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    Reading Wednesday

    Reading Wednesday – My Year-End Review

    A Year End Review of Reading

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    A year end review of reading. I did it. I set a goal last July to read 75 books in a year. And I did it, I read 83 books. Nearly all these books I read on Kindle while we were traveling. A couple were on Audible and a few were good old fashioned paperbacks. I enjoy books in all three applications.

    Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve found it a bit difficult to stay focused on a book. My mind wanders a lot. But I still was able to meet my goal, and I also wrote one book review blog a week over the past year.

    Reading on Kindle

    I don’t think I’ll set a goal for next year. I’m just gonna read for the love of reading. We can see a year from now how that turned out.

    Reading Wednesday

    I love that our Reading Wednesday feature on this blog is one of the most popular things about My Fab Fifties Life. If I can inspire you to get lost in a book, my job is done here. And hopefully a year end review of reading can do just that.

    So since late July 2019 I have read 83 books, and I have written about many of them. You can find the entire book review collection in the Reading Wednesday section of this blog (just click).

    Reading a paperback

    Although I gave five stars to many of the books I read, below is a list of my most favorite of the 83. In fact in the list below are five that I can say are some of the best books I have ever read…and that is saying a lot.

    For a year end review of reading I’ve put those five at the top, and then below that the rest are listed randomly. I hope you can find a favorite of your own amongst this list and I thank you for your continuing support of Reading Wednesday and My Fab Fifties Life.

    (Note: I’m trying to build our email following.  Can you subscribe to our blog please?)

    Top Five of the Year

    1. The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamen – if you were told when you were a child the exact day you would die, how might it affect everything about your life? So is the question Benjamen explores in the brilliant and unique novel The Immoralists. I loved this story.
    2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Just after the end of WWII a young, unmarried and pregnant Charlie goes in search of her missing cousin in Europe. Her search will lead her to horror stories of the war and eventually to her true family and friends. I loved this book.
    3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King – I never read Stephen King so I was shocked to find that this story became one of my favorite reads ever. Not just about the assassination of JFK on 11/22/63, but an unequaled time travel book about the choices we might consider if we could go back and change history – would we do it and what would the consequences be. I loved this book.
    4. The Testaments – by Margaret Atwood – Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale continues to rank as one of my favorite books of all time, even after 30 years. So it was with both excitement and trepidation that I waited for the release of the sequel (finally). It was worth the wait. Every bit as compelling and incomparable, even pulling in some subtle nods to the politics of the USA in 2020. I loved this book.
    5. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd – Kidd’s bold re-telling of the story of Jesus once again shows her chutzpa as a writer, her creative ability and incomparable talent to take the reader on a well-worn journey with an absolutely fascinating new twist. I love Kidd’s work and The Book of Longings did not dissapoint. I loved this book.

    It was hard for me to only choose five for the list above. Because there were so many good ones this year. Here are 14 more of the very best from the 83 books I finished this year.

    14 More That Are Awesome

    The Huntress by Kate Quinn

    City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

    Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman

    Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

    The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo

    The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

    City of Thieves by David Benioff

    Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

    The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

    Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

    American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Mbue, an immigrant from Limbe Cameroon, weaves a fictional tale of immigrants like herself, who make their way from Cameroon in search of the American Dream in New York. My book review Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is fiction but a near to true story of the hardship of immigrants in the USA.

    Both a love story and an American tragedy, Behold the Dreamers brings to life the incredible characters of Jenda Jonga and his wife Neni and their sweet and small children. The Jonga family has worked for years to make their way to New York City, land of dreams and opportunity.

    We are introduced to the Edward’s family. Husband Clark and wife Cindy with children Vince and Mighty. Clark is a high powered financial investor with the ill-fated Lehman Brothers. Cindy a New York socialite hiding and running from her past.

    These two families will collide in a sad but believable look at how two very different families navigate the financial collapse of 2008, the nearly impossible American immigration system as well as the challenges of race, class, substance abuse and marriage in America.

    A remarkable debut novel for Imbolo Mbue. Five stars for Behold the Dreamers.

    Read last week’s review of The Glass Castle

    Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I found this true story very similar to Tara Westover’s “Educated”. A deep and disturbing look at how children survive growing up in dysfunctional, often violent, and deeply impoverished family.

    Tracing Jeannette Walls climb out of poverty and neglect to her life today as a successful writer and contributor for the likes of Esquire and MSNBC. The Glass Castle is an astonishing look at an all to common and oft ignored American tragedy of childhood neglect.

    Jeannette Walls and her three siblings are raised by a brilliant father who is also a raging alcoholic. Her free-spirited mother has little interest in domestic life, leaves her children to fend for themselves, even when she has the financial opportunity to provide and pull them out of despair and poverty.

    The Walls children are forced to learn to take care of themselves and each other, nearly starving or freezing to death in the cold winters.

    Eventually making her way to New York, getting an education and a good job, Jeannette finds it impossible to talk about her upbringing or the fact that her parents are living homeless on the streets of New York. She is ashamed of them and the way they live. Until she is encouraged by those closest to her, to tell this real life story of surviving neglect and despair, even while still loving her parents.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Read last week’s review of My Sister’s Keeper.

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    The Glass Castle by Jodi Picoult
    Reading Wednesday

    Elsewhere by Richard Russo

    Reading Wednesday

    I had never read anything by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo, but when I saw this book in our darling little neighborhood lending library it sounded like a winner. And yes it was. Here is my book review of Elsewhere by Richard Russo.

    First of all this is a memoir. And a beautifully done one at that. I’ve thought a lot about memoir writing myself…perhaps I have a memoir in my own future. But not all memoirs are done as well as this one…a wonderful tale of Russo’s lifelong relationship with his mentally disturbed mother.

    The story begins at the beginning. Russo’s childhood spent living with his grandparents and mother, with very rare appearances by his father. His very needy mother is certainly a loving mother, but also very focused on her own personal image no matter the cost. Her insatiable need to “appear” independent plagues Russo throughout his entire life. Because the reality is, she is not.

    She tags along to Arizona when Russo goes to college. That’s right. What 18-year-old wants their mother at college with them? This is a great example of the relationship Russo and his mother have through out his life.

    Only at the very end of her life and after her death is Russo able to really reconcile the fact that his mother had mental illness – having spent decades trying to make her happy, feeling much of her unhappiness was his fault.

    This is a wonderful memoir of a life of mental illness, something in the 1950’s that was never spoken about. His mother was always said to just be “nervous”. Through this work it’s clear her problems were much deeper. Hopefully the book can open the discussion further about mental illness in the people we love.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Read last week’s review of Maid.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Maid by Stephanie Land

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.

    Like last week, the book I am reviewing this week is by a Seattle area author. It is a memoir of her hard-scrabble, (nearly) single-mother life and how she climbed out of that life to save both she and her daughter.

    At 28-years old Stephanie Land is about to make her dream of attending university and becoming a writer come true, when she finds out she is pregnant from a summer fling.

    All plans go on hold for the next five years as Stephanie struggles to feed her child and keep a roof over her head. With constant verbal abuse from the father of the child as well as little support from a boyfriend, Stephanie works as a maid in homes all over the area she lives in outside of Seattle. Making barely enough to get by, Stephanie sees the nitty-gritty of people’s lives as she cleans the homes of upper-class middle America, while only rarely ever actually meeting or talking to them. She sees unhappy couples, dyeing and depressed old people, families who aren’t exactly the perfect picture they show the world. All while barely making minimum wage.

    Neither of Stephanie’s parents are supportive or in her life. She has no one. After living in a mold-infested apartment for a year she realizes the mold is making both her and her daughter sick. She has nowhere to go. Her resources are exhausted.

    Stephanie finds an advocate at a domestic violence non-profit where she was a volunteer. Through this advocate she begins to realize her own worth and that she can make some changes in her life. She applies for scholarships and financial aid and gets what she needs to re-visit her dream of college.

    And obviously she does very well there, as she now is a well-respected freelance author with work featured in The New York Times, New York Review, The Washington Post and many other publications. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow for Community Change.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four Stars for Maid by Stephanie Land. Read last week’s review of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. Only after I started to read this book did I remember that I found The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes through a list of books by authors from the greater Seattle area…that of course being where I am from. I added it to my list for that reason, without knowing much more about it.

    I want to support local up and coming writers, and I think Estes has a great future as a writer, even though this work of hers shows her as a neophyte author. I actually loved the plot but my only objection is when an author uses coincidence to further the plot in a way that seems far-fetched.

    Beyond that, the story is beautiful. A tale of a wealthy young woman from Seattle who discovers a beautifully embroidered silk sleeve hidden under the stairs of her ancestral summer home in the San Juan Islands.

    The novel unfolds in two parallel stories; that of 21st century Inara searching to find out whatever she can about the long hidden blue silk embroidered sleeve and Mei Lein a young Chinese immigrant living in Seattle and then the San Juan Islands a century earlier.

    How are these two women connected? What is Mei Lein’s secret and why did she hide the embroidered sleeve under the stairs? What garment does the sleeve belong to and what story might be solved if that garment could be found?

    Estes weaves the tale, adding a few too many coincidences to wrap it all up in the end, but this first novel for Estes is tender and thoughtful and leaves a message that we can forgive the sins of the past if we are brave enough to do so.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, by Kelli Estes. Read last week’s review of 11/23/63.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review 11/22/63 by Stephen King

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I am not a Stephen King junkie. I think the only book of his 61 novels I have read was Carrie when I was in high school. That said I have loved some of his movies; The Green Mile, Stand by Me and Shawshank Redemption is possibly my favorite movie of all time.

    Oh and I have to give a shout out to Rose Red (TV Miniseries) because my son had a cameo part in that movie! He was so cute.

    But I digress. Stephen King books aren’t usually my cup of tea. But 11/22/63 kept showing up on lists of must reads, and then my friend Sue said it was here book club’s favorite of the year. Seemed like it was calling to me. And even though it was published in 2011, I’ve finally come around to reading it.

    This book is a behemoth. More than 850 pages. What an undertaking King pulled off with this book. Apparently it too was a mini-series that I never heard of.

    So by the title you can assume the book is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. But the focus of the story is much broader. This is the story of unassuming high school teacher Jake Epping who travels back in time through a “rabbit hole” found by his friend, in an effort to stop the assassination.

    King takes his time with this story, filling the plot with exciting detail as we follow Jake’s efforts to change history. Not a simple task as he learns the past does not want to change, and the past throws obtacles at Jake, nearly killing him on several occasions. As Jake says over and over in the book the past is obdurate.

    Jake makes multiple trips through the rabbit hole, and of course on each journey he meets, befriends and even falls in love with people from the past. Jake also makes enemies, gets to know Oswald and the other players in the JFK assassination and finds out changing history is not always the best course of action.

    Although I felt a few parts of the book dragged, I also feel King’s detailed story is crucial to the complicated plot and thus justifies the length of this meticulously comprehensive book.

    Does Jake succeed? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Read last week’s review of City of
    Girls.

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    Book Review Stephen King's 11/23/63