“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin
Hey there, fellow book lovers! Have you ever lost yourself in a good book and felt completely absorbed by the story, characters, and message? Me too! That’s why I love reviewing books. It’s a way to remember why I loved a particular book and share that enjoyment with others.
But here’s the thing, reviewing books isn’t just about sharing the ones you love. It’s also important to review books that might not be your cup of tea. By sharing your honest opinions, you’re helping others avoid books that might not fit them well. Plus, you’re providing valuable feedback to the author, who can use it to improve their writing in the future. So, don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on a book that didn’t quite hit the mark.
I know it can be overwhelming to choose your next read with so many books out there. That’s why I review books – to help other book lovers like you find your next great read. Whether you’re looking for a heartwarming romance, a gripping mystery, or an inspiring memoir, my reviews can help guide you toward a book you’ll love. I developed a criteria that I stick by to help me decide how to rate each book. See my post, My Star Ratings Explained, to learn more about my criteria.
And let’s not forget about audiobooks! They’re an increasingly popular format; reviewing them is as important as physical books. When reviewing audiobooks, it’s important to consider the narrator’s performance, the sound quality, and the overall production value. After all, there’s nothing worse than listening to a narrator whose voice annoys you or a production that detracts from your experience.
As someone who loves audiobooks, I know how convenient they can be, especially when you’re short on time. They’re perfect for multitasking, like listening while commuting, doing chores, or exercising. I don’t mind filing anymore when I have a good book to listen to while I work. So, if you’re an audiobook lover like me, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and review them. Your reviews can make a significant difference to potential listeners, helping them discover new books and giving them an idea of what to expect.
Lastly, books have the power to change lives, broaden our horizons, challenge our assumptions, and connect us with others in meaningful ways. By sharing our love of reading and reviewing books, we can inspire others to pick up a book and experience the same joy and enrichment that we did. So, join me in reviewing books and sharing our passion for reading with the world!
There is no greater feeling of joy than snuggling up with one of our dogs on the chaise. Our furry friends bring so much happiness into our lives, especially Marley, who was rescued by PawSafe nine years ago. She loves exploring the woods around our home, but also has a soft and cuddly side that is hard to resist. When we settle onto the chaise with a good book, Marley and the rest of Xine’s Pack often join us, ready for some quality cuddle time. It’s amazing to feel their warmth and soft fur while getting lost in a great story. These moments remind us of how grateful we are for our beloved companions and the simple pleasures they bring into our lives.
Welcome to The Lit Lounge, a cozy spot for book lovers like you and me! I’m eager to share my reviews and thoughts on the latest books and audiobooks I’ve read and listened to. Take a seat, relax, and enjoy finding your next favorite read in our warm environment. So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and let’s explore the wonderful world of books together!
The April Reading Rambles of Xine
Are you one of those people like me who love to read, but often find themselves stuck on which book to choose? Fear not, as there are reliable tools available to aid in this decision-making process. The reading challenge lists from PopSugar and Book List Queen are helpful but they only go so far in helping you work through your libraries. Enter pickerwheel.com, a website that can randomly select a book from your own list of titles with just a single click.
I recently gave this website a try, and I must say, I was impressed with the results. The first book that was selected for me was none other than The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor, an audiobook that I had purchased a few months back but couldn’t recall why. Despite this, I was thrilled to give it a listen and discover what it had in store. Now when I have to select my next book to read – I won’t dread making the decision as much.
The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor is a historical fiction novel set in Austria in 1938 and Los Angeles in 1989. The story follows Katie Nelson, a magazine writer, as she investigates a letter from her philatelist father’s stamp collection that leads her on an international journey to solve the mystery of the lost letter. The more exciting story takes place in Austria in 1938, around the time of Kristallnacht. This storyline was riveting, and I wanted to learn more about Kristoff, Elena, and their work with the stamps and the resistance efforts. I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the male narrator very much, but I found the female narration for Kate dry. Overall, I thought the story was good but not great; it took me a little while to get into it. I give it 3 stars for having an exciting premise, but the execution fell short for me.
Chinua Achebe is a lyrical and evocative storyteller who can create vivid, believable characters who leap off the page. In Things Fall Apart, the protagonist Okonkwo is a complex and fascinating figure whose struggles and flaws are compelling and tragic.
I struggled to get into the rhythm of reading this book, the first of three books in his African trilogy. Moreover, Achebe’s portrayal of traditional Igbo society is insightful and thought-provoking. He explores the customs, beliefs, and values of this culture in great detail, showing how they are intimately connected to the daily lives of its people. Through his descriptions of rituals, celebrations, and everyday interactions, Achebe paints a rich and immersive portrait of a world familiar and alien to Western readers.
At the same time, Achebe is not afraid to confront some of the darker aspects of Igbo society, such as the practice of human sacrifice and the rigid gender roles that limit women’s agency. He also explores the impact of colonialism on the Igbo people, showing how their way of life is disrupted and ultimately destroyed by the arrival of European missionaries and administrators.
I highly recommend Things Fall Apart to anyone interested in African literature or who enjoys well-crafted stories exploring complex themes and characters. While the book can be challenging, it is a rewarding and deeply satisfying read. 4 Stars.
Alice Hoffman’s The Bookstore Sisters is a heartwarming novella about two sisters who run a small-town bookstore. The story is filled with nostalgia, humor, and heart, and the characters are well-developed and relatable. The story’s strengths lie in its exploration of family relationships and Hoffman does an excellent job of depicting the complexities and challenges of these relationships. In addition, the story celebrates the power of books and the joy of reading. The bookstore itself becomes a character in the story, and its presence is felt throughout the novel. This is a wonderful tribute to the role that books and bookstores play in our lives. It’s also the primary reason I choose it. However, the book may not be for everyone. Some readers may find the pacing slow at times, and the plot may not be action-packed enough for those who prefer more fast-paced stories. Overall, The Bookstore Sisters is a lovely and engaging novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven stories and appreciate the power of books. While it may not be perfect, it is still a worthwhile read and deserves a rating of 3.5 stars
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a captivating short novel that explores love, loss, and grief. The book is divided into two stories, “Kitchen” and “Moonlight Shadow,” both emotionally charged and thought-provoking. Yoshimoto’s writing style is simple yet elegant, and the translation by Megan Backus maintains the beauty of the original Japanese prose. The characters are well-developed, and their experiences feel genuine, making it easy for readers to empathize with them. The story of “Kitchen” revolves around Mikage, a young woman who has lost both her parents and finds solace in the kitchen. She is relatable, and her struggles with loneliness and finding a place to belong are poignant. The other characters, Yuichi and his mother, also bring depth to the story, and their relationships with Mikage are heartfelt. “Moonlight Shadow” is a slightly darker story that explores the theme of death and how it affects the living. The main character, Satsuki, struggles to come to terms with the sudden death of her boyfriend and finds solace in a young man named Hiiragi. The story is haunting and moving, and the way it is intertwined with the first story adds depth and complexity to the book. Kitchen is a beautifully written and emotionally engaging book worth reading.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is a humorous and engaging read, perfect for fans of fantasy and mythology. The story follows the life of Charlie Nancy, who is struggling to cope with the death of his father, a notorious trickster god known as Anansi. When Charlie discovers he has a brother, he sets out on a journey of self-discovery that takes him to the world of gods and magic. One of the best things about Anansi Boys is Gaiman’s writing style. His prose is witty, lyrical, and filled with clever wordplay that will keep you entertained throughout the entire book. The characters are also well-developed and endearing, particularly Charlie, who is relatable and sympathetic. The audiobook version is also a joy to listen to. Narrated by Lenny Henry, the audiobook captures the humor and playfulness of the story, and Henry’s performance brings the characters to life in a way that is both entertaining and engaging. My only complaint about the book is that the plot can be meandering at times. However, this is a minor quibble, and overall, I found Anansi Boys to be a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read. If you’re a fan of fantasy or mythology, or if you’re just looking for a fun and engaging story, I highly recommend giving this book a try.
This month has been filled with plenty of great reads, as I’ve managed to finish five books that I’d rate four stars or higher. However, I did encounter one book that wasn’t quite as impressive and earned a three-star rating. I am way ahead of schedule in my Goodreads Reading Challenge, having completed 54% of my intended goal of 59 books.
Currently, I’m diving into Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, a thrilling non-fiction account of four women who played pivotal roles in the Civil War. Plus I am working on finishing up The Personal Librarian, a historical fiction novel about Belle da Costa Greene, a woman who worked as a librarian at the Morgan Library in New York City during the early 1900s. I can’t wait to see how both of these books play out, and I have a few others on my list that I’m eagerly anticipating as well.
Thanks for joining me in The Lit Lounge this month! I hope you found some great new books to add to your reading list. Don’t forget to share your own recommendations in the comments section below. I can’t wait to see what you’re all reading next! Until next time, happy reading!
We welcomed spring to the mountain in true New England style this month – four seasons in one day. March was filled with a mix of snow – lots of snow, wind – 58 mph wind at one point, and sunshine. There were days where it was 10ºF and other days it was 48ºF. I was reading when I wasn’t outside snowshoeing with Mark and the dogs or bringing in firewood. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to draw – a creative dry spell that started months ago now. Reading and writing have been a saving grace for me as I am still just a few months out from my dad’s death, and the grieving process takes time.
I finished five books in March: two hardcover – The Plot and The Hidden Life of Trees – Illustrated Edition. I listened to two audiobooks – A Grief Observed and The City We Became and finished Alice Walker’s collection of short stories in her book In Love & Trouble on my kindle. I am really enjoying reading short stories; I think great writers say as much in a short story as mediocre authors can in an entire book.
Alice Walker’s Love & Trouble: Stories is a powerful and moving collection of thirteen of her short stories, which I highly recommend. Published in 1984, each story is rich in imagery, symbolism, and themes. “Everyday Issue,” “The Revenge of Hannah Kemhuff,” “Strong Horse Tea,” “Roselily,” and “To Hell with Dying” were just some of the other stories demonstrating the talents of Walker’s ability to say so much in short story form. Each story is filled with emotion and insightful narratives revealing how racism, sexism, and classism have affected black women.
Mysteries are some of my favorite books, and The Plot was a highly praised book when it first came out, which enticed me to put it on my TBR list initially. A few friends read and liked it, so I was excited to finally turn my attention to what I hoped would be a juicy mystery.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz is a story about a book and writers and a mysterious story. I loved the story within a story and applaud the structure, including chapters of the main character’s best-selling novel, Crib. However, I was not a fan of the main character. The start of the book was slow for me, like how a roller coaster slowly makes its way up the first ramp. But once it reached the top, the ride has one twist I didn’t see, but I saw the final one too soon.
Sometimes I think some books get so over-hyped that they let some readers down because they fall short of what they sell. I struggled a bit during the month with grief and wanted to read something I could relate to. Many years ago, I read the entire Narnia series and was a fan of Lewi’s writing, so I was intrigued when I tripped over A Grief Observed.
Recently I have been very acquainted with death and thought I would find something – I am not sure what – in CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Lewis has many of the same questions we all have when faced with death and listening to someone else work out these thoughts about love and death; compiled in his notebooks – the title A Grief Observed – not Grief Observed indicates that Lewis recognized that grief is a very individual and personal experience. No two people experience grief in the same way.
I listened to A Grief Observed, narrated by Ralph Cosham, whose monotone and subdued voice seemed fitting given the topic. Good thing the book is only 1 hour and 50 minutes, however. There is only so much that one can listen to. If you are a fan of CS Lewis and interested in reading his entire catalog, perhaps this book is for you if you are grieving and hoping to find answers or some insight to help you get through your grief – maybe. Not that Lewis has the answers, but for some, it helps to know that we all struggle when we lose a loved one; even a famous author doesn’t hold the answers. 2.5 stars rounded up to 3 for Goodreads
Most mornings, I sit at the kitchen table sipping my second cup of coffee while figuring out Wordle, Quordle and Octordle, to which I share my results on my family’s Wordle text thread. Afterward, before sitting down on the mat to meditate – I usually crack open the book I have strategically left there for me to read. I love learning about nature and walking in the woods throughout the year. So I was really excited when at Christmas, I received The Hidden Life of Trees – The Illustrated Edition.
What a beautiful book! The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is an illustrated companion to his non-illustrated book of the same name. Wohlleben beautifully and simplistically presents his case for the unseen ways trees work within our environment in this abridged version. This book is for anyone interested in our environment, forests, and trees to enjoy. The photos are transcendingly magical, immediately transporting you to the woods no matter where you are sitting. You will want to go outside and be with the trees after reading.
When the month started I had already started listening to my next selection which I chose since it had been on my TBR list for over a year and was a Goodreads Choice Award and Nominee for Best Fantasy (2020).
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin is an urban fantasy about major cities becoming sentient through human avatars. It’s a wild leap into a confusing, chaotic, multidimensional, supernatural world focused on New York City. A lot is going on in this book – just like the city – there are multiple characters with the narrative jumping around numerous POVs. There are various themes – too many to list. I wanted to like this book more since I was born and raised in Manhattan and love books about or that take place in the city, but I had a tough time getting into this story. I liked the idea that a human avatar would embody the borough it’s from. I chuckled at how Jemisin includes how each borough feels about the other boroughs – particularly how they all felt about Staten Island. But the setup was slow and many times, I wasn’t sure what was happening; plus, I didn’t find any of the characters likable, which always makes loving the story more difficult. I like the premise, but it fell short for me. I listened to the audiobook, which lasted 16 hours and 12 minutes. The narrator, Robin Miles, does an excellent job with the many voices. 3 Stars.
So far, at the end of March, I have finished reading 20 books and completed 34% of my goal of 59 books. Currently, I have six books that I am reading in rotation. One is the Bible which I have been trying to read and finish for about two years. I am reading along with “The Bible in a Year” podcast with Father Mike Schmitz on Audible. I’m only on day 90, but we have just started reading Judges and the Book of Ruth, so it’s exciting for me to be this far in.
I am also chipping away at The Art of The Short Story and The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I have so many reading goals that I have set for myself. The little challenges get me excited about reading. I hope these reviews help anyone in selecting their next book to read and perhaps get them psyched for their next read or listen.
“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist)
It’s been a rough month – it only being the second month since my father’s death; he was our sole surviving parent. My mother passed away less than two years ago. Everything is still hard to give my complete focus and attention. Grief smacked me upside the head as I stared down at a knife the other day while unloading the dishwasher. Tears sprung from my eyes as my mind taking me to my parent’s kitchen and their utensils and knives. My parents have had the same knife that caused this floodgate to open –if no one in the family takes it, the knife will be donated along with the rest of the cutlery and everyday plates. No wait, I grabbed the dishes. My feet sink into what feels like sand, hoping to find firm ground.
One of the rocks I’ve been able to cling to during these stormy times has been my books. My pace has slowed, along with everything else. I surprised myself as I completed reading six books, also reading a few short stories as I continue working through The Art of the Short Story. I am reviewing the individual stories but will do so in a separate post. Writing is more difficult these days.
I followed many different themes this month, helping to guide me in making my literary selections. Sometimes I find that to be one of the greatest challenges – what do read next. February celebrated Black History, and I looked to my TBR List to see what fit the bill. Octavia Butler’s Kindred had been sitting on the list for too long, and I was excited by the time-traveling aspect of the story. I love a good time-traveling tale.
I love historical fiction, and I love time travel stories. So, I was excited to read Octavia Butler’s Kindred finally. The story focuses on two interracial relationships, with the protagonist, Dana, at the center of both. When the story begins its 1976, Dana, a 26-year-old African American writer, is living in Los Angeles with her white male husband, Kevin, who is 12 years her senior. Although Dana is thrust back to antebellum Maryland in 1815, quite a shock for a 20th-century woman. The story follows the developing relationship of Dana with her ancestor, Rufus, the son of a plantation and slave owner, Tom Waylan. Kindred explores ancestry, slavery, and interracial relationships and is a riveting story about family, gender, and power. Butler is a fantastic storyteller who creates interesting characters and relationships. Initially published in 1979, it has withstood the test of time to have been made into a TV mini-series in 2022. I haven’t seen the mini-series, but hopefully, it will prompt others to read the original book themselves. My criticism about the book is that the time travel aspect wasn’t consistent, and the mechanism/portal was unclear to me; other than that, I highly recommend it. I listened to the Audiobook narrated by Kim Staunton, who successfully brings the various characters to life. 10 hours 55 minutes.
Recently I have been intrigued by reading graphic novels. There was something appealing to me about looking at pictures that told a story. Perhaps it was the inner child in me trying to reach back for the comfort of my picture books. It’s a genre I have only just begun to dip my toes into its deep waters. Robin Ho’s Almost American Girl and Isabel Greenberg’s The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth were a promising way to wade in.
Moving is one of the most stressful things people do in life. We’ve all experienced it at one point or another, and if you haven’t – at some point, you will. But most people don’t move to a new country, and for those who do, the experience is even more scary and filled with barriers such as the language. Almost American Girl is a touching YA graphic novel about a middle-school-aged girl being uprooted by her mother from her home in Korea to live in America. Robin Ha’s honest and poignant portrait of her relationship with her mother is powerful and relatable on many levels. I loved Ha’s illustrative style, and the format was an inviting framework for her memoir. This story is pertinent in many ways to more than just the young adult reader. 4.5 Stars rounded to 5 for the Goodreads star system.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a graphic novel with interesting and imaginative woodcut-style illustrations by Isabell Greenberg. The nested story style is one that Greenberg is comfortable with, and I have seen her use it in other graphic novels. The story follows the journey of a boy from his home at the North Pole to the South Pole, where he finds true love. The stories are all retellings of well-known biblical and mythological tales, and after a while, I started to get a bit bored. The last two stories seemed out of sequence with the rest of the book, although it is an “encyclopedia,” which isn’t necessarily sequential. This was the second book I have read of Isabelle Greenberg’s, although this was her debut novel. There were many similarities between the two books, and what I found unique and exciting the first time wasn’t as much so the second time around.
One of my reading goals is to read my way through the collection of various favorite authors I have. My parents were both huge fans of Agatha Christie and they were the ones who introduced me to her murder mysteries when I was a teenager. This month I chose to focus on Christie; I was excited to return to the beginning with her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Sisters can challenge us like no other, and we tend to rise to the occasion when they do. Madge Christie dared her sister, Agatha, to write a mystery that the reader couldn’t figure out the murderer – thankfully, Agatha was up for the challenge. As a result, she wrote what would be her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which also featured the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poison was her first weapon of choice; Christie had an extensive understanding of medicines and poisons from her volunteer work in the dispensary in the Torquay hospital during World War I.
I enjoyed reading this mystery – silly me thought I was clever enough to figure out the murderer since I have read several of her books. That is the beauty and the genius of her mysteries that make them so enjoyable. The Mysterious Affair at Styles proved to be an excellent stepping stone.
Finally, I read two more books – one on my Kindle – The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential. I have followed Wim Hof on Instagram for several years and wanted to start incorporating cold therapy into my life more than I have with deep breathing and meditation. The Life Fantastic: Myth, History, Pop and Folklore in the Making of Western Culture was a book selected by the Literati Joseph Campbell Myth & Meaning Book Club, and I was excited to sit down with this finally.
I have followed Wim Hof for many years now on social media, so it was a real treat to read the Wim Hof Method. It’s filled with valuable information to help teach the many techniques which Wim Hof uses. Backed by science,Wim includes the results of many of the experiments done on him – strengthening his case for why his method works. Highly recommend to all.
My To Be Read List grew exponentially while reading The Life Fantastic: Myth, History, Pop, and Folklore in the Making of Western Culture by Noa Menhaim. I love reading books like this, and although the format at first took me some time to get used to, in the end, I found the pop-up bubbles to be valuable prompts. I needed a magnifying glass near me since my eyes aren’t great. This book is all about connecting the dots in understanding where modern culture was influenced.
At the close of the month, I have completed 22% of my Goodreads Challenge with thirteen books finished. I’m currently working on a few more including Alice Walker’s collection of short stories and an interesting mystery called The Plot to name a few. Until next month, enjoy reading.
January started out rough for me with my father’s death on January 2nd. I had to drive down to Connecticut to join my siblings for the service so I knew I would be in the car for at about 8 to 9 hours, so I decided to pick a long one a story that could take my mind off of my long drive and all that awaited me. Kaikeyi is a saga that over 17 hours, I started to listen to a few days before driving down, on the drive there and back and finished a few days after my return home. Zen in the Archery I found on a recommendation which now escapes me. Which makes me want to keep better track of where the recommendations I follow come from in the first place. I have always been interested in is nature and nothing makes me feel better than walking in the woods. I had seen a lot of buzz about Finding The Mother Tree which I read on my Kindle, so highlighting and keeping notes is easy. Finally, Bomb Shelter was a Literati recommendation I started at the end of December but wasn’t able to focus on reading a lot with my father’s failing health.
Once again, I seem to be on the other side of the fence regarding popular opinion about a book. December was rough for me, but I don’t think that had anything to do with why I struggled to finish Bomb Shelter: Love, Time and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott. It’s a collection of essays about life’s milestones that Philpott experiences broken up into six parts: the Prelude, Parts 1-5, and One Last Part. The book didn’t flow for me, and I could only read 5% at a time. Thin threads are weaving these essays together; some pieces are humorous and relatable, yet the story overall was disjointed. I expected more of a cohesive memoir from the reviews that would touch me to my core, but that didn’t happen.
My interest in nature and forests led me to read Finding The Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Luckily, I have a strong interest, as I needed it to be able to finish the book. Explaining ecological experiments and discussions of observations and findings is challenging to make enjoyable for a broad audience. Simard’s personal story is intertwined with her journey to finding the mother tree and the forest’s interconnectivity. I think the book is worth reading, albeit a struggle—it took me two months to read because I could only read about 20 pages at a time. I enjoyed the book, but it’s not for everyone. 3 stars.
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel is a short book I plan to read over and over. Even though it’s a short book that could be read in a day, I took my time reading a little bit at a time. Anyone working on trying to master a skill, from physical skills like archery, martial arts, and yoga to non-physical crafts such as flower arranging, painting, and photography – it doesn’t matter – would benefit from reading it.
Kaikeyi retells one of the ancient epics in world literature – The Ramayana – although with a feminist twist and dash of mysticism and magic. Vaishnavi Patel’s novel focuses on Kaikeyi, the stepmother of Rama, who, in The Ramayana, is forced into a 14 yr exile. However, Patel’s Kaikeyi narrates her story, so it’s not necessary to know the original fable — which is something I looked up only after enjoying this imaginative tale. Narrated by Soneela Nankani at a length of 17 hrs and 22 mins.
There are some books that don’t transfer to audiobook format as well as others and for me, Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding, Vibrating Creature is one of them. The story is fun and humorous but when viewing the sample version of the hardcover and Kindle versions of this story – I would recommend the focus stay on the visual graphics which add so much to thie children’s story.
I was intrigued by the title The Lion’s Den, the third installment of Inheritance, “a multi-author collection of 5 stories about secrets, unspoken desires, and dangerous revelations” by Amazon. It sounded interesting, and I loved the first story in the series, Everything My Mother Ever Taught Me, by Alice Hoffman. But what I found in Anthony Marra’s father-son drama was dull and cliché, barely holding my attention. The story was short at 40 minutes – thankfully, but it was also short on style and substance. If it had been any longer, I would have shelved it.
Despite a rough start to the month, I have managed to stay on track for this year’s Good reads Reading Challenge. Fifty-nine books is this year’s goal and now I am 7 books in at around 11% of my goal. I’ve have enjoyed escaping into the world of the graphic novel with Isabel Greenberg’s 100 Nights of Hero, so plan to continue to explore this genre this year. I will add that to my ever growing list of ways to tackle my TBR list. I will expand on that thought in another post in the future. Until then, enjoy your reading.
“The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.”
Despite 2022 being a bit of a tough year for me, it had its highlights too. The high for me was publishing my memoir – Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others, and having my father read the book. The lows – there were a few, including two deaths. My ex-husband and father of my two children died suddenly of a massive heart attack in June. And for a good part of the year, my father was battling congestive heart disease and was in and out of the hospital, having stent procedures and mitral valve clips inserted…He spent most of December in the hospital and was released into home hospice six days before passing away peacefully on Jan. 2, 2023. It was not a great way to end or start a year.
Throughout last year, I was able to rely on books to help take my mind off my troubles and escape into some other world and someone else’s life. A few years ago, I decided to turn off the TV and read and listen to books more. Since then, I have increased my reading goals, expanded my interests in topics and genres, and achieved my reading goals. I read an increasing number of physical books, eighteen books last year which made up 24% of the total number of books I read. Have really enjoyed my physical book selections which many were suggested by my Literati Book Club which sadly is no longer operating and my Book of the Month Club membership. Both clubs have introduced me to wonderful author and stories. Many of the books I read were based off recommendations from friends and family, including my Dad. I read The Rose Code because I saw that he was reading it. I’ll miss being able to talk about books with Dad.
I also read faster than I used to, proving that my English teachers were correct and that my reading would improve with practice. Too bad it took me so long to listen to them. Better late than never; you are never too old to start something new. I love curling up on the couch with the dogs, bookending me as I lose myself in a book. I’ve also started to read more on my Kindle again this year.
I love statistics – I think it may be a family thing. This is one of the reasons I love using the Goodreads website and joining their annual Reading Challenge since they tell you how many pages you read and all sorts of stats about the books you read during the year. For instance, I surpassed my goal of 57 books by reading 75 books – 129% of my goal! The shortest book was Lying at 47 pages, and the longest was The Rose Code at 624 pages. You can visit my author profile by following this link.
When I started on the Goodreads website a few years ago, I would rate a book simply by assigning a star rating. But I realized as I aged and read more and more that I would sometimes forget why I liked or disliked a particular book. So, I decided to start writing book reviews as a writing exercise and a memory one.
My 2022 Five Star list (in the order read during the year)
I realized that I have never explained my criteria for rating books, so I have separated my Rating Criteria into a post describing how I arrive at my star rating, which I include in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews of books and audiobooks.
Overall, I read a bunch of books which I really enjoyed. Learned about some authors that I was unfamiliar with, became a big fan and look forward to read more from them. Our lives are inundated with reading this, that and the other thing in quick snippets everyday thanks to the internet and social media. attention spans are shortening. Which is why disconnecting from all that noise and diving into a book feels so good.
In November I reached my 2022 Goodreads goal of 58 books for the year and actually finished the month at 70 books. Of the seven books completed this month, I read five and listened to two. I was struck by a few things in my reading this month, hit with some themes that I did not expect, some were pleasant surprises others were not. Grief was definitely a reoccurring theme, I seem not to be able to escape.
My Literati Club is why I read Signal Fires and There, There. I circled back to There, There because November is Indigenous People’s month and when it was first suggested by one of my Literati Clubs, I had a hard time getting into it and shelved it for a while. Indigenous People’s month is also why I listened to the Wisdom of the Native Americans. I choose Lucy By The Sea and Mad Honey since they were both nominated for Goodreads awards and had high ratings. As for There’s a Word for That and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Clear, I don’t recall exactly how they ended up on my TBR List, I believe they were mentioned in articles in either the Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker. Either way, they were welcome additions to this month’s reading.
I haven’t read any of Dani Shapiro’s previous books, but after reading this one, I plan on it since I like her writing style. Shapiro quotes Carl Jung’s thought of “secrets as a psychic poison,” taking it further and using it as the foundation of her novel Signal Fires. Shapiro’s thought-provoking book is about two families, seemingly very different, yet tied together by more than just the neighborhood. A universal thread binds them, binds everyone. There is much to absorb and learn from the beautifully written characters, particularly Waldo and Dr. Wilf. This story deeply moved me; it is a perfect weekend read! 4.5 Stars
There, There by Tommy Orange is a glimpse into the challenges and struggles urban natives face in the modern world. He gives voice to the struggles through the twelve main characters. They range from a fourteen-year-old boy eager to learn about his Cheyanne hereditary, a young man raised by his white mother who never met his Native father, a Lakota Vietnam veteran, a drug dealer and his crew, and two half-sisters of Cheyanne descent – to name a few. I never became attached to any characters – too many to develop fully. I had to occasionally flip back to the cast of characters to remember who they were and their connection to each other. The story’s timeline skips around, making it challenging to stay connected to each person’s individual story. I struggled with getting into the flow of this book, initially trying to read it six months earlier before shelving it. All the rave reviews and high praise made me think I was just in the wrong mindset about something, and I wanted that to be the case. Since November is Indigenous Peoples month in America, the book came up again in my recommendations, so I gave it another chance. I finished it, saddened by its picture of the Native community and its prospects. I wished that I had loved it, though; however, the story fell short for me. I should have been in tears upon finishing the book and would have been had I cared more for the characters. I found it to be educational, which is why I recommend it. Orange’s powerful prologue details America’s history of brutal treatment and genocide of its Indigenous peoples. That section alone with worth reading. 2.5 Stars
There’s A Word For That by Sloane Tanen has all the drama of a Thanksgiving weekend with your family and in-laws without the turkey but with a pinch of celebrity mixed with sibling rivalries, ex-wives, want-to-be-wives, and girlfriends. I was captivated by this 373-page novel devouring it over a weekend. I loved how Tanen cleverly used the definitions of German words to frame her chapters. Schnapsidee is one of my new favorite words, having been personally guilty of it a few times. There are some serious themes tackled in this story about adult children of addiction and their aging parents, families affected by suicide, and children affected by inheritance – but Tanen’s use of humor helps to highlight some of the absurdities that families sometimes deal with when the shit hits the fan. 4 Stars
Everyone experiences grief at the same point in their life. Some sooner than others. Some may lose their loved ones in a significant international incident, accident, illness, or old age. Death is death – it’s final and hard for the ones left behind to process. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close captures the rawness and intensity that people feel when people grieve.
Jonathan Safrin Foer‘s unique coming-of-age story is about nine-year-old Oskar Schell and his quest for closure following his father’s death on 9/11. The story is told through the narration of three characters, Oskar, his grandmother, and his grandfather, and includes photographic images and unconventional typesetting. It’s a hauntingly sad story about people’s need to grieve and the yearning for closure. The problem is that closure isn’t something we can attain if we look for it in the wrong places. Foer’s use of Oskar’s hunt metaphorically points that out. Some images could be triggering initially; their inclusion put me off. By the end, it was clear their importance in telling this story.
Foer’s novel differs from most in that its inclusion of visuals helps tell the story, not simply illustrate the action. It’s not a graphic novel but is not a traditional novel about a family drama, either. I recommend this touching family story for readers who are up for the heartbreak. 4 Stars
I am uncomfortable writing reviews about books I don’t like. Especially when my opinion is going against the grain. However, sometimes it’s necessary, and even though it may not be the popular opinion, others may be interested in reading a contrarian view. So here it goes. I read Lucy By The Sea, Elizabeth Strout’s latest book because it was nominated for the 2022 Goodreads Choice Award, and I was looking for a fall family drama to get me in the Thanksgiving mood. I am shocked this book is nominated for any award. Strout has a grasp on writing about loneliness, isolation, fearfulness, and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic; however, anyone with a pulse these last couple of years could write about that. Strout is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author – I expected more than the dull recap of what we all collectively lived through and still contending with at this point. Nothing that any of us want to repeat, even in literary fiction right now. I don’t think it mattered that I read the fourth book in the Amgash series without reading the previous ones since I find Lucy Barton, the story’s narrator, to be an annoying, wishy-washy, whiny woman, and her daughters even worse. So I couldn’t imagine reading more about them in other books would be any better. I couldn’t wait for this book to end. I was tremendously underwhelmed and didn’t agree with all the rave reviews this book is garnishing. I think I am not a fan of Elizabeth Strout’s work.
Meditations was not a book that Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emporer AD 161-180, ever meant to publish. Meditations is a compilation of his notes about how to live a good life. It is a collection of his observations and beliefs about life, human nature, and philosophy. He writes about what he has learned from his teachers and his conclusions about Stoicism. I was struck by so many things, particularly how little we have paid attention to history and learned from it. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. I recommend reading this book, but don’t expect to be learning meditations that you can repeat while you sit down on the cushion.
Mad Honey, co-authored by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, is the second of Picoult’s books I’ve read and the first of Boylan’s. And I’m not sure if I will end up reading anymore. Sprinkled throughout this predictable plot and courtroom drama are some interesting facts about bees and beekeeping. Still, I’m a gardener and naturalist, and not everyone would find the factoids interesting and, therefore, not pay close attention and miss the analogies being made. The two-person narrative written primarily by each author – Olivia/Picoult and Lily/Boylon worked well enough to reveal the story. There are a multitude of controversial themes – so many of them that it stops being entertaining. I felt bombarded and ambushed by the pushy controversial narratives. I read books for several reasons, to escape into a good story and be entertained. When I read to be educated, I seek out particular sources to learn more about the topic I decided to learn more about. The problem with Mad Honey is that it is a fictional story that seeks to educate readers and normalize certain things that are very hot issues of our day. I don’t wish to spoil the book for someone else; however, it could be very triggering for some people with themes including abuse and suicide. I read it knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it had been nominated for a 2022 Goodreads Award and had high ratings. It may be loved by many, but for me, it was the second Picoult book I’ve read, and I think I may not be a fan.
Coming up next month
Currently, I am reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Camus, another book which has been nominated for multiple Goodreads Awards this year, one for debut novel the other in Historical Fiction. I’m only 34% the way through but I am enjoying it very much so far. On my kindle, I am reading Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. I’m only 16% in and it’s fascinating! I can’t wait to head out to the woods with my new found knowledge. I hovel started my next book to listen to yet. I wish Audible had a magic spinning wheel with your library books and would help you randomly select something. I really enjoy Kate Quinn and The Diamond Eye is another book that is up for a nomination in the 2022 Goodreads Awards, so I may choose that one.
Lastly, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for my book, Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others – A Memoir. The deadline to sign up for a chance is December 14th. If you are interested in winning a chance to receive a free copy follow this link to my Goodreads Giveaway.