Category Archives: reading

2020 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2019, I read 29 books. So far this year, I’ve read:

 

Star rating legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. Or—more than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening).
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would highly recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—summary

Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry below, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

 

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
After the Funeral Agatha Christie Audio 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh 304 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary
The Once and Future King T.H. White 647 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
What Alice Forgot Liane Moriarty 476 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary, romance, Australian culture, mystery
How Will You Measure Your Life Clayton M. Christensen 240 12/31/19 – 01/02/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ business, leadership, management, personal development, philosophy, productivity, psychology, self-help

 

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—details

 

Book cover Book: After the Funeral Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: Audio Duration: 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
10-word summary: Classic Agatha Christie who-done-it with murderer confessing at the end.
6-word review: Amusing and mysterious. British and entertaining.
Description: Hercule Poirot is called on to investigate the murder of a brother and sister in this classic from the Queen of Mystery. When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the odd remark she made the day before at her brother’s funeral becomes chillingly important: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Desperate to learn more about both deaths, the family solicitor turns to detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, so if you like her stuff, you’ll like this. Her Hercule Poirot books are among my favorites, so I enjoyed this book.



 

Book cover Book: My Year of Rest and Relaxation Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Pages: 304 Duration: 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, contemporary
10-word summary: Woman drugs herself out for a year to supposedly heal.
6-word review: Train wreck you can’t not watch.
Description: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be.
Thoughts: This story is an absolute train wreck in progress, and like the train wreck cliché, it was impossible to “look away.” Like this author’s book, Eileen, which I read last year, the storytelling was so compelling that I read large parts of it at a time and returned to it quickly for another dose. Also like Eileen, the story bordered on the bizarre. I wondered a lot about the sheer number—and combination—of drugs the unnamed narrator was taking (assuming they were all real, because most of them were, which made me assume the made up ones were just ones I’d never heard of). At least once I thought about the myriad of medication ingested by the elderly and the—at least 15—prescriptions my mother was on toward the end of her life. There were so many that she became unable to keep track of them herself, and we ended up paying the assisted living place $500 a month to manage them (and at times, and more often that we wanted to at that price, mismanage). In the end, after her year of “rest and relaxation,” the narrator claims that it accomplished her goal, but as the reader I thought, “That remains to be seen.”



 

Book cover Book: The Once and Future King Author: T.H. White
Pages: 647 Duration: 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
10-word summary: Arthurian characters with more complex and contradictory traits and motives.
6-word review: Abandoned. Excessive description stalled plot interminably.
Description: T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
Thoughts: I was inspired to read this book after seeing the play, Camelot; hearing about how much other people enjoyed reading it at various times in their lives; and how it’s considered by many as a seminal work. For me, it had too much description, with not enough plot movement. I mean 3 super long paragraphs describing the outside of a castle in excruciating detail and then the next paragraph starting, “So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you,” followed by paragraph after paragraph describing that. Nope. That, together with my dislike of fantasy! Merlyn’s says “Wash up!” and “At this all the china and cutlery scrambled down off the table, the cloth emptied the crumbs out of the window, and the napkins folded themselves up.” Add to that, super small font with over 600 more pages to go. Just wasn’t willing to do it. I abandoned this book on page 35.



 

Book cover Book: What Alice Forgot Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 476 Duration: 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, Australian culture, mystery
10-word summary: Woman tries to adjust to 10 lost years of memories.
6-word review: Definite page turner. Realistic and thought-provoking.
Description: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a good job of capturing things you might not consider if you lost a 10-year period of your memory. I also liked how it made me think about how you might react to realizing you didn’t really like the person you’d become during the gap, and how you might resolve that. I read this author’s book Nine Perfect Strangers last year, which I only liked okay. I liked this one much, much better, and I’d highly recommend it.



 

Book cover Book: How Will You Measure Your Life? Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Pages: 240 Duration: 12/31/20 – 01/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: business, leadership, management, psychology, self-help
10-word summary: Criteria to measure your life and propel yourself to happiness.
6-word review: Unengaged by kids and religion chapters.
Description: In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions. How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.
Thoughts: Overall, this book didn’t resonate with me. I did get one important thing out of it, and that’s the notion of asking yourself what “job” something is doing for you. The example that stands out was his talking about what (different) “job” getting a milkshake in a fast-food restaurant is doing for both adult commuters in the morning and for kids after dinner in the evening. Several chapters were devoted to applying the theories in the book to raising children, which didn’t interest me much, and the ending was a lot about God, which didn’t interest me at all. I’d recommend this book for younger people—those still early in their careers or just starting a family.


2019 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2018, I read 26 books. This year, I read 29.

 

Here are some fun facts about the books I read in 2019:

Cost and sources
I spent $0.00 in 2019 for the 29 books I read this year. The source of my books included:

  • 21 borrowed from the Wake County Public Library (including regular-print, large-print, e-book, and audiobook editions)
  • 6 as free downloads from amazon.com via BookBub
  • 2 from Books at Amazon—1 as a free download and 1 that I paid $2.17 for back in 2017

Favorites/least favorites

Abandoned books
In addition to the 29 books I read this year, I abandoned 4:

Book club books
6 of the 29 books I read as part of The Mostly Social Book Club that I’m in:

Author diversity

  • 12 male writers
  • 15 female writers
  • 1 non-binary writer

New authors
26 of the authors I read this year, I was reading for the first time:

Albert Camus, Clive Barker, David Levithan, Delia Owens, Elin Hilderbrand, Emma Jameson, Franny Moyle, Garrard Conley, Gemma Jackson, Greer Hendricks, Haruki Murakami, Jacob Tobia, Jacquie Underdown, Jason Mott, Jeff Shelby, Judy Blume, Kevin Allison, Liane Moriarty, Marlene Wagman-Geller, Michelle Obama, Shayne Parkinson, Silk White, Stephen Chbosky, Tara Conklin, Will Schwalbe, Simon Winchester

Repeat authors
I’d read at least one other book by 2 of the authors of the books I read this year:

Most ambitious month
In September, I read 5 books:

Genres

  • Nonfiction: 8
  • Fiction: 21
  • Others: autobiography, biography, books about books, chick lit, classics, contemporary, French culture, Japanese culture, fantasy, feminism, history, horror, humanities, Irish culture, language, LGBT, literature, literary fiction, magical realism, memoir, mystery, paranormal, philosophy, queer, romance, science fiction, short stories, suspense, thriller, womens fiction, writing, young adult

Shortest / longest

Number of books read by pages

  • 7% (2 books) with fewer than 200 pages
  • 21% (6 books) with between 200-299 pages
  • 41% (12 books) with between 300-399 pages
  • 28% (8 books) with between 400-499 pages
  • 3% (1 book) with more than 500 pages


The 29 books I read in 2019—summary

Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry below, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
Two Henrys Kevin Allison 35 01/04/19 – 01/06/19 (3 days) 4 stars nonfiction, short stories, LGBT, queer
1Q84 Haruki Murakami 1318 01/07/19 – 01/23/19 (17 days) 5 stars fiction, fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, Japanese culture
A Spool of Blue Thread Anne Tyler 358 01/28/19 – 02/10/19 (14 days) 3 stars fiction, contemporary, literary fiction
Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty 453 02/09/19 – 02/14/19 (6 days) 3 stars fiction, contemporary, womens fiction
Becoming Michelle Obama 428 02/24/19 – 04/28/19 (63 days) 5 stars nonfiction, autobiography, memoir
The Last Romantics Tara Conklin 368 02/15/19 – 05/21/19 (96 days) 5 stars fiction, contemporary
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story Jacob Tobia 336 06/09/19 – 06/19/19 (11 days) 5 stars nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
The Murder Pit Jeff Shelby 326 05/19/19 – 06/23/19 (36 days) 3 stars fiction, mystery
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde Franny Moyle 336 06/08/17 – 06/26/19 (2 years, 19 days) 4 stars nonfiction, biography, history
The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Simon Winchester 288 06/27/19 – 07/03/19 (7 days) 5 stars nonfiction, history, biography, humanities, language, writing, books about books
The Wife Between Us Greer Hendricks 416 07/07/19 – 07/14/19 (8 days) 4 stars fiction, thriller, mystery, suspense
The Stranger Albert Camus 123 07/16/19 – 07/18/19 (3 days) 5 stars fiction, classics, philosophy, French culture, literature
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky 222 07/19/19 – 07/23/19 (5 days) 5 stars fiction, young adult, contemporary
One Plus One Jojo Moyes 369 07/25/19 – 08/02/19 (9 days) 4 stars fiction, contemporary, romance, womens fiction, adult
Winter in Paradise Elin Hilderbrand 320 08/10/19 – 08/11/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction, mystery
Summer Sisters Judy Blume 416 08/24/19 – 08/25/19 (2 days) 4 stars fiction, womens fiction, young adult, romance
The Secrets Mothers Keep Jacquie Underdown 266 09/02/19 – 09/04/19 (3 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction
Never Be The Same Silk White 210 09/08/19 – 09/08/19 (1 days) 4 stars fiction, mystery, African American
Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family Garrard Conley 340 09/10/19 – 09/19/19 (10 days) 5 stars nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
The Wonder of All Things Jason Mott 400 09/20/19 – 09/21/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary
Two Boys Kissing David Levithan 200 09/23/19 – 09/23/19 (1 days) 5 stars fiction, young adult, romance, contemporary, LGBT, queer
Abarat Clive Barker 393 09/24/19 – 10/09/19 (16 days) 3 stars fiction, young adult, fantasy, horror
Marriage Can Be Murder Emma Jameson 282 10/10/19 – 10/15/19 (6 days) 3 stars fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Behind Every Great Man: Women in the Shadows of History’s Alpha Males Marlene Wagman-Geller 369 10/17/19 – 10/23/19 (7 days) 4 stars nonfiction, women, history, feminism, short stories
Sentence of Marriage Shayne Parkinson 415 10/10/19 – 10/29/19 (20 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, romance
What Happens in Paradise Elin Hilderbrand 432 10/30/19 – 11/03/19 (5 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction
The End of Your Life Book Club Will Schwalbe 336 11/04/19 – 11/09/19 (6 days) 5 stars nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, writing, books about books
Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens 384 12/19/19 – 12/20/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Through Streets Narrow and Broad Gemma Jackson 464 12/27/19 – 12/30/19 (4 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, Irish culture


The 29 books I read in 2019—details

Book cover Book: Two Henrys Author: Kevin Allison
Pages: 35 Duration: 01/04/19 – 01/06/19 (3 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: nonfiction, short stories, LGBT, queer
Description:
Coming out can be awkward enough—let alone coming out in the 1970s, in Ohio, as a Catholic schoolboy. In this fearless and funny true story, the host and founder of the hit podcast RISK! shares all. From first grade through junior high, twelve-year-old Kevin and his best friend, Ben, were inseparable. But when Kevin divulged his biggest secret, Ben froze him out. The pint-size cold war lasted two years—until they went head-to-head for student council president. Team Ben’s smear campaign began. The school took sides. And Kevin decided to run with it.
Thoughts:
Just a short, fun, little read. If you’re queer and have been in the closet or come out, you’re sure to relate to this short narrative. If you’re straight, you might gain some insight into why it’s such a big deal to the person, especially a kid, going through it all.


Book cover Book: 1Q84 Author: Haruki Murakami
Pages: 1318 Duration: 01/07/19 – 01/23/19 (17 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, fantasy, magical realism, Japanese culture, science fiction
Description:
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 – Q is for “A world that bears a question.” A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
Thoughts:
This was a challenging read for me, not because of its length, but because it contains elements of—as enumerated in its genre list—fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction, none of which do I care for. However, it’s a compelling enough story that kept raising questions that I wanted to know the answers to, which kept me reading. And not unlike The Goldfinch, which I read last year, I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finished reading its 1318 pages.


Book cover Book: A Spool of Blue Thread Author: Anne Tyler
Pages: 358 Duration: 01/28/19 – 02/10/19 (14 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, literary fiction
Description:
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. from Red’s father and mother, newly-arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Thoughts:
Surprisingly, this was one of my least favorite books of the year. There just wasn’t anything remarkable that happened to the characters in this story. And although that’s probably representative of a lot of people’s lives, it just didn’t make for very interesting reading to me. One reviewer, who regularly gives Anne Tyler high marks, pretty well summed up my sense of it: “It recycles virtually every theme and major plot she has used in the past and does so in the most perfunctory manner imaginable. A disappointing performance by this talented author, who seems to be coasting on automatic pilot.”

Book cover Book: Nine Perfect Strangers Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 453 Duration: 02/09/19 – 02/14/19 (6 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, womens fiction
Description:
Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.
Thoughts:
This was among my least favorite fiction books of the year. The premise was interesting enough, but it dragged at times, and it got quite preposterous at others.


Book cover Book: Becoming Author: Michelle Obama
Pages: 428 Duration: 02/24/19 – 04/28/19 (63 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, autobiography, memoir
Description:
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Thoughts:
This book made me ache for the days when class and civility inhabited The White House. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: The Last Romantics Author: Tara Conklin
Pages: 368 Duration: 02/15/19 – 05/21/19 (96 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary
Description:
A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose – and sometimes rescue – the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories – how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future
Thoughts:
This book immediately reminded me of the first line from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s so interesting to me how siblings who grow up in the same family and household can turn out so differently and how so much dysfunction can take place in one family. Also, I love how this book starts at a funeral. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story Author: Jacob Tobia
Pages: 336 Duration: 06/09/19 – 06/19/19 (11 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
Description:
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story charts those decades, from Jacob’s Methodist childhood to the hallowed halls of Duke University and the portrait-laden parlors of the White House, taking you on a gender odyssey you won’t soon forget. With the snarky voice and wrenching vulnerability that have made them a media sensation, Jacob shatters the long-held notion that people are easily sortable into “men” and “women.” Sissy guarantees that you’ll never think about gender—both other people’s and your own—the same way again.
Thoughts:
The last serious book I read on gender was My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender by Riki Anne Wilchins’Read back in 2003. It, too, tried many of my misconceptions and disinformation about gender. I enjoyed reading this book much more than that one, though, because of Jacob’s impressive ability to share his humanity in a deep, yet relatable way that challenges one’s thinking about gender. And there definitely was a remarkable Aha! moment in it for me. I recommended this book for our Mostly Social Book Club, and here’s a 7-minute clip of Jacob with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.


Book cover Book: The Murder Pit Author: Jeff Shelby
Pages: 326 Duration: 05/19/19 – 06/23/19 (36 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, mystery
Description:
Daisy Savage finally has everything she wants. A new husband. A bunch of kids. A charming old house. What she doesn’t want is a dead body. When a frozen pipe in the basement of her century-old home leads her and her husband downstairs into a newly discovered crawl space, they find a coal chute they didn’t know they had. And a corpse inside of it.
Thoughts:
I can’t really put my finger on why this book didn’t captivate me, but it didn’t. A reviewer, who really liked it, noted, “For me, the first 3 chapters, while charming, were a little slow. Not slow enough for me to put the book aside, but not as fastly paced as the rest of the story. It was right about chapter 4… right there at the end of it… that the novel really took off and never faltered. And I gotta confess… no, not to the murder… but to the fact that I had way too much fun flying through the pages!” I gotta confess that all of those ellipses in that review annoyed me, but with that said, I didn’t like it, but YMMV.


Book cover Book: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde Author: Franny Moyle
Pages: 336 Duration: 06/08/17 – 06/26/19 (2 years, 19 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, history
Description:
In the spring of 1895 the life of Constance Wilde changed irrevocably. Up until the conviction of her husband, Oscar, for homosexual crimes, she had held a privileged position in society. Part of a gilded couple, she was a popular children’s author, a fashion icon, and a leading campaigner for women’s rights. A founding member of the magical society The Golden Dawn, her pioneering and questioning spirit encouraged her to sample some of the more controversial aspects of her time. Mrs. Oscar Wilde was a phenomenon in her own right.
Thoughts:
I wanted to—more like, felt like I should—like this book way more than I did. Obviously, I didn’t hate it, since I never abandoned it over the ample just-over 2 years it took me to read it. In the end, I think who I really wanted to read about was Oscar, not Constance, and the dalliances that led to his social demise didn’t happen until well into the second half of the book. She was also very much into fashion, about which I have little-to-no interest in. With all that said, I’m glad I finally finished it.


Book cover Book: The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Author: Simon Winchester
Pages: 288 Duration: 06/27/19 – 07/03/19 (7 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, history, biography, humanities, language, writing, books about books
Description:
A masterfully researched, and eloquently written, extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Thoughts:
I, of course, knew what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was before I read this book, but I didn’t know the breadth and depth of it. Knowing what I now know about its origin and development, it’s quite inconceivable how much of it was done without the aid of computers. This was also my first Simon Winchester book, and it piqued my interest in other books of his. After I finished reading this one, Bob and I watched the movie based on this book.


Book cover Book: The Wife Between Us Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Pages: 416 Duration: 07/07/19 – 07/14/19 (8 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, thriller, mystery, suspense
Description:
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement—a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle. Assume nothing.
Thoughts:
I’m not a huge fan of psychological thrillers, but I do like the unreliable narrator literary device, which this book certainly employs. It did keep me guessing and wanting to know what the “truth” was.


Book cover Book: The Stranger Author: Albert Camus
Pages: 123 Duration: 07/16/19 – 07/18/19 (3 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, classics, philosophy, French culture, literature
Description:
Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” In January 1955, Camus wrote: I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.
Thoughts:
In spite of always being in “advanced placement” English classes (of course, I was) and the tremendous amount of reading I’ve done in my life, I’d never read this novella. I loved this existential inquiry into the cost of not being willing to do what society expects.


Book cover Book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Author: Stephen Chbosky
Pages: 222 Duration: 07/19/19 – 07/23/19 (5 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, contemporary
Description:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
Thoughts:
I enjoy the epistolary novel device of books like this, and I liked that there was a main character who is gay. There is a certain underlying darkness to this story, which also appealed to me. After I finished reading it, Bob and I watched the movie based on this book.


Book cover Book: One Plus One Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 369 Duration: 07/25/19 – 08/02/19 (9 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, romance, womens fiction, adult
Description:
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages… maybe ever.
Thoughts:
I first read this author, JoJo Moyes, last year with the first book of her trilogy: Me Before You, After You, and Still Me. I enjoyed the writing and storytelling so much in the first one that I went on to read the second two in the series. One Plus One landed on our Mostly Social Book Club agenda for this year, and unfortunately, I found it a bit tedious and frustrating, but I did finish it, because it was a book club book. With that said, the other members of the book club enjoyed it more than I did.


Book cover Book: Winter in Paradise Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Pages: 320 Duration: 08/10/19 – 08/11/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction, mystery
Description:
Irene Steele’s idyllic life—house, husband, family—is shattered when she is woken up by a late-night phone call. Her beloved husband has been found dead, but before Irene can process this tragic news, she must confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death. He was found on St. John island, a tropical paradise far removed from their suburban life. Leaving the cold winter behind, Irene flies down to the beautiful Caribbean beaches of St. John only to make another shocking discovery: her husband had a secret second family. As Irene investigates the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s death, she is plunged into a web of intrigue and deceit belied by the pristine white-sand beaches of St. John’s.
Thoughts:
I devoured this book, my first by author Elin Hilderbrand even though she’s written 30 books. I didn’t know when I started that it was the first in a series of 3 books of which the second two were not yet available. A few months after I finished this one, the second one, What Happens in Paradise, came out and it’s further down my list. This was billed as “an easy, summer read,” and it certainly lived up to its claim. I essentially read it in a day-and-a-half, and it kept me intrigued throughout as well as looking forward to the second book in the series to get some answers. I recommended we read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Summer Sisters Author: Judy Blume
Pages: 416 Duration: 08/24/19 – 08/25/19 (2 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction, young adult, romance
Description:
In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard’s world changes forever when Caitlin Somers chooses her as a friend. Dazzling, reckless Caitlin welcomes Vix into the heart of her sprawling, eccentric family, opening doors to a world of unimaginable privilege, sweeping her away to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, an enchanting place where the two friends become “summer sisters.” Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City. Caitlin is getting married on the Vineyard. And the early magic of their long, complicated friendship has faded. But Caitlin begs Vix to come to her wedding, to be her maid of honor. And Vix knows that she will go—because she wants to understand what happened during that last shattering summer. And, after all these years, she needs to know why her best friend—her summer sister—still has the power to break her heart.
Thoughts:
Although she’s touted as “a writer who has won the hearts and minds of readers of all generations,” I abandoned the first book of hers that I read shortly before trying this one—In the Unlikely Event. There were too many characters that I couldn’t keep track of and it wasn’t bringing me joy. This book brought me enough joy to keep reading it, and I did come to understand the fuss about Judy Blume’s writing. I’m glad I read it.


Book cover Book: The Secrets Mothers Keep Author: Jacquie Underdown
Pages: 266 Duration: 09/02/19 – 09/04/19 (3 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction
Description:
One Family. Three generations. A common goal to unite them. A lifetime of secrets to divide them. But could uncovering the truth be the only way that this family can finally heal? Three generations of women find their way back home to Tasmania. They embark on a project together to renovate the family manor and convert it into a bed and breakfast. With the family now under the one roof, and the past tampered with, the foundations of this secret are shaken.
Thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and in fact had a hard time naming Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story over this one as my favorite book of the year. I just thought it did a great job of slowly unfolding enormous family secrets as the story progressed and enjoyed the portrayal of the characters’ responses to them.


Book cover Book: Never Be The Same Author: Silk White
Pages: 210 Duration: 09/08/19 – 09/08/19 (1 days
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, mystery, African American
Description:
Meet Paige, a famous actress whose career is on the come up. Things couldn’t be better, until her front door is kicked in by the police. After being forced to snitch on her fiance or go to jail, Paige makes a decision that is sure to change her life forever. Meanwhile, Paige’s fiance Jeezy has problems of his own. The kind of problems that can get him killed or placed in jail for the rest of his life. With his back to the wall and a gun in his hand the only way out is for him to shoot his way out. When it’s all said and done both of their lives will never be the same. Join Silk White as he once again takes you on a ride that you won’t soon forget. Once readers put this book down they to will never be the same.
Thoughts:
The story line of this book is what kept me reading it, because the writing was not easy for me to read. Also, I wanted to read (at least) one book classified in the African American genre.


Book cover Book: Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family Author: Garrard Conley
Pages: 340 Duration: 09/10/19 – 09/19/19 (10 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
Description:
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
Thoughts:
This book surprised me in that I thought I was going to be angry the whole time reading it, but wasn’t. From all that I heard about it, which was about the movie, and with the subject of conversion therapy being a good part of it, well, I just thought it was going to enrage me. I have to think it was the voice of the narrator (the young boy that all this happened to) that kept me calm.


Book cover Book: The Wonder of All Things Author: Jason Mott
Pages: 400 Duration: 09/20/19 – 09/21/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary
Description:
On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava’s unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she’s willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most.
Thoughts:
In general, I’m not a big fan of fantasy, but this book had just a touch of it with one character having paranormal powers. What I did like about it was that it raised questions about morality and explored the question of whether one has an obligation to do good for the others at the expense of oneself, if one has the ability to. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Two Boys Kissing Author: David Levithan
Pages: 200 Duration: 09/23/19 – 09/23/19 (1 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, romance, contemporary, LGBT, queer
Description:
David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
Thoughts:
I learned about this book through a friend’s Facebook posting about books that have been banned, which immediately made me interested in reading it. I really liked the writing device of a past generation of gay men who have died from AIDS being a sort of “Greek chorus” for what’s going on in the present in the book. There’s a 4.5-minute podcast about it being banned, if you’re interested.


Book cover Book: Abarat Author: Clive Barker
Pages: 393 Duration: 09/24/19 – 10/09/19 (16 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, fantasy, horror
Description:
Candy lives in Chickentown USA: the most boring place in the world, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future may hold. She is soon to find out: swept out of our world by a giant wave, she finds herself in another place entirely… The Abarat is a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day, from the sunlit wonders of Three in the Afternoon, where dragons roam, to the dark terrors of the island of Midnight, ruled by Christopher Carrion. Candy has a place in this extraordinary world: she has been brought here to help save the Abarat from the dark forces that are stirring at its heart. Forces older than time itself, and more evil than anything Candy has ever encountered.
Thoughts:
I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, and I only learned of this book seeing it posted on a Friend’s Facebook timeline saying that they were reading it. And the only thing that intrigued me about the plot synopsis was the description of the Abarat as “a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day.” As was no surprise, it was one of my least favorite books of the year, but I obviously didn’t hate it, since I finished it.


Book cover Book: Marriage Can Be Murder Author: Emma Jameson
Pages: 282 Duration: 10/10/19 – 10/15/19 (6 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Description:
On the eve of World War II, Dr. Benjamin Bones is at war with himself. While most young men are being sent away to fight the Germans, Ben is chosen to serve on English soil. Ordered to move to wild, beautiful Cornwall, he must trade his posh London office and stylish city life for the tiny village of Birdswing, population 1,221 souls. But leaving his home and shelving his career ambitions aren’t the only sacrifices facing Ben. His unfaithful wife, Penny, is accompanying him to Cornwall in a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. But moments after their arrival, Penny is run down in the street, and Ben is almost fatally injured. And while the villagers assume Penny’s death to be an accident, Ben quickly deduces it was murder. While adapting to life during Britain’s “War at Home,” a time of ration books, victory gardens, bomb shelters, and the Blackout, Ben sets about solving the mystery of Penny’s murder.
Thoughts:
This book was described as a “cozy mystery.” I’m not sure what makes a mystery cozy, but it’s not an adjective I personally would have associated with this book. I liked the Lady Juliet Linton character a lot. The “Fenton House ghost,” not so much. I gave it a 4, because the writing was pretty good, but the story was just meh to me.


Book cover Book: Behind Every Great Man: Women in the Shadows of History’s Alpha Males Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller
Pages: 369 Duration: 10/17/19 – 10/23/19 (7 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: nonfiction, women, history, feminism, short stories
Description:
Throughout history, men have gotten most of the good ink. Often overlooked are the extraordinary wives, mistresses, and companions who were every bit as instrumental in shaping their destinies. Discover Emma Wedgewood (Mrs. Charles Darwin), Alma Reveille (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock), and 26 more women who stood behind their alpha males, for better or worse, and helped steer the course of history.
Thoughts:
I really thought I was going to like this book way more than I did. I think there were too many people chosen to write about, and after a while they all ran together to me. When I tried to remember back at any point, I had a hard time remembering (if I could at all) which woman went with which man and what her contribution is. I know that’s sad, but that’s how it went down with me. One other thing that bugged me was, that although I was happy that a Lesbian couple was included, I can’t resolve that with the very title of the book. But, that’s just me.


Book cover Book: Sentence of Marriage Author: Shayne Parkinson
Pages: 415 Duration: 10/10/19 – 10/29/19 (20 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, romance
Description:
In nineteenth century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice.
Thoughts:
I really got into this book, partly because the writing that described the tension between the daughter and her father’s new girlfriend was so well done. I like it when an author can really make you hate a character coming by it honestly. It wasn’t until I was done that I learned this was book #1 of a 4-part series. I do plan on reading at least part #2—after which I decide on going on to the others.


Book cover Book: What Happens in Paradise Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Pages: 432 Duration: 10/30/19 – 11/03/19 (5 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction
Description:
A year ago, Irene Steele had the shock of her life: her loving husband, father to their grown sons and successful businessman, was killed in a helicopter crash. But that wasn’t Irene’s only shattering news: he’d also been leading a double life on the island of St. John, where another woman loved him, too. Now Irene and her sons are back on St. John, determined to learn the truth about the mysterious life — and death — of a man they thought they knew. Along the way, they’re about to learn some surprising truths about their own lives, and their futures.
Thoughts:
This is the sequel to Winter in Paradise, which I read back in August. It read just as quickly as the first one, answered a few of the questions I had about Russell & Rosie’s relationship and Russell’s business goings-on, but in general, it spent too much time on the two sons and their romantic shenanigans back on St. John. With all that said, I will read the third—and final—book once it becomes available.


Book cover Book: The End of Your Life Book Club Author: Will Schwalbe
Pages: 336 Duration: 11/04/19 – 11/09/19 (6 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, writing, books about books
Description:
The inspiring story of a son and his dying mother, who form a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
Thoughts:
I was amazed at the sheer volume of books this mother and son read in their lives, and especially in the final 2 years of the mother’s life. At one point, I thought I might try to make a list of them all when, but when I got to the end of the story, there was an appendix with that already done!


Book cover Book: Where the Crawdads Sing Author: Delia Owens/strong>
Pages: 384 Duration: 12/19/19 – 12/20/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Description:
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Thoughts:
Several people told me told me that they thought the story was just okay in this book, but that the writing was beautiful. But, I liked both the story and the writing.


Book cover Book: Through Streets Broad and Narrow Author: Gemma Jackson
Pages: 464 Duration: 12/27/19 – 12/30/19 (4 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, Irish culture
Description:
On New Year’s Day 1925 Ivy Rose Murphy awakes to find her world changed forever. Her irresponsible Da is dead. She is grief-stricken and alone – but for the first time in her life free to please herself. After her mother deserted the family, Ivy became the sole provider for her Da and three brothers. Pushing a pram around the well-to-do areas of Dublin every day, she begged for the discards of the wealthy which she then turned into items she could sell around Dublin’s markets. As she visits the morgue to pay her respects to her Da, a chance meeting introduces Ivy to a new world of money and privilege, her mother’s world. Ivy is suddenly a woman on a mission to improve herself and her lot in life.
Thoughts:
This is another one of those books that captivated me right from the beginning and which I plowed through. It also makes the third series (1st of 4 books) in this “Ivy Rose” series), I read this year, joining Elin Hilderbrand’s “Paradise” series (3 books) and Shayne Parkinson’s “Promises to Keep” series (4 books)