Books read in 2018 (Once again, I’m trying for 48. That’s only four a month. I really should be able to do that.)
8. Lust for Life by Irving Stone. Review coming soon.
7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Review coming soon.
6. Notes to Self by G.P. Wilcox, Ph.D. My friend Gary has lived an interesting and varied life. He served as a Marine in Vietnam. For 25 years, he worked in the aerospace industry as a mechanical engineer. His final career was as a counterterrorism specialist. He also earned a doctorate in business administration.
During the last few decades, whenever he read something he didn’t want to forget, or whenever he had a personal epiphany, he summarized it in an email to himself, with the subject header: Note to Self.
A few years ago, he decided to compile the most important of these notes into a book for his family and friends. You will not find this book on Amazon. Gary self-published it at his own expense with a limited run of only 50 copies. My husband and I were honored to be among the recipients of Gary’s book.
Here is one of the items Gary included:
193. Friendship is one of the most valuable treasures on earth. Like a precious gem when light shines through, it projects all its colors onto the background of our lives. Truly, it is friendship that makes us rich. To share with a friend is to double the juy, while sharing sadness halves the pain. When we’re with a friend, the sun shines warmer, the birds sing more beautifuly, the ocean is wider, and the mountains are higher. ~Marjolein Bastin
The most amazing thing about this book is that now that I’ve read it, I feel like I know Gary at a much deeper level. I know what he values in life.
5. End of the Road by Karen Michelle Nutt. I first read snippets of this book on Weekend Writing Warriors when it was a work-in-progress. It’s a paranormal/mystery/romance.
Cecilia Gunner’s rock star father, Lars, died 23 years ago. Suddenly, he appears to her in the family home when she finds his old journal under a floorboard. He’s hazy about the details of his death, and he thinks it wasn’t an accident.
Cecilia tries to find out what happened by visiting an address in his journal, where he had an appointment shortly before his death. It turns out to a medium’s house, but the medium now lives in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients. The medium’s son, Kaleb, who can also see the dead, takes Cecilia to see his mother, who gives her a warning to stay away from water.
Together, Kaleb and Cecilia investigate Lars’ death, talking to the police officer who was present when Lars’ car was pulled out of the bay. Though the death was ruled an accident, suicide was suspected. Lars had disappeared from a Christmas party where he was drunk and told his wife he wanted a divorce.
The story is well-written and had me guessing all the way to the end. Definitely a good read.
One distraction from the writing was multiple typographical errors. Not misspelling, per se, but wrong words, often homonym issues, that wouldn’t be caught by spellcheck. I wish the book had been proofread before release. I would have given it four stars, but because of the sloppiness, it only deserves three.
4. Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton. Grafton’s recent passing knocked me for a loop. I love her Kinsey Millhone series, and I own every single one. I’d read her last one, Y is for Yesterday, and I was eagerly waiting for Z is for Zero, scheduled for Fall 2019. Learning that there would be no Z installment, I mourned never getting to read another Grafton book.
Then I remembered Kinsey and Me. I bought it years ago but never got around to reading it.
Kinsey and Me is a collection of twenty-two short stories. The first nine are Kinsey Millhone mysteries; the last thirteen are semi-autographical.
The Kinsey stories impressed me with Grafton’s intelligence. I never caught the solution before Kinsey revealed it.
The final stories were written in the ten years after Grafton’s mother’s death. Both Grafton’s parents were alcoholics, but her mother’s drinking affected her most profoundly. The stories follow the journey of Kit, a woman whose mother spends most of her time drinking, smoking, and lying on the couch. The mother contracts esophageal cancer and ultimately commits suicide. Kit records the progress of her mother’s downward spiral, her attempts to help, change, and care for her mother, and her feelings (abandonment, resentment, and finally acceptance and forgiveness).
Grafton says in her preface, “I wish life could be edited as deftly as prose. It would be nice to go back and write a better story, correcting weaknesses and follies in the light of what I now know.”
I now know you a little better, too. Miss you, Sue. Rest in peace.
3. Seize the Donut by Rachel Barnard. This is the sequel to Donuts in an Empty Field, which I reviewed in 2016. Seize the Donut follows the first book’s main characters after they graduate from high school.
Vanessa goes to nearby New College and lives in the dorm. She makes two new friends, Hazel and Zelda, and tries some new things, like interpretive dance, but she still hasn’t resolved her grief of losing her father, and it manifests as an eating disorder.
Wild child Nichole has a fight with her mother and moves out without a plan, confident she can make her own way in the world. She predictably moves from disaster to disaster.
Vanessa and Nichole used to be best friends, but they alienate themselves from each other. When Vanessa meets Jax, who seems interested in her, she does whatever she can to keep him, including ditching Hazel and Zelda.
Mutual friends keep telling Nichole that Vanessa needs her, but every time Nichole reaches out, she gets shot down, until Vanessa hits bottom.
This book is just okay. I really liked the first one, and I expected the second one to be at least as good, but it disappointed me.
2. Origin by Dan Brown. I like Dan Brown’s thrillers because of their excellent pacing and the art references, but I dislike his antagonism toward Christians, particularly those who (like me) believe the Biblical story of creation.
That said, I couldn’t stop reading Origin. I will try very hard not to spoil it for you.
Wealthy entrepreneur and computer geek Edmond Kirsch touts a scientific breakthrough he has made, one which answers two questions: Where did humanity come from? and Where is it going? But just as he is about to make his live-streamed public announcement, he is shot dead.
Only Robert Langdon and the beautiful Ambra Vidal, new fiancé of Prince Julian of Spain, have any idea how to launch the presentation that will reveal Kirsch’s discovery, provided they can find the favorite poem that contains the 46-character line Kirsch used as his password. However, someone is trying to suppress this announcement, and has already killed three people. Langdon and Vidal are in mortal danger.
Langdon and Vidal are assisted in their search by Winston, an artificial intelligence that Kirsch created. Together, the three try to find the password, which involves solving multiple puzzles and defeating almost insurmountable obstacles. Who ordered the hit on Kirsch? And what did Kirsch discover that made him a target?
Who can they trust?
In the last pages of the book, when Kirsch’s announcement is finally broadcast, it doesn’t seem as hopeless as portrayed, but then Brown adds a twist that will have readers longing for the days before calculators…
- An Old-Fashioned Christmas Romance Collection. This book contains nine Christian historical romance novellas by nine different authors: Peggy Darty, Rosey Dow, Rebecca Germany, JoAnn A Grote, Sally Laity, Loree Lough, Gail Gaymer Martin, DiAnn Mills, and Colleen L Reece. I received it as a gift Christmas 2016, and started reading it just before Christmas 2017, making it my first book finished in 2018. I’d braced myself for the possibility of the stories being hokey, and was delighted to find that they are well-written, with compelling characters who overcome daunting obstacles to find the love of their lives.
Books read in 2017 (the goal is 48; let’s see if I can make it this year…)
32. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.
Voskamp hasn’t always trusted God. When she was four, her younger sister was hit by a truck and died. For a long time, her family struggled with the concept of a good God.
A few years ago, a friend challenged Voskamp to make a list of one thousand gifts she was thankful for. As she added to her list and thanked God for each item (morning shadows across the old floors, cry of blue jay from high in the spruce, wind flying cold wild in hair), Voskamp noticed an interesting effect—she felt connected to God, and overwhelmed with joy.
She discovered the Greek word used in the Bible that’s translated “he gave thanks” is eucharisteo, containing the roots for words meaning “grace” and “joy.” While making thanksgiving a daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment practice in her life, she found herself more aware of grace being extended to her, and of a lightness of spirit she’d never experienced before.
Voskamp’s writing style is unique—poetic and exuberant, with run-on sentences which delight rather than annoy. Some examples of her voice: “The Wounded Warrior [Christ] is achingly tender with the broken ones and He has all the patient time to gently lead those who seek and He keeps leading me back to eucharisteo.” And
Hadn’t I personally experienced it before too, that vantage point that gave a sense of smallness before grandeur? At the lip of the Grand Canyon, peering into the carved earth, the vastness of the hewn and many-hued chasm. A late June night peering into the expanse of heavens nailed up with the named and known stars. A moon field. I hardly dare brush the limitlessness with my vaporous humanity.
In One Thousand Gifts Voskamp shares personal stories about her family. Some are horrifying; some are beautiful. But mostly, the book tells how, when she learned to thank God for everything, she saw proof that God is good and that she is greatly loved by Him (as we are).
I know what she says is true, because I have experienced it myself. Not that every moment of the believer’s life is easy, but when you are in communion with God, you know where to turn in the midst of trouble.
31. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini. I am obsessed with Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath series on A&E. I have watched each episode multiple times, and I am heartbroken for all the well-meaning people whose lives have been ruined by this cult.
Troublemaker is Remini’s autobiography, which starts with a confession of all the bad things she’s ever done in her life, pre-empting any leverage the Church of Scientology could use against her in retaliation. The book tells the story of her life in Scientology—the good and the bad—and why she chose to flee.
Remini’s childhood was spent in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Her mother, Vicki, divorced Leah’s father and remarried. Vicki began spending many hours away from home in Manhattan. When Leah and her older sister, Nicole, asked about her absence, she explained she spent that time in “church” and invited them to come along. The only church Leah knew was her paternal grandmother’s Catholic church. Her mother’s church was something different.
Ron Hubbard, the science fiction author, designed Scientology to be a scientific process that helps one overcome limitations and realize one’s full potential, enlightenment, and spirituality. The aim of Scientology is “a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where Man is free to rise to greater heights.” Remini wanted to be part of all those good intentions.
When Leah was 13, her mother decided to take both daughters to Clearwater, Florida, and join the Sea Org, made up of devout Scientologists who serve the church. Vicki was now pregnant; her husband would join them after he took care of closing down their apartment. Leah and Nicole signed billion-year contracts to work on behalf of the church and settled into training that involved never-ending classes and hard physical labor. The girls were immediately separated from their mother, taken to live in a dorm. In Scientology, children are regarded as adults who have not yet achieved their full growth; they are treated as adults and given adult responsibilities.
Though labeled a troublemaker for questioning rules and policies, Leah committed herself to Scientology. She dutifully worked to progress in her faith.
I won’t take time here to go into detail about the workings of Scientology, but Remini observed much that she questioned. When she raised her concerns with the leadership, they pointed her to L. Ron Hubbard’s policies and insisted that the problems were hers, and administered church discipline. Finally, she realized that for thirty years she’d based her life on lies, and left Scientology.
There is one question that I wish Remini had answered, and that is, what does she believe about God? So many times when people come out of a cult, they feel so betrayed by their spiritual striving that they have no desire to seek the true God. It is my sincerest prayer that Remini will encounter Him. His way is in stark contrast to Scientology.
In my opinion, this is a very worthwhile book. People should be informed about the damage inflicted by Scientology.
30. Good Poems compiled by Garrison Keillor. Review here.
29. Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich. Janet Evanovich is my guilty pleasure. This mystery is not great literature. However, it’s a great escape. The characters are as familiar and comfortable as an old pair of shoes. And it’s set in Trenton–a stone’s throw from our last residence in Hamilton Square, NJ–so the street names and some locations are familiar to me.
Trenton is having a zombie epidemic. And clients at the local funeral homes keep losing their heads, which are later found with the brains removed. Stephanie Plum, apprehension specialist (bounty hunter), is pivotal in solving this mystery, along with ex-prostitute Lula, Stephanie’s cop boyfriend Morelli, Ranger the security guy, and the mysterious Diesel. Grandma Mazur and her internet boyfriend supplying comic relief.
You won’t solve the world’s problems by reading this book, but you’ll enjoy a few belly laughs.
28. Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life by Jessica Abel. Review here.
27. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Review here.
26. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham. I love Grisham, but this is not one of his best books. Often his protagonists do bad things for good reasons, but this time they do bad things for selfish reasons.
Four students face their last semester of law school with the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans and no job prospects once they get out. One of them commits suicide, but not before he reveals to his friends some information he learned through obsessive investigation–the owner of their and seven other law schools also owns the companies that service their loans–and a bank that has been investigated for illegal practices.
So the remaining three do the only reasonable thing they can do–they drop out of school only months before graduation, and illegally set up their own law practice under aliases. They hustle DUI offenders at the courthouse, offering to represent them for $1000 a pop. Nobody, including the judges at this point, notices that they are unlicensed.
When they decide to branch out to a medical malpractice case, they make a serious error, one that prevents their client from collecting a settlement. So again, they do a very reasonable thing–they disappear.
I don’t want to spoil this book for you if you intend to read it. There’s much more to it, including a sad story of a deportation, and the ex-student fake lawyers get off scot-free with a fortune they’ve embezzled. Even though the entity they defraud is evil, what they did was at the expense of a lot of people with legitimate claims. To me, this is a most unsatisfying ending.
I would say skip this one, and read some of Grisham’s others instead.
25. Tanabata Wish by Sara Fujimura. Skyler Doucet’s mother and Japanese immigrant step-father ruin her summer-before-senior-year by forcing her to spend it in Japan. She will be babysitting her young siblings while her mom serves as an exchange professor at Nagoya University; in the evenings she’ll attend Japanese language school.
Skyler undergoes culture shock halfway around the world, learning new behavioral expectations as well as a new language. But her reticence turns into delight when she meets Japanese-America David in her language class.
Fujimura, whose husband is of Japanese heritage, accompanies her family to Japan every summer, and weaves in Japanese culture, both traditional and popular, throughout the story. She authentically tells the story of an American teen caught between two cultures. I was captivated by the world she described. Excellent book.
24. The Serpent King by Jeffrey Zentner. Three high school friends who don’t quite fit in support each other and dream of a better life. This book brought me to tears.
23. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. This is a story about abandonment, about being caught between two worlds, and about making your way in the world.
Violet Minturn grew up in a courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 20th century, the daughter of the American madam. She observed how her mother, Lulu, engaged her clients, the wealthiest Chinese and American men in the city, in conversation about their businesses and their power. As far as she can tell, her mother loves her business more than she loves Violet.
When her mother abandons her, she makes her living the only way she knows how–as a courtesan. For a time, she falls in love and leaves that life behind, but her joy is short-lived when her lover dies, and his legal wife claims Violet’s children as her own.
Tan weaves a vivid, epic tale about Violet’s life, and toward the end she reveals what really happened to Lulu.
My greatest concern is that young women will read this book and perceive Lulu and Violet’s lives as a courtesan romantic. The story details the inner workings of high-class prostitution, and makes it seem glamorous. I don’t think that’s Tan’s intention; between the lines I see conviction that the sex industry is exploitation. Nevertheless, there it is. The writing is fabulous. I recommend the book with that one caveat.
22. Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton. I love Sue Grafton’s writing. I’ve read her entire Kinsey Millhone series, starting with A is for Alibi. The final volume (Z is for Zero) is due out in Fall, 2019–so far away.
The story takes place in 1989, but the mystery is connected with events that happened ten years earlier, when several students from Climping Academy got drunk and filmed themselves raping a classmate. In the weeks that followed, a cheating scandal came to light, and ultimately, a girl was murdered. Two of the boys involved went to prison, but one disappeared.
When Fritz, the boy who pulled the trigger, is released after serving his sentence, his family receives a copy of the rumored videotape and a demand for $25,000, or another copy will be given to the District Attorney, guaranteeing that Fritz, one of the rapists, will go back to prison. Kinsey Millhone, private investigator, is hired to find the extortionist.
All along, the reader knows who the extortionists are. Flashbacks to 1979 help the reader learn what’s true and false about what happened, while Kinsey struggles to narrow down all the possible suspects. Meanwhile, a psychotic killer-at-large from a previous book is stalking Kinsey and his own ex-wives, complicating Kinsey’s life and her attempts to bring him to justice.
When Fritz manages to steal the payoff money from his parents, the extortionists set up a meeting, and then realize their in-person encounter will result in their prosecution. Duh. They abandon the project.
But someone else shows up at the appointed time and place to meet Fritz–and Fritz disappears.
There are so many red herrings in this plot, so many people who could want revenge against Fritz, that I changed my conjecture all the way through the book. When the guilty party was revealed, I couldn’t believe it. After I finished the book, I combed back through it for a good hour to find the clues that led Kinsey to the perpetrator. Yes, they were all there.
The story contains one glaring anachronism. Home VHS camcorders weren’t available until 1983. Even with that drawback, though, I thoroughly enjoyed Y is for Yesterday.
21. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst. The author has endured a great deal of rejection during her life, and through it, she’s become closer to God. In this book she shares how God’s opinion of you is different from everyone else’s: God accepts you and loves you, even when you’re unlovable.
As I began this book, I thought it had no relevance to me. I haven’t experienced a lot of rejection lately. I thought I’d gotten over depending on other’s judgments of me for my self-worth.
Then I realized some of my biggest disappointments in the last ten years, especially in my professional life, were types of rejection. And, yes, the pain of being passed over or harshly evaluated was eradicated by new, better pursuits; God freed me up for the opportunities He wanted to give me. God loves me and has a plan for bigger and better accomplishments for me. TerKeust puts it this way: “Each hole left from rejection must become an opportunity to create more and more space for grace in my heart.”
Yes. Grace. God’s favor, undeserved by me.
If you struggle with depression and feelings of worthlessness and betrayal, you need this book. It contains healing, God’s healing.
20. Song and Sword by P.T. Wyant. The author has posted excerpts of this book on Snippet Sunday, and when I noticed the unicorns, I knew I must have this 99-cent Kindle ebook.
A fantasy populated by elves, orcs, drow, and unicorns, it contains a message appropriate for readers of all ages: judge individuals on their own merits, not according to race or nationality.
Pashevel, the wandering crown prince of the elves, encounters Dakkas, the wandering crown prince of the drow, and resist the long tradition of considering each other mortal enemies. Instead, they discover that the elves and drow were once one people, and they begin their goal of reuniting their kingdoms. Of course, each has his lady love, and they, too, must overcome prejudice. And to make things worse, each prince’s brother is current conducting a reign of terror in his respective kingdom.
As compelling as the story of Song and Sword is, sometimes the banter between the characters gets a little tiring.
19. Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. Review here.
18. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As much as I love dystopian societies, I just didn’t care about this one. I wanted more details about who these people were who took over, and why. Apparently wars and chemical pollution and radiation caused rampant sickness and death and plummeting birth rates, and it was necessary for an extreme religious sect to seize control–like Puritan control freaks.
We experience this troubled world through the eyes of Offred (not the name she was born with; that’s been taken from her, along with her husband and daughter and her way of life), who has been assigned the task of conceiving a child for Fred and his long-past-childbearing-age wife. What she discovers is that while it’s dangerous not to abide by the rules of her society, many indulge in forbidden behaviors, and encourage her to do the same.
The story ends abruptly, and we do not know whether Offred survives or dies.
17. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I found this title listed among so many people’s favorite books that I had to buy it.
I love medieval and Renaissance art and architecture, and I especially love cathedrals. This book, set in the mid-1100s mostly in England, follows the lives of a prior, a master builder and his step-son, a ruthless earl and his son, an ambitious bishop, and some remarkably strong and courageous women. But at the heart of the story is politics, and the building of a cathedral.
The best parts for me were looking through the eyes of the builder and (later) his son, catching the vision of what the cathedral could be, figuring out innovations to enable the church to be larger, brighter, more beautiful.
At 973 pages, this is not a light read. But I did enjoy being immersed in this world, where villains can destroy with impunity and good people work hard for an elusive better future which, if it comes, can be wrested away in a moment. The romantic parts are very vivid, and I could have done without a particularly brutal rape scene.
16. Camino Island by John Grisham. Unlike most of his books, this is not a legal thriller in the sense that none of the main characters are lawyers. Yet there is a crime, and the story tells how the authorities figure it all out.
Five original hand-written manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen from Princeton University, and the investigative company tasked with recovering them approaches a novelist to infiltrate the circle of the rare books dealer suspected of having them. In the course of the story, we come to love the novelist, the book dealer, and his colorful friends, while the desperate thief who’s already murdered an accomplice prepares to retake possession of the priceless documents. Really nice people getting hurt is a definite possibility.
There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, and it had me guessing all the way to the end. Definitely worth reading.
15. Crank It Out! The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer by C.S. Lakin. Review here.
14. Intended for Harm by C.S. Lakin. Review coming.
13. Old Broads Waxing Poetic compiled by Julie Kemp Pick and Susan Flett Swiderski. Review here.
12. Inferno by Dan Brown. I love all of Dan Brown’s books (though not the theology in The Da Vinci Code). I especially love Renaissance art, and the Robert Langdon series is full of it. I love Florence, a city at the top of my bucket list, and the setting for most of Inferno. The heart-pounding pace, the misdirection, and the looming catastrophe all make for an exciting thriller. I didn’t see the movie, but I generally like books better.
11. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first book by Gaiman I’ve ever read. A father makes up a story to explain why it took him so long to come home from buying a quart of milk. It makes me hope someday I’m blessed with grandchildren to whom I can read this story.
10. Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret of Crafting an Unforgettable Novel by C.S. Lakin. I read a lot of writing books. This is the best book I’ve ever read about writing the novel. Review here.
9. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Review here.
8. The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create by Allen Arnold. Review here.
7. Family Game Night by Mary E Lambert. Full disclosure: Mary Lambert is an acquaintance of mine. I met her last year at a writer’s retreat. She is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When her debut novel came out, I eagerly bought and read it.
Family Game Night way surpassed my expectations.
The story is about a family in crisis. Told in first person by Annabelle, the middle child of three, the book deals with the mother’s mental illness that manifests itself in hoarding, and how the family deals with it—not well. Denial and shame prevent any real progress from being made, until the point when it appears the family will dissolve.
Lambert perfectly captures the 12-year-old Annabelle’s voice. Her character comes alive on the page. Especially touching is the relationship between Annabelle and her younger sister, Leslie. Annabelle is tuned in to all of Leslie’s good qualities—her kindness, her ability to say the perfect words to dispel familial tension, and her quick intelligence. She also notices when Leslie’s anxieties push her toward the breaking point.
Although the topic is serious, Lambert manages to weave humor into the story. But she also captures some horrific moments, such as when Drew, the boy Annabelle likes, comes to her open front door just in time to witness her throw a screaming tantrum at her mom. (We’ve all been there/done that, or something close to it.)
Though Family Game Night is a middle grades book, it is so well-written that any adult who remembers being a pre-teen will enjoy it thoroughly.
6. The Hashimoto’s 4-Week Plan: A Holistic Guide to Treating Hypothyroidism by Karen Frazier. I may have Hashimoto’s disease. My doctor’s not concerned, but I am.
Frazier claims that nutritional intervention can halt Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that targets the thyroid gland. She recommends starting out with a four-week cleanse, eliminating all foods that could trigger an auto-immune response. You know the usual suspects: wheat, dairy, basically anything that doesn’t fall into a paleo diet.
I can give up wheat. I can’t imagine giving up cheese and yogurt, too. I suppose I could cut way back, if it meant improving my well-being.
But I would find it difficult to implement Frazier’s meal plan for one big reason–my husband’s diet consists completely of “outlawed” foods; he would not be willing to eat the foods on the plan. Which would mean two sets of dinners, every day.
I can’t say how helpful the plan really is, since I haven’t tried it. However, I’ll at least prepare a couple of the recipes Frazier provides. Some sound really delicious.
5. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach. This novel makes me want to retire in India.
4. poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Review here.
3. Alien Contact for Idiots by Edward Hoornaert. After reading Newborn (see #1 below), I knew I wanted to read the previous books in the series. Alien Contact for Idiots is book one. It tells the story of Ell Harmon, a scientist chosen to be among the first to make contact with aliens on Kwadra, an island that splashed down next to Vancouver Island in our world, but was originally located on a parallel earth in a future dimension.
It’s a delightful story, full of twists and turns. Hoornaert writes sci-fi romance, and be forewarned, at least one of the scenes is extra-spicy.
2. Mercy Inn: A Christmas Novella by Lee Warren. Three diverse travelers, all of them struggling with personal issues, get caught in a late December blizzard, and take refuge in a collection of cabins—an inn that doesn’t appear on any lodging maps of the area. Soon, a power outage forces them to move into the lodge, where the managers live, even though they’d all rather be alone in their misery. The rest of the novella tells how they reached out to one another and helped each other out of the emotional rut they were in. It’s a great concept.
I was a little disappointed with the writing, though, for lacking sparkle. And at least one part was a little far-fetched: when the country singer, about to make a comeback, offers the young disabled woman, who’s studying to be a dental hygienist, a job as her personal manager (because of her social media savvy) at a six figure salary. Really?
I also wish Warren hadn’t revealed the true identity of the innkeepers (angels) to the reader so early on. Better to drop a hint at the conclusion.
Nevertheless, Mercy Inn is worth a read as a Christmas diversion.
Newborn by Edward Hoornaert. I was introduced to this sic-fi romance by Ed’s excerpts of it through Weekend Writing Warriors. Over the course of a few months of 8- to 10-sentence snippets, I became totally intrigued with Jo Beaverpaw, the heroine.Jo is born fully grown in the woods, knowing that she has a mission: to assassinate Squitt, the leader of a rebellion in Kwadra (an island nation that splashed down next to Vancouver Island in our world, but was originally located on a parallel earth in a future dimension). She knows just enough to complete her mission, and then end her life. But things do not go according to plan.
The most interesting parts of this character is how she accumulates knowledge, and how she yearns to be a normal human being–but is that even possible? There’s so much she, and we readers, don’t understand.
In the beginning, the other characters (and I) were very suspicious of Jo and her intentions. Although committed to her Destiny, as time passes she becomes attracted to Darby, Scritt’s bodyguard, and longs to be a person with a future. She considers what is good and what is evil, and how to discern the difference between the two.
Hoornaert’s writing is suspenseful and fast moving. Both Jo’s life and Darby’s are in just as much danger as Scritt’s, and Jo’s reprogramed to ensure the success of her mission.
The book is a fast read, and very satisfying. Although a stand-alone, it is Book 3 of the Alien Contact for Idiots series, which I am now going to have to read in its entirety.
Rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is very much like a mirror: The glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time.–Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College
Books read in 2016 (the goal was 48; sigh):
39. How to Write Funny: Add Humor to Every Kind of Writing edited by John B Kachuba. Review here.
38. C Is for Christmas: The History, Personalities, and Meaning of Christ’s Birth by David W. and Warren W. Wiersbe. I have a tradition of reading at least one Christmas book during December. I bought this in Kindle format a few years ago, and chose it as my seasonal reading this year.
The Wiersbe father-and-son team examined every incarnation-related scripture in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and indexed them in C is for Christmas. The topics are arranged alphabetically, covering concepts such as Advent, Bethlehem, Epiphany, Glory, Immanuel, Joy, Messiah, Peace, Shepherds, Tidings, Word, and Zechariah. This makes it easy to look up the significance of any nativity-related word. The explanations are so thorough, however, that the same information is often given under several headings, making for redundancy if you read the book cover to cover.
The best way to use this book is as an advent devotional, picking and choosing your articles each day. C is for Christmas is a great resource for family devotions or for children’s bedtime stories during December, because the clear, concise language is readily understood by children.
37. The Martian by Andy Weir. This is the book that the Matt Damon movie was based on. It was a fabulous movie. Of course, the book is even better than the movie.
The Martian was recommended to me by a fellow writer, because I was having a problem writing my work-in-progress, in which my main character spends lots of time alone in the woods, with no one to interact with. Astronaut Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian, was unintentionally abandoned on Mars when he was presumed dead during a severe dust storm that forced his team to abort their mission. He spends nearly two years as the only living being on a dead planet.
The theme of The Martian is perseverance. Watney never gives up, even though the odds of rescue are slim. He carefully calculates strategies that will prolong his life and enable him to escape. Even when setbacks occur, he spends little energy on negativity. Instead, he searches for solutions.
I think The Martian should be required reading in high schools. Of course, then students will demand excellent science programs as well…
36. Chaos by Patricia Cornwell. I’m a huge fan of Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. This installment takes place mostly in the space of 24 hours and in a very small geographic area. Roughly 200 of the 385 pages are set at the crime scene. Much of the narrative is procedural, which is par for the series. Fortunately, it is frequently punctuated with Kay interacting with other investigators or recalling other incidents that may or not be related to the death she’s investigating, a young bicyclist who Kay spoke with twice that same day.
The plot is complex, with many twists and turns. The characters we love are all here: Benton, Marino, Lucy, Janet, and even Dorothy, Kay’s self-centered sister, who makes a surprise visit. A previous villain resurfaces.
The novel kept me guessing until the very end. In fact, Chapter 45 (of 47) is the most stress-provoking thing I’ve read in a long time. (Don’t spoil it for yourself by reading it first.)
35. The Whistler by John Grisham. I love Grisham’s complexly layered legal thrillers. The Whistler doesn’t disappoint. Two investigators for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct receive a tip about a judge who apparently has been taking bribes from a casino operation for virtually her entire distinguished career. As they research the claim and interview contacts, they gradually uncover a deadly crime ring, putting themselves and the whistleblower in danger. Compelling page turner.
34. My Rhyme-Time Bible for Little Ones by Donna Clark Goodrich. I’m counting this as a book read, even though it’s a children’s book. Review here.
33. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich. I will always buy the latest Stephanie Plum novel. They are one (actually, 23, so far) of my guilty pleasures. They are not great examples of writing, but I love the characters, and feel like I know them personally. Also, our previous address was in Hamilton Square, NJ, around the corner from Stephanie’s hometown of Trenton.
This installment of the life of bounty hunter Stephanie includes under-cover work at an ice cream factory, a serial murderer clown, and Stephanie’s grandmother dyeing her hair red and dating a tattooed biker bartender. Evanovich is always good for a laugh and a quick read.
32. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My third or fourth reread of this book. Review here.
31. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I never saw the movie that came out in 2000 or read the book it was based on, written in 1995. But a lot of people called it one of their favorite books, so it was on my TBR list for a couple of decades, and I finally read it.
Why? The main character, Rob, is pathetic. He owns a marginally solvent record store, and has two employees. He blames everybody else for his lack of success, including his ex-girlfriends and his co-workers. But his problem is he’s an unmotivated whiner. He’s the sort of person I take pains to avoid.
It’s unbelievable to me when his last girlfriend comes back. What is it she sees in him? And she works so hard on his behalf. He doesn’t begin to grow until Chapter 34, the next-to-last chapter of the book. It’s too little, too late.
Virtually the entire book is three 30-something guys arguing about which obscure band is better than the other. Pointless and boring. Or incredibly dated for me to be just getting around to it
30. Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton. Review here.
29. Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau. Review here.
28. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. Review here.
27. The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life by Bryan Hutchinson, et al. Review here.
26. Blind Spot by Laura Ellen. Two years ago I attended a day-long writer’s workshop where Ms. Ellen was a presenter. She held a drawing for some of her books, and I won my choice. I decided on this one because she talked about writing it in her presentation, and it sounded interesting. I even got her to autograph it. When I got home, I slipped it into a bookshelf and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to August, 2016. Why is everything in my To Be Read skyscraper non-fiction? I desperately searched my bookshelves for fiction I haven’t read yet. I could always reread one of my old favorites, but I really wanted a new escape. When I found Blind Spot, I had no recollection of buying it or how I even came to possess it. Seeing the signature on the title page, though, brought it all back.
High school student Roz (short for Roswell) would rather no one knew about her macular degeneration, a condition that was slowly blinding her. As a result, she often couldn’t recognize people or see the expressions on their faces, confusing her and causing her to misread situations. When Tricia, one of her classmates, disappears (and her body is found six months later), Roz realizes she’s one of the last persons who saw her alive. Why can’t she remember the details of that night?
This is a difficult book to read because of its bleak subject matter: drugs, exploitation, mental illness, date rape. Was Tricia murdered? By whom? People are not what they seem. Who can Roz trust?
As unpleasant as the subject is, I was captivated by the story and by the skill of the writer. Ellen knows how to twist a plot.
I am an old lady who loves to read young adult novels. However, because of the mature subject matter, I don’t recommend passing it on to your teenager without previewing it. Parents need to judge whether their kids are ready for something like this.
25. The Book Thief by Markus Muzak. I’ve owned this book for a long time, and started reading it once before, but didn’t get too far. I do not like the narrator: Death. I find his comments extremely distracting from the story. I loved the characters, but I do not like the way they address each other with insults. It slowed down my appreciation of Rosa, who turned out to be a very compassionate person, but disguised it well behind her gruff exterior. The Book Thief is the third book I’ve read this year that deals with the Holocaust (see #19 and #6 below).
24. The 15-Minute Writer: How to Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day by Jennifer Blanchard. Review here.
23. You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins. I first read this book two years ago, after I resigned from my teaching job and returned to the writing world. In this short book Goins encourages people who want to be writers to start, and offers beginning writers strategies to keep at it. It’s a worthwhile reread when you need an extra boost.
22. Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland. Review here.
20. Totally Tangled by Sandy Steen Bartholomew and 21. Zentangle® untangled: Inspiration and Prompts for Meditative Drawing by Kass Hall. Reviews here.
19. Night by Elie Wiesel. This is the second book I’ve read this year written by a Holocaust survivor. (See #6 below.) Wiesel, a social activist and a professor at Boston University as well as the author of more than forty books, passed away on July 2, 2016. Ashamed that I’d never read any of his work, I bought Night.
Is it possible to like a book about genocide if you’re also horrified by it? This is a beautifully written book about suffering and giving up hope and not giving up hope. I believe much of the credit for the book’s appeal goes to his wife, Marion, who translated the 2009 edition that I read.
18. The 4 Hour Workweek, Expanded And Updated: Expanded And Updated, With Over 100 New Pages Of Cutting Edge Content by Timothy Ferriss. Review here.
17. Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I bought this book because of this terrific trailer:
Spoiler alert: If you don’t want any more of the plot revealed, scroll down to book #16.
All the clues were there, but I didn’t catch on that this is a YA time-travel book. I thought it was a YA mystery. I probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d realized it was sci-fi. And that would have been a shame, because it’s a great read.
As Jonah and Chip try to make sense of the letters they receive, they discover they have something else in common–something that the FBI knows more about than they do. They don’t know who they can trust as they realize they are in danger.
Found is the first book in Haddix’s The Missing series. I don’t think I’ll buy all the books (there are seven more), but I’m probably going to have to make a trip to the library…
16. Donuts in an Empty Field by Rachel Barnard. I was introduced to this book by an excerpt posted in the Weekend Writing Warriors challenge. I was so intrigued by the bucket list Vanessa found in her father’s study (five years after his death) that I had to buy the book. I read a lot of Young Adult novels, because I’m writing one. (Or, I’m writing a YA novel, because that’s what I like to read.) This is a good one.
I’ve never experienced a traumatic experience, but the flashback “memories” that torment Vanessa seem to me to be accurate depictions of PTSD. Vanessa’s dad rescued a little boy from a burning restaurant, and died of smoke inhalation. Certain situations trigger Vanessa’s attacks, and even though she’s in therapy, she’s not making headway through her grief.
Her best friend, Nichole, tries to help her by encouraging Vanessa to try new things. This strategy partially backfires as Vanessa engages in risky behavior. To make things worse, Ben, the boy she blames for her father’s death, tries to intrude into their social circle. Bearing disfiguring scars from his burns, Ben should elicit sympathy, but instead, he’s shunned.
Barnard successfully portrays the secret lives of teenagers. She deals with uncomfortable topics, such as the shame young people feel about things out of their control, like Nichole’s mother’s hoarding. One aspect that bothers me is that Vanessa’s heart never softens toward Ben until it’s too late. Yet, in real life, everything doesn’t resolve neatly.
Donuts in an Empty Field was recently released as Book 1 of a series. I am looking forward to finding out what happens to Vanessa in the future.
15. One Year There: One Soldier’s Year in South Korea During 1968 by Robert Holewinski. Review here.
14. Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon by Rena Rocford. I don’t want to know how some people in Rocford’s world are born part-dragon, part-unicorn, part-gryphon, or part-troll. Poor Allyson–her heritage has been kept secret from her, but when someone finally clues her in, she discovers her school is full of Kin, who recognize her for what she is. And they are all in peril.
This YA book has it all–action, humor, fantasy. A delight to read.
13. After Me by Joyce Scarbrough. Review here.
12. The Girl in my Dreams by Logan Byrne. I read an excerpt of this young adult novel on Kindle Scout and recommended it. When it was chosen for publication, I received a free copy.
The first half of the book describes the romance of two high school students (and next-door neighbors). I have to say Theodore treats Annabelle the way I wanted my high school boyfriend to treat me, and I fell in love with him a little. Just when their relationship seems to be just too good to be true, Belle is killed in a car accident along with three other students.
Then the story passes into fantasy, because Theodore continues to see Belle–in his dreams every night.
This is a good story, but not a great story. There is one elephant in the room that is never addressed: who the driver is who caused the accident. The excuse is that the police did not release the name because the driver is a minor; but realistically, the people in the community would know; the kids in the school would know. I even thought I knew, and I was waiting for the shoe to drop, but it didn’t, which left me very unsatisfied.
The story went from beginning to end, with no substantial subplots, so it felt too simple, too shallow. However, Byrne is a promising author, and I hope to read more from him.
11. Little Miss Lovesick by Kitty Bucholtz. Sydney, a Michigan real estate agent, is trying to move on after a painful breakup. Though she’s not looking for romance, she keeps bumping into it, and falling into one disaster after another. Sweet romance with likable protagonists and a truly hatable ex-boyfriend, Little Miss Lovesick is perfect beach reading.
10. Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts to Get Creative and Stay Creative by Steven Rowell and Shawn Doyle. I bought this book based on the title, not realizing it is about accessing your creativity in the workplace. Nonetheless, many of the ideas in this book have applications to the artistic process (plus, many artists have paycheck jobs to help pay the bills; it couldn’t hurt to use these ideas at work). Review coming June 21, 2016.
9. Caskets from Costco by Kelly Wilson. When Wilson’s beloved father-in-law passed away, her emotions hit rock bottom. No stranger to depression, her grief was more than she could bear. In this memoir, she explores how counseling helped her come to terms with a painful past, including childhood sexual abuse, two premature births, and a near-death experience. Despite the tragedy she endured, Wilson tells her story with humor, engaging me and holding my interest from first page to last.
8. Good Poems for Hard Times collected by Garrison Keillor. My favorite collection of poems, I reread this every year or so. Review here.
7. Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. Chris is a Gifted, destined to travel between two parallel universes. Reluctant to accept his fate, he unwittingly damages both worlds. Can he make things right again? And what will it cost him? Great writing–Weiland creates engaging characters and worlds.
6. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This book often appears on lists of Most Influential Books. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. His description of the suffering he witnessed is heartbreaking. However, he discovered that people could face devastating circumstances with dignity if they could find one thing to hold on to: purpose.
5. The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft. Compelling. Based on actual events, a suicide/standoff situation. Intense. Well-written, rings true. The responses of the women who cared for him.
4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Review here.
3. The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling. Review here.
2. Gateway to Dreams: 3 Simple Steps to Dream Interpretation by Teresa Ward. I am a little disappointed by this book. I bought it because seven of the 11 reviews it had on Amazon gave it 5 stars.
This is not a 5 star book. I’d give it a 3, because it did give me some insight with a novel I’m working on. But it was not very well-written.
The book really doesn’t get started until Chapter 5. The first four chapters could have been condensed into a more cohesive, less rambling introduction.
Also, the second half of the book shamelessly promotes the author’s Dreamscapes® Dream Dictionary app. I had the feeling she mentioned it a hundred times, so I went back through the whole book and counted. It was only eleven times, but it felt like a hundred. Three times would have been plenty to get her message across.
She used some of her examples more than once, too! The organization of her material could have been more precise! The manuscript could have used a couple more go-throughs before publication! Also, the author overuses exclamation points!
- X by Sue Grafton. I love Sue Grafton! I’ve been reading her Kinsey Millhone mysteries since A is for Alibi. Her characters feel like family. The Xs in the story are of passing significance–the first letter in a character’s last name, a mark on a storage box of documents, the crisscrossing of a trellis. Kinsey solves an art ransom and a serial murder case.