinkle in Time quintet, fast-forward several years.  Meg is married to Calvin O’Keefe and expecting her first child and Charles Wallace is now seventeen.  The destruction of the world by South American dictator Madog Branzillo is inevitable unless Charles Wallace can change key events in history.  He does this by traveling through time on a unicorn named Gaudior and spending time inside the minds of several key people in the unfolding drama.  Meg is able to travel with Charles through “kything” – communicating through thoughts – and is his mental companion on this adventure.

My thoughts: Of the three books I’ve read in this series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet has the darkest and most complicated plot.  I enjoyed it, particularly the historical aspect of the story and the way early actions impacted later situations in the story.  Once again, L’Engle combines myth, magic and parapsychology to create an engrossing tale.  I loved rereading all these books this spring!  I think I’ll finish out the quintet now that I’m aware of the final two books.


Georgette Heyer's Regency world

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester.  Georgette Heyer wrote several light but well-written tales, mostly romances, set during the Regency period in England (think Jane Austen’s era). This book takes an in-depth look at the culture (particularly upper class) of that time.  Gender roles, fashion, food, entertainment, etc. are broken down into specific chapters and discussed in detail.

My thoughts:  I love Jane Austen’s writing and I recently stumbled upon Georgette Heyer’s delightful books.  I found Georgette Heyer’s Regency World to be a great source of background information on the Regency era which enhanced my enjoyment of both authors.  If the Regency era interests you, this book is an informative and easy-reading resource.


The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  This is an epic fantasy tale about a brilliant young boy named Kvothe who is orphaned by supernatural spirits, survives on his own as a street urchin, and is ultimately accepted at University where his education occurs at the crossroads of science and magic.  He’s also schooled  in the talents of making friends and creating enemies.  Adventure and mayhem abound.  This is the first book in a trilogy but only the first two books have been published (in 2007 and 2011).

My thoughts:  I’m not sure how to review this book.  It receives ridiculously high ratings on Goodreads and yet I almost gave up on the book because I didn’t care for any of the characters in the beginning of the tale.  (The story is told as a reflection – an adult Kvothe is relaying his life story to a scribe.)  Then, towards the end of the book, I started wishing it would just be over.  These are not markers of a good book, in my opinion.  However, once the actual story of Kvothe’s life got started, I began to enjoy it.  The writing is very well done and the story is engaging, reminding me of Harry Potter but with an older protagonist in a different setting.   I haven’t decided if I will invest time in the second book – 1000 pages is a lot of precious minutes of my life.

(A book that’s more than 600 pages – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


Lady Susan

Lady Susan by Jane Austen.  This lesser known work of Jane Austen is the story of a manipulative widow who is having an affair with a married man while attempting to arrange a lucrative marriage for her daughter (and one for herself if she can manage it). The book is written in an epistolary format which  I believe is unique for Miss Austen.  It was also written when she was only nineteen.

My thoughts:  As a lover of Jane Austen, I can’t believe I never read this story before!  Having now acknowledged my failing, I’m going to go out on a limb and state that Lady Susan is my least favorite Jane Austen protagonist of all time because of her selfishness and manipulations.  Loyal Books offers a multi-narrator audiobook version of Lady Susan which I listened to in one evening.  It was a very quick, enjoyable experience and it was FREE.  The movie adaptation called Love and Friendship starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny came out earlier this summerI didn’t get the chance to see it in the theater so I’m looking forward to its video release.

(A book that’s becoming a movie this year – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


The 7 Habits

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey.  Personal and professional effectiveness is addressed through seven detailed fundamental principles.  Three principles are related to the individual, three are related to interpersonal interaction and one is an overarching principle that affects the other six.  All seven principles are undergirded with a strong faith-based foundation.

My thoughts: I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Stephen Covey over the course of several weeks.  I found that listening to the book was not ideal.  The book is dense, covering many topics requiring mediation and consideration.  Many times I wanted to go back and review or reference something so I purchased a copy of the book.  There is so much valuable information in this book that can be life changing but requires real effort on the part of the reader.  I’ve already been working on empathic listening, especially with my teenage children, and the results have been very positive.

(A New York Times bestseller – Popsugar Reading Challenge)

What I’m currently reading:

  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (audiobook) – All I can say is thank goodness I don’t have to parent Tom… 🙂
  • Made to Crave by Lysa Terkeurst – I’m feeling meh about this one.  We’ll see.
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – Just starting this today and am really looking forward to it.

What have you been reading lately?  I’d love to hear about the good and the bad…

Book Consumption: April 2016

This year, I’m participating in two reading challenges: 1) a personal Goodreads goal of 50 books by the end of December and 2) Popsugar’s 2016 Reading Challenge.   All of the books I read in April satisfied a requirement of the Popsugar challenge.  The  single audiobook I listened to kept me company during long drives to visit students at their clinical sites and tempted me to exercise, even when I didn’t feel like it.

April Books


Joyland, by Stephen King.  Joyland was written for the Hard Case Crime series and highlights King’s substantial storytelling ability rather then his dark imagination.  Even though the book is touted as a murder mystery with a dash of the supernatural, the real story centers around a broken-hearted college student named Devin Jones, the months he works at a boardwalk amusement park, and how those experiences impact him and his life.

My thoughts:  I read a fair amount of Stephen King as a teenager and young adult and most of it was the horror variety.  Joyland is completely different and I loved it.  The protagonist as well as the other characters are believable and likable, the plot is interesting, and the ending is just what it should be.  All this with no horror and very little gore (it’s a murder mystery, after all). Joyland is a well-crafted, satisfying story that was a pleasure to read – one of the happiest surprises of my reading life this year.  It would be a perfect beach or by-the-pool book for the summer.

(The first book you see in a bookstore -Popsugar Reading Challenge)



The Pearl by John Steinbeck.  The Pearl is a retelling of a Mexican folktale that Steinbeck heard on a trip to La Paz in the 1940’s.  It is the tale of Kino, a poor pearl diver who lives with his wife Juana and baby son in a small hut by the sea.  One day, Kino finds a glorious pearl worth a fortune which ultimately turns his world upside down.  In the course of this novella, Steinbeck takes the reader through anguish, joy, hope, anticipation, suspicion, rage, murder, desperation, grief, and acceptance.  Greed and it’s consequences are at the heart of this story which is often viewed as a parable.

My thoughts:  First of all, the writing is simply beautiful.  Steinbeck is able to manipulate the reader’s emotions or create the feel of a scene with meticulous word choice and I loved that aspect of the story.  On the other hand, the plot is simple and the general outcome of the story is obvious (which is expected, I suppose, with a  parable).  I also found the pace to be sluggish until the end of the book.  When I first read The Pearl, I didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about it.  But, I find myself returning to it again and again, thinking through the different aspects of the story.  I will probably reread this at some point because it’s the type of book that reveals new insights or pieces of wisdom with each exposure.

(A book that ‘s under 150 pages – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


Beautiful forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.  Annawadi, a makeshift slum erected near the Mumbai airport, is the setting for this award winning book. Over the course of several months, Katherine Boo chronicles the experiences of several families and individuals as they struggle to survive and thrive in this difficult environment.  An unknown world is revealed to the reader, a culture is explored and the human reactions to life in this “undercity” are investigated.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a National Book Award Winner and Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

My thoughts:  It is obvious why Katherine Boo receives awards for her investigative journalism.  Somehow she manages to present a difficult story that often showcases the worst characteristics of humanity without turning the people demonstrating those characteristics into villains.  She writes the truth about an existence that is wholly foreign to my own with intelligence and empathy.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers was a very difficult book for me to read because of the ugliness, desperation, exploitation and immorality it presents.  However, it has forever altered my understanding of what raw humanity looks like in the midst of relentless poverty and corruption.   Even though I spent a large part of my reading time feeling frustrated and/or helpless,  this book was invaluable for developing a more accurate world view outside of my very comfortable middle class American life.

(A National Book Award winner – Popsugar Reading Challenge)



Scarlet: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.  Scarlet is the second book in the wildly popular Lunar Chronicles series which takes fairy tale characters such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood and places them in a science fiction setting filled with technological advances, a devastating plague and a thoroughly evil alien queen.  This installment continues Cinder’s story from the first book and introduces Scarlet, a young woman who’s grandmother has gone missing and no one seems to care.  Scarlet embarks on a mission to find her and the ensuing adventures comprise the bulk of the story.

My thoughts: I feel so-so about the Lunar Chronicles in general and Scarlet in particular.  The premise of the series – fairy tale characters which are re-imagined and placed in a futuristic setting – should draw me, a lover of fairy tales, right in.  I do appreciate the imagination and creativity behind this concept and the fact that Meyer has created some strong,  independent female protagonists and interesting supporting characters.  However, the clunky writing style annoyed me to the point I couldn’t enjoy the story.  And more masterful world building and scene creation would have increased my reading pleasure immensely.  Since Scarlet carries a Goodreads rating of 4.31/5 stars, my opinion is an obvious oddity.  I guess I’ll be one of the few weirdos who do not continue with the series – unless my daughter, who loves The Lunar Chronicles, twists my arm.

(A YA bestseller – Popsugar Reading Challenge)



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  The plot of A Wrinkle in Time revolves around the slightly eccentric Murray family.  Mr. Murray, a government scientist (perhaps a physicist?), has been missing for months and no one knows where he is.  Two of his children, Meg and Charles Wallce, and a neighbor boy named Calvin O’Keefe are sent on an extraordinary quest across space to find him and battle the darkness that is encroaching on the universe.  This science fantasy novel takes the reader on a wild adventure with unusual creatures through imaginative and diverse worlds.  A Wrinkle in Time is a Newberry Medal winner and begins The Wrinkle in Time quintet of books that follow the Murray and O’Keefe families through many fantastical exploits.

My thoughts: I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was in sixth or seventh grade, a.k.a. a long time ago.  At that time, only three of the five books had been published and I loved them all.  The interesting characters, fantasy elements, magical creatures and  good versus evil theme was an irresistible combination for me then and still is now.  I picked up this book in April to fulfill a Popsugar category (“a book you haven’t read since high school”) and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  Meg was a bit needier than I remembered but it didn’t ruin the story for me.  Did you know that Disney is making A Wrinkle in Time feature film?  Only the writer and director have been named so it’s anyone’s guess when the actual movie will  be completed.  Even so, it’s something to look forward to.

(A book you haven’t read since high school – Popsugar Reading Challenge)


Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. (Do I really need to summarize this classic?) A friendless, loveless young woman, Jane Eyre, takes a position as governess for the French ward of a wealthy Mr. Edward Rochester.  She falls in love with Mr. Rochester and agrees to marry him, not knowing he harbors a dark secret that ultimately crushes her dreams of matrimonial felicity.  After a span of time, much hardship, and several plot twists Jane is finally able to realize her dreams.

My thoughts:  Jane Eyre is one of my favorite stories of all time.  I first fell in love with it while watching the BBC movie version starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.  This prompted me to actually read the book, which, of course, is exponentially better.  Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Loyal Books and happened upon an excellent free audio recording of Jane Eyre.  The talented narrator, Elizabeth Klett, brought Jane to life for me in a new and refreshing way.  I cannot recommend this audio version highly enough.  This was another very happy reading/listening experience for me in April!

What I am currently reading:

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.  I’m slowly listening my way through this one.  It’s dense and I’m needing time to mull things over.
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  It was a slow start and I almost gave up but am really enjoying it now.

What books are you currently reading?  I ‘d love to hear about them.