First Reads of 2019…


Okay, let’s see if I can stay consistently on top of my book reviews (says she, optimistically!)…

–Marissa

Every Monday Matters by Matthew Emerzian feels like a bunch of fortune cookie quotations and wisdom wrapped up in a feel-good book. It annoyed me. LOL

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is the new stand-alone suspense novel from this breakout Australian author, and it did not disappoint. Two brothers meet at a remote point of their farm in the Australian back country… and their third brother lays dead at their feet. What exactly happened out in the nothingness?! The setting of this novel is as much a character as those featured on the page – recommended!

An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks was a must-read for me after devouring “The Wife Between Us” and loving it, and this was another twisty, suspens-y game of cat and mouse with the authors and the reader. It didn’t have the same *jaw dropper* moment that the previous did, but I definitely enjoyed watching the threads twist to see who was going to do what to whom. Very enjoyable!

Playing with FIRE by Scott Rieckens was an interesting memoir cum financial guide, as Rieckens and his wife embark on a journey to FIRE – Financial Independence Retire Early. I’ve heard of this movement, but this gives a more “boots on the ground” view of really going hard to save and save to retire early.

One Day in December by Josie Silver just charmed the socks off of me, and was the perfect book at the perfect time. 🙂 Boy and girl spot each other at a London bus stop… are pulled apart before they can meet… girl searches for boy, only to find him a year later… as the boyfriend of her best friend. Nooooo! This novel traces the lives of all the characters over the course of at least a decade, so you really get immersed in their emotions, relationships and actions – I just loved it beginning to end!

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was a good read, but a perplexing one. A mystery illness causes people to fall asleep in a small college town with no rhyme or reason. I really got invested in some of the characters and liked the meandering style of the writing, but found myself somewhat frustrated by the end. Still recommended though!

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams was a read after hearing about it on the “By the Book” podcast, about how being in nature (a little or a lot) affects our mood and physiology. I liked her visits to various experiments, experiences and green spaces around the globe, but this was a bit of a dry read at times. Very thought provoking though!

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A Few Faves From 2018…

I wanted to call out some fave reads from 2018 for a lengthier review… did you check any of these out in 2018?
–Marissa
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou was just… man, truth is stranger than fiction. This is a retelling of Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal. I remember hearing just a teeny bit about this story, but diving into it just took my fascinating/horror to a whole new level as Holmes convinced tons of investors to give her millions and millions on promised technology… that never worked. If you’ve gotten sucked into the Fyre Festival documentaries lately, this is right up your alley!
The White Darkness by David Grann is a teeny, tiny nonfiction story, but it really stuck with me. In it, Grann follows the trials and travails of Henry Worsley, as he tries to break several records in crossing the Antarctic, one of them completely solo. I love a good man-versus-nature story, and this is just great storytelling coupled with that very spirit. I really enjoyed it (and it only took a little while to read!)
The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson is unlike any other mystery I read this year. First, it’s set in Iceland (which, of course, I’m into since Johnna and I visited), and features an unlikely heroine… a female police inspector in her 60s being pushed out of her position. She decides to investigate just one last case… and the ending of this novel as stuck with me all year long! If you read it, I wanna know your thoughts!
Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee was a special read… first, I met Lee (and got his autograph) on this copy at a conference, then eagerly devoured it chapter by chapter, smiling in particular at the one set in a restaurant in Indianapolis that I LOVE. Lee does such a beautiful job of combining food culture, the immigrant experience, recipes, and evoking what every bite tastes like with a completely approachable, unpretentious air. I loved every page, and wish I’d been along for the ride!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was just… magic. I was reluctant to read it after ALL the hype, but was immediately sucked into the setting, the story of the “Marsh Girl”, and the community that keeps her at a distance. I couldn’t stop reading and friends, I actually *cried* at the end – both at the ending, and at the fact the story, the setting was leaving me. So highly recommended…

Hang On, We’re Going Big!

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That’s right… in order to assuage my guilt over my lack of book reviews, I’m going to try and cram lots (and lots) of one-sentence book reviews into this one post as I look back over my 2018 reads so I can start 2019 with a “fresh slate”, as it were. Here we go!

–Marissa

Anthony, Gretchen. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners – Quirky family drama, but enjoyable!
Armstrong, Heather B. The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Absolutely LOVED this non-fiction memoir dealing with depression and family
Auvinen, Karen. Rough Beauty – Single girl in the Rockies… wanted *more* from it…

Bloom, Amy. White Houses – fictionalized Eleanor Roosevelt love story… felt a bit… stilted?
Burton, Tara Isabella. Social Creature –  Instagram, FOMO and murder!
Byrne, Kerrigan. The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo – LOVE any of her books!

Carlino, Renee. Blind Kiss – Fun romance premise, but didn’t deliver the *zing* I wanted…
Candlish, Louise. Our House – Such an interesting suspense premise, I enjoyed it!
Chiklis, Autumn. Smothered – Overbearing mother, figuring-it-out millenial…
Clarkson, Sarah. Book Girl – Eh.
Clinton, Bill and Patterson, James. The President is Missing – Surprisingly fun and suspenseful, and felt very authentic!

Dalcher, Christina. Vox – Didn’t live up to the hype…
Dare, Tessa. The Governess Game – Tessa writes, and I’ll always read it!
Dare, Tessa et al. How the Dukes Stole Christmas – Same!
Dare, Tessa. Once Upon a Winter’s Eve – Same!
de Rosnay, Tatiana. The Rain Watcher – Quiet but powerful family drama…
Doan, Amy Mason. The Summer List – Loved the premise of this “women’s fiction” story…

Enger, Leif. Virgil Wander – Meandering but sweet…

Faye, Gael. Small Country – A tough read on the immigrant experience…
Frear, Caz. Sweet Little Lies – I don’t even remember this one :-/

Giffin, Emily. All We Ever Wanted – Full of depth and tough choices for an affluent family…
Grisham, John. The Reckoning – I slogged through ALL those pages… FOR THAT?!
Guillory, Jasmine. The Proposal – Fun, sexy, frothy, foodie, lovely!

Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – In anticipation of the Netflix movie!
Harris, Anstey. Goodbye, Paris – I don’t remember it :-/
Hoover, Colleen. All Your Perfects – I really loved the two main characters, they became friends to me…

James, Eloisa. Born to be Wilde – Always love Eloisa!
Jeffries, Sabrina. ‘Twas the Night After Christmas – A lovely reread!
Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage – Difficult subject matter, but beautifully rendered, recommended!

Kor, Eva. Surviving the Angel of Death – An amazing survivor story from the Holocaust…
Kubica, Mary. When the Lights Go Out – This one’s ending just flat out PISSED ME OFF!

Land, Stephanie. Maid – Thought provoking and engaging…
Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko – So glad I read this sweeping family drama over generations in Korea…
Lynes, S.E. The Proposal – Eh, it was fine for the time…

Mailhot, Terese Marie. Heart Berries – I just flat didn’t like it, no matter the accolades…
Mastromonaco, Alyssa. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? – fun peek behind the Obama White House curtain…
Michaelides, Alex. The Silent Patient. – I wasn’t feeling the hype as much as everyone else…
Miller, Jennifer and Feifer, Jason. Mr. Nice Guy – Cute-ish
Mohammadi, Kamin. Bella Figura – loved this memoir of a year in Italy…
Moriarty, Liane. Nine Perfect Strangers – NOT what I expected, but still I totally got into it!
Moritsugu, Kim. The Showrunner – Frothy and silly, but fun!
Mustich, James. 1000 Books to Read Before You Die – Takes itself VERY seriously…

Osborn, John Jay. Listen to the Marriage – Interesting point of view for a “marriage in crisis” book…

Perri, Camille. When Katie Met Cassidy – Quirky but unique love story… felt authentic…
Perry, S.K. Let Me Be Like Water – Sad but sweet…
Pinborough, Sarah. Cross Her Heart – Eh.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time – Loved this memoir of travel and self reflection…

Sedaris, David. Calypso – LOVED. IT.
Serle, Rebecca. The Dinner List – Thought provoking and warm…
Sims, Thomas J. On Call In the Arctic – Absolutely loved this memoir – think “Northern Exposure”!
Soule, Charles. The Oracle Year – Eh, it was fun enough.
Steadman, Catherine. Something in the Water – Suspenseful and page-turning!
Summers, Courtney. Sadie – Sad, just beautifully done

Tamblyn, Amber. Any Man – Not my jam
Thayne, RaeAnne. Season of Wonder – Lovely little Christmas story…
Tomlinson, Tommy. The Elephant in the Room – Really loved this honest weight-loss memoir…
Tracy, PJ. The Guilty Dead – Another Monkeewrench novel!

Unger, Lisa. Under My Skin – Don’t remember it :-/

Weiss, Piper. You All Grow Up and Leave Me – Creepy memoir, but super slow moving and ultimately kinda boring…
Witherspoon, Reese. Whiskey in a Teacup – Fun lifestyle book from Reese!

Youngson, Anne. Meet Me at the Museum – Lovely, soft, warm epistolary novel

Zinovieff, Sofka. Putney – Icky, and not really in a good way…

2018 Reading Roundup

Even though I’m ludicrously behind on my book reviews, I did want to call out my year in reading, and shout out some of my favorite titles read last year, so here goes!

–Marissa

Number of books read in 2018: 128 titles
Number of books read in 2017 (for comparison): 131 titles
Average of books read per month: 11 books
Average of books read per week: 2.5 books
Daily average: 1 book read every 2.9 days
Percent of fiction read: 73%
Percent of nonfiction read: 27%
Number of YA books read: 5
Number of books read on the Kindle: 80

And now, for the best books of the year (in my humble opinion, of course!), in author alphabetical order… my benchmark is always… “did this book stick with me? Do I still remember the characters or plot? Did I think about it after I closed the cover?”…
Ausiello, Michael. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. NF.
Carreyrou, John. Bad Blood. NF, K.
Genova, Lisa. Every Note Played. F, K.
Grann, David. The White Darkness. NF, K.
Jonasson, Ragnar. The Darkness. F.
Kurson, Robert. Rocket Men. NF.
Lee, Edward. Buttermilk Graffiti. NF.
Mecham, Jesse. You Need a Budget. NF.
Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing. F.

What were your favorite reads this year that I should add to my TBR list?

And as for the Book Riot “Read Harder” challenge… I did pretty darn well! I only feel short in a couple of places, and this definitely pushed me to try some other lit I normally wouldn’t have. Yay challenges!

  1. A book published posthumously (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara)
  2. A book of true crime (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara)
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)
  4. A comic written and drawn by the same person (Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess)
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) (I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon)
  6. A book about nature (The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams)
  7. A western
  8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color (Bingo Love by Tee Franklin)
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature (Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys)
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color (Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai)
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980 (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)
  12. A celebrity memoir (We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union)
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection (An American Marriage by Tayari Jones)
  14. A book of social science (The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking)
  15. A one-sitting book (Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson)
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han)
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image (Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess)
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation (The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani)
  20. A book with a cover you hate (Tangerine by Christine Mangan)
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author (Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan)
  22. An essay anthology
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60 (The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein)
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished) (Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward)

Another Year Passes…

I’m not gonna lie, I knew it had been a while since I updated this blog, but I was horrified to see it was back in MAY of last year! I feel like so, so much has happened since then, and also… just time gently passing. I’m endeavoring, however, to catch up on all my waiting book reviews, and to share what I’ve been reading lately too! As for the balance of 2018, it was a whirlwind….

Lots of weekend trips to places like St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago…

Our garden growing in the summer sunshine…

A work conference in NOLA and a Pumpkin Spectacular in Louisville…

A trip to New Jersey’s shore and my first new car in 15 years…

And perhaps most special… getting engaged, and then a couple of months later running off to Las Vegas to get hitched. 2018 had some definite lows, but I’m glad we ended on a happy note.

Here’s to 2019!

–Marissa

New Book Titles!


Though summer is drawing ever closer, I’m trying not to neglect my reading duties (duties! ha!), though I’ve gotten bogged down in a few titles lately. Still and all, lots of good things to review, so let’s do it!

–Marissa

A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is the 10th in the Kate Burkholder series, and is another winner! I really love this series about a formerly Amish woman who is now the chief of police in her town. Picking up another Castillo is getting to spend time with old friends. 🙂 This is due for release on July 10th.

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One by Raphaelle Giordano was apparently an “international bestseller”, but in my opinion was just… wretched. Trite and silly, a lecture disguised as prose, this was just… ugh. NOT what I was expecting!

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center was another winner from a writer I’ve grown to really enjoy for her straightforward, easy-to-devour women’s fiction titles. In this one, after a freak accident Maggie is in the hospital, and wondering if anything will be the same. Judging from the absence of her fiance, she’s guessing not… this is just a good, solid, positive, refreshing story that I tore right through!

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang has been getting rave reviews pre-release (it comes out June 5th) and for good reason – it’s unique and refreshing! Stella, who has Asperger’s, find dating (and in particular, sex) challenging, so she solves this in the most straightforward way possible: my hiring a male escort to teach her how to be dateable. What follows is by turns sweet, sexy, tender and fun – I flew through it!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman has been lauded as being just the “bestest book ev-ER”, but when I looked closer, I saw reviews were either glowing… or not. I’m a not. I didn’t feel like I was “in” the story, but instead being held at a remove by the writing, the jumps in timeline, the massive gaps left, and the oddness of the storytelling. What could have been a beautiful love story, or a story about a life lived, or about friendship… just didn’t resonate with me AT ALL. Bummer.

Rust and Stardust by T. Greenwood (due out August 7th) is a fictionalized account of the kidnapping and exploitation of Sally Horner, who was the real-life inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita. I loved all the different voices and points of view in the short chapters, and kept finally myself marveling that this really happened (albeit this is a fiction retelling). Difficult but fascinating…

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is a 2017 fiction National Book Award winner – so of course I should read it. But to say I *enjoyed* this book would be completely false. This raw, difficult, stilted, in-your-face-with-icky-details novel is about a 13 year boy struggling to find male role models… about what prison does to a man… about a mother who can’t kick drugs for her family… about ghosts and stories that form a family. I’m not going to lie… I REALLY struggled to get through this one, even though I can appreciate it.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara has been such a buzzy book, since it was published mere weeks before the featured subject was finally arrested (the Golden State Killer). Though McNamara died of cancer in 2016, she left behind a legacy of research, devotion and dedication to piecing together the story of scores and scores of rapes and murders in California, all finally linking to one man. This is a dual story: the story of the GSK, and the story of one woman’s dogged research. Recommended!

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (due out August 21) was a perfect palate cleanser after a couple of difficult reads, because I started reading and could NOT put it down! The first section of the book left me absolutely BREATHLESS and I had to get reading to find out WTF just happened! Andrea and her mother are eating lunch in a mall food court when “violence erupts”, and Mom reacts in a… very surprising way. No spoilers, but this is a twisty, fast-paced, “say WHAT?” kind of read, and I dug it! I definitely need to read more Karin Slaughter!

Gettin’ My Read On


I’ve been trying to turn and burn through the titles lately, and here’s what I’ve read…

–Marissa

Rocket Men by Robert Kurson was just SO FANTASTIC. I love all of Kurson’s nonfiction books (which totally read like fiction) including Shadow Divers and Pirate Hunters, but this was my JAM. I love Kurson and I’ve always been absolutely enamored with the space race of the 1960s. This was about the daring – I didn’t realize HOW daring! – mission to send Apollo 8 around the dark side of the moon in preparation for the moon landing. Kurson just weaves in the science, the men’s personalities and lives, and the impact the mission had on the space program – and the world. I’m not kidding… I started this in the morning, intending to read one chapter, and had it done by that late afternoon. SO good.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence was just… if ever a book could be written just for me, this is it. Spence writes “love letters” (and some not-so-lovey ones!) to the books in her life as a public librarian. I howled with laughter, I nodded emphatically, I wanted to write her my own letter to tell her I agree about Nicholas Sparks, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is an obvious choice for any librarian, but anyone who loves books – and libraries! – will dig this too!

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall was a Book of the Month last month (yes, of course I’m a subscriber!), so I bumped it up my “digital galley” list. This is a perfect recommendation for folks who enjoyed You by Caroline Kepnes, as the books are similar. An unreliable narrator, a twisted view of a relationship, and the aftermath when things go too far. A serviceable psychological read that was easy to zip through.

I also read So Close to Bein’ the Sh*t Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta, which was just a fresh, funny, honest memoir from a famous Hollywood face who happens to be ridiculously down to earth like the rest of us! I also read Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser, which was a fine enough novel, but not a terrible memorable “mommy lit” story for me, and just seemed to drag on a bit in the reading. I also just finished Intermission by Elyssa Friedland, about a couple who take a six month hiatus before deciding whether to proceed with becoming parents or separating forever. I like the premise very much, but found the story a bit cloying and boring-ish in parts.