My Massive TBR 2019

These are the physical books I already own that I vow to work through during 2019. As I read them I will cross them off and if I buy more I will add those in bold.

Harry Potter 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Illustrated

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The Tales of Beedle Bard

Harry Potter, a history

Non Fiction

Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*uck by Amy Alkon

A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon

Quakery by Lydia King, MD

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

Karate-Do, My Way of Life by Gighin Funakoshi

The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Mindful Games by Susan Kaiser Greenland

Uppity Women Speak Their Mind by Vicki Leon

Bullshit by John Grant

Mindfulness by Tessa Watt

Emotional Intelligence by Dr. David Walton

Have you Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth

Snacks, a Canadian Food History by Janis Thiessen

How to Teach your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig

Brainstorm the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, MD

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Ransom Riggs

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reference (I will consider these read if I consult them at length ten times)

A Treasury of Favorite Poems

You can Do It! by Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas

The Art and Science of Handreading by Ellen Goldberg and Dorian Bergen

1000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich

Awakening Your Ikigai by Ken Mogi


The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce)

Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler (Peculiar Crimes Unit)

Arch Enemy by Frank Beddor (Looking Glass Wars)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Darker Shade Magic)

Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Mass (Court of Thorn and Roses)

Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Mass (Court of Thorn and Roses)

Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass (Court of Thorn and Roses)

Another Fine Myth by Robert Aspin (Another Fine Myth)

Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen (Queen of Tearling)

The Invasion of Tearling by Erika Johansen (Queen of Tearling)

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (Queen of Tearling)

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman (Arc of a Scythe)

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan (Magnus Chase)

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan (Magnus Chase)

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle)


The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Eon by Alison Goodman

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Shadow and Fox by Julie Kagawa

Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Catching Stars by Cayla Keenan

Roseblood by A.G. Howard

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Science Fiction

Live Free or Die by John Ringo


Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon

The Hunting of Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Star Wars (William Shakespeare) by Iran Doescher

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight

The Gunslinger by Stephan King

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully

The Mask of Zorro

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

My Plain Jane by Hand, Ashton and Meadows

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Historical Fiction

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

Votes for Women!

The Removes by Tatjana Soli

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris


Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers

Children’s Books

Nightbooks by J.A. White

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Of Two Minds by Carol Mata and Perry Modelman

Nevermore, The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Montrous by MarcyKate Connolly

HeapHouse by Edward Carey

Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin

Tom’s Midnight Garden

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Frogkisser by Garth Nix

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Strength of the Wolf Pack, Disney

Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks

Furtunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan

The Dragon’s Eye by Dugald A. Steer

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Al Capone Does My Sheets by Jennifer Choldenko

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

The Never-ending Story by Michael Ende

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

The Legend of Greg by Chris Rylander

Before Tomorrowland, Disney

Evil Genius by Catherine Jenks

Polar Bear Explorers’ Club by Alex Bell

SeriousSeriesLove · Uncategorized

Serious Series Love

Who doesn’t love a good series?

Here you can see my ever changing list of book series I want to read. I will add when I find new ones to enjoy and let you know when I have finished others.

The Raven Cycle Series

A Court of Throne and Roses

Myth Adventures Series

The Magnus Chase Series

Queen of Tearling Series

The Arc of Scythe

Flavia de Luce Mysteries

Darker Shade of Magic

Peculiar Crimes Unit

Looking Glass Wars


not a review

My Favorite Books of 2018

I have read so many wonderful books this year that I have broken my favorites into Ten categories with a Winner and an Honorable Mention given. If you want more information I have added a link to any original review.

Drumroll please….


WinnerSo That Happened by Jon Cryer. My nine hours spent listening to Ducky (I mean Jon!) talk about his youth and experiences felt far too short. He is dryly funny and deeply interesting and it stands out as my absolute favorite audiobook of the year.





stuffmattersHonorable MentionStuff Matters by Mark Miodownik. This audiobook had the delightful ability to keep me interested in a subject matter that probably would have put me to sleep otherwise. Read in a clipped British accent that drives the information directly into your brain and featuring a perfect blend of history and science Stuff Matters will make you the most annoying or fascinating party guest, depending completely on your audience. Read the room before you launch into the history of plastics!


Children’s Literature

BobWinner: Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead is the early middle grade book everyone should read. A story of what it means to be a friend is always important but Bob brings subtle layers to the friendship between the sweet Bob and his Livy.





7thHonorable MentionThe Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall. This book was part of a book club required reading and, although I was determined to hate it, I cannot love it more. A redemption story through the recognition that things are not always what they seem to be was a wonderful theme for 2018.




Graphic Novels

princeWinner: The Prince and Dressmaker by Jen Wang is hands down my best graphic novel of 2018. The story didn’t match my prediction based on the cover at all. Instead it was so much more. If you want a story about being true to yourself and what it means to accept someone, look no further.




sabrinachilHonorable Mention: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguierre-Sacasa. I read this series during my month of Frighteningly Good Reads 2018 and it is amazing. If you have already peeked at the Netflix series and liked what you saw then you will also love these books. I do not enjoy horror stories but this dark turn on Sabrina was just the right combination of horror and storytelling for me.





returnofthekingWinner: The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps this book lands on top of my fantasy experiences  for the year aided by the satisfaction of finishing the trilogy but I don’t think so. This was, hands down, the best of the trilogy for me and the last 100 pages were so action packed and then sweet that I will always remember reading this with joy.





Honorable MentionIron Gold by Pierce Brown. Beginning this book was difficult. Not simply because it is a hefty 601 pages but because we left the characters at the end of Morning Star at relative peace. Ten years later we find them….still fighting. But, in true Pierce Brown manner the character building and action climb together until you close the book and find yourself wanting more.




circeWinner: Circe by Madeline Miller. I tried to limit my expectations after reading and falling deeply in love with Song of Achilles but Madeline Miller absolutely exceeded even my (secret) wildest expectations. You have seen the book in every store and heard everyone talking about it for a reason – it is perfect.





storied lifeHonorable Mention: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery by Gabrielle Zevin. I bought this book because it has a bookstore on the cover. I started reading it because it was alphabetized last on my TBR bookshelf. And I love it because it is a beautiful story that shines a light on the how books weave into the fabric of our lives and those we love.




Historical Fiction

watchmakerWinner: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. This was one of the first books I read in 2018 and it remains my absolute favorite. It is the overall winner of every award for me in every category but I placed it here because, technically, it is historical fiction. This beautiful sweeping story takes you back and forth between London and Japan and volleys between historical facts and fantastical fiction. This is the book that owned my heart in 2018.




thealicenetworkHonorable Mention: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I started this book and misplaced it. It is a testament to the writing and characters in this book that when I found it again I was able to immediately sit down and continue reading without missing a beat. This story features a number of strong women as they help the war effort and pick up the ravaged pieces of the world. As two story lines, one from WWI and one from post-WWII, begin to intertwine the rising action took on a break neck pace. This adventure is one I was thrilled to see unfold during 2018.



awkwardWinner: Awkward, The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro, PhD. This was not only an excellent book but also stands as my most often quoted book of 2018. Where was this book when I was an awkward nerd in sixth grade?!? As an awkward adult I enjoyed seeing the growth potential and the previously unknown benefits of my awkwardness. As someone who works with children I love recommending this book to naturally socially adept adults. You know, those who have never stood outside the circle just wondering how all the talking happened. Awkward people unite!


CanadaHonorable Mention: Canada by Mike Myers. I have a deep and abiding crush on Canada. I cannot say I love it yet. I found myself first attracted to Canada several years ago. I finally took my first trip through Quebec this year and so my crush is still blooming. But, true knowledge is what leads to love. Mike Myers has that in spades for his native land. Part autobiography part history of Canada and all fabulous this book was perfect for feeding my fascination with Canada.



MarriageWinnerMarriage of Inconvenience by Penny Reid. This is the seventh book in the Knitting in the City series and features (finally) Kat and Dan’s story. Penny Reid introduced both of these characters in book one and has allowed the readers glimpses of their infatuation and love in brief moments through the series. The hype about finally seeing them get together was high. And, the book delivered! The female characters Reid creates are interested and her books always have truly smart quirks. I was as happy to finally read Kat and Dan’s story as I was sad that the series was over.



thekissquotientHonorable MentionThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. This book received an unbelievable amount of hype in 2018 and, deservedly so. It was the most surprising contemporary romance I have read since Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game. This gender swap on Pretty Woman is made more interesting by the author’s ability to simultaneously feature culturally varied characters and characters with disabilities without making the reader feel like they are being lectured.



Young Adult

warbringerWinner: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. This is part of the DC Icons series. I may not have always been a fan of the scantily clad Amazon but after Gal Gadot I became a dire hard fan. Leigh Bardugo’s retelling of Diana’s beginnings as Wonder Woman was a perfect mixture of cannon and invention and I loved it completely.





foolish_heartsHonorable Mention: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills. I do know normally enjoy books set in high schools. However, I received Foolish Hearts from an OwlCrate and those books are always enjoyable. I was delighted to find that, while this was a romance of sorts, it was mostly about falling in love with yourself and growing as a person. This book also featured genuinely positive examples of both female and male friendship and I ate it up.




Scary / Spooky (Horror Light)

tendeadcomediansWinner: Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente. Ten comedians are locked on an unpopulated island and one after another they die…horribly. Fans of Agatha Christie’s locked room experiences will enjoy this modern twist. The added bonus of comedy’s more recently defined “unacceptable” lines left me constantly guessing as to the real identities of the fiction dead jokesters.





smallspacesHonorable Mention: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. Holy moly this middle grade story was scary. It had everything – kids that don’t listen, parents that don’t believe, a ghost, an old curse and most of all a tag line you can whisper to fellow readers, “Stick to Small Spaces.”




Tell me, please!

What are your favorite reads from 2018?

Challenges · Uncategorized

2018 Challenges Update

Well, I can tell you two things without even checking: first, I was much (much) better at tracking my reading and second, it’s like I didn’t even try to stop buying books. But, let us look at the cold hard facts.

Reading Challenges

I participated in so many challenges this year. The Goodreads Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge, The Book Riot Challenge, The Beat the Backlist Challenge, The When Are you Reading Challenge, The Audiobook Challenge, and the No-Book-Buying Challenge. How did I do?

Goodreads Reading Challenge

My goal was to read 100 books this year and I read 123! Success! According to Goodreads I also read 35,318 pages and my most often read author was the romance writer, Penny Reid. Which brings me to a confession: I don’t log every single book. If I am embarrassed by the cover (not the story, just the cover) I won’t log it. So, all of those long sleepless nights that were brought to me by insomnia were accompanied by books borrowed from the Kindle Free Library. The Kindle Free Library is deeply populated by books with weird covers. If I am embarrassed I will just elect to not log it. Shameful, because those books sat with me all night long. In addition to faithfully logging books I am promising to log ALL books for 2019. Either you are all going to see a lot of weird covers or I will plan ahead enough to have regular books ready to go on my kindle.

When Were You Reading Challenge

Sam from Taking on a World of Words not only hosts my favorite weekly roundup (WWW Wednesday!) but also a historical fiction reading challenge. I did…..poorly. I have come to the realization that I only enjoy historical fiction when the story grabs my attention.

  • The complete challenge will include 12 books from the following eras:
    • Pre 1500
    • 1500-1599
    • 1600-1699
    • 1700-1799
    • 1800-1899 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
    • 1900-1919
    • 1920-1939
    • 1940-1959
    • 1960-1979
    • 1980-1999
    • 2000-Present
    • The Future Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot

I did far better with this challenge and completed 14/24 goals. The ones I didn’t finish were, if I were being honest, books that I would never read. Books about nature / westerns / anything on Oprah almost universally disagree with me. Also, while I am sure I read a few books that would fit into the missing categories my biggest problem with this challenge is how persnickety some participants were. If you follow the Goodreads chat boards on this challenge some people were serious about what qualified and what did not. This is not my mentality when participating in a reading challenge and so I never posted anything. Still, this challenge found me finally reading Pride and Prejudice which was absolutely wonderful. I can’t believe I waited so long!

1) A book published posthumously
2) A book of true crime Heist by Jeff Diamant
3) A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person – Witch Boy
5) A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
6) A book about nature
7) A western
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color – Pashmina
9) A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color – When Dimple Met Rishi
11) A children’s classic published before 1980
12) A celebrity memoir W. Kamau Bell
13) An Oprah Book Club selection
14) A book of social science Grit
15) A one-sitting book – I Work at a Public Library… by Gina Sheridan
16) The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series – Every Day by David Leviathan
17) A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author Just One Damned Thing After the Other by Jodi Taylor
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image The Sandman, Volume 1, Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
19) A book of genre fiction in translation
20) A book with a cover you hate 69 Million Things I Hate About You by Kira Archer
21) A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
22) An essay anthology
23) A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
24) An assigned book you hated (or never finished) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Audiobook Challenge from

I did it! I wanted to get the stenographer level (10-15 audiobooks) and I listened to 15! And, I fell deeply in love with audiobooks. Now, if I don’t have an audiobook ready to go I don’t even know how to drive! Here are the audiobooks I enjoyed this year.

1. Fahrenheit 451

2. Artemis Fowl #1 by Eoin Colfer

3. Canada by Mike Myers

4. Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

5. Fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen

6. How to Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell

7. Heist by Jeff Diamant

8. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fischer

9. So that Happened by Jon Cryer

10. Today I Will be Different by Maria Semple

11. The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

12. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

13. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge 

Success here!  Modern Mrs. Darcy puts out a reading challenge every year and, if memory serves, there were some options for 2018. I enjoy her reading challenge because there aren’t so many categories that you are overwhelmed but they are varied enough to actually expand your reading repertoire.

  • a classic you’ve been meaning to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • a book recommended by someone with great taste The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
  • a book in translation Classic Fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen
  • a book nominated for an award in 2018 Circe by Madeline Miller
  • a book of poetry, a play or an essay collection Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
  • a book you can read in a day I work at a Public Library
  • a book that’s more than 500 pages Iron Gold
  • a book by a favorite author Circe by Madeline Miller
  • a book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • a banned book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
  • a memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction Stuff Matters by Mike Miodowski
  • a book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Beat the Backlist Challenge

This one is hosted by Novel Knight and was a great inspiration for reading all the wonderful books I already owned. However, I could not figure out how to log my participation. So, while I kept track I did absolutely no good for my team, The Dewey Dragons. Sorry Dragons!!

I really like emphasizing my books, I just wish I could have more fully participated. Still, look at how many wonderful books (22!) I read off my own shelf.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappinfield

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertini

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Problim Children by Natalie Llyod

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Wishtree by Katharine Applegate

Lord of the Rings, Return of the King J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Buying Ban 2018

This was my biggest failure. The less I felt like I was “allowed” to buy, the more I wanted to buy buy BUY ALL THE BOOKS. I even stopped keeping track of my beautiful purchases because I was embarrassed. This is how it went (roughly because I am still sure I bought more and was too ashamed to admit it).

January: Owl Crate delivery: The Cruel Prince

February: Owl Crate delivery: The Hazel Wood

March: Birthday Books! Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck by Amy Alkon, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca, Let’s Talk Spanish50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know by John Bridges, Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight, Toasts by Paul Dickson, The Real Rock BookStupid Historyby Leland Gregory, Uppity Women by Vicki Leon, The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne.

April: Things have gone sideways…..

May: I stopped trying. I need books! Don’t try and stop me!

June: Back on the wagon. I received two new books from subscriptions (OwlCrate and page Habit) and purchased only 1, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang.

July: Purchased Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella and Find Your Adventure by Nicole Larue in Montreal. Also, two French/English dictionaries.

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, Canadaby Mike Myers, two Jodi Taylor books, Wish by Deborah Bladon and 69 Million Things I Hate About You by Kira Archer on Kindle. I had insomnia!!! The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, The Invasion of Tearling Trilogy by Erika Johansen, All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller.

Owlcrate My Plain Jane

PageHabit The Real Michael Swann

AugustTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, Greenglass House by Kate Milford, Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente. P.S. I Still Love Youby Jenny Han and Always and Forever Lara Jean by Jenny Han.

September: Major personal upset. Books bring me solace and so I buy as many as I want.




Challenge Wrap Up

All in all, I LOVED the challenges. The only one I wound have been disappointed about not finishing successfully was the Goodreads challenge. All of the others were there to encourage me and push me outside of my usual reading. I am not sure yet which ones I will do again but I am so happy looking through all of the ideas.

Also, I know now that if I am really going to challenge myself to vary my reading I need a better plan. It is not enough to hope that my own books and interests will fulfill the required slots, I need a cohesive reading list for all the categories. So, this year I am looking carefully at the categories so that I am not stuck with an insurmountable one.

I think it is safe to say that the Book Buying Ban is falling squarely into the “never again” category. This challenge made me just want all the books. It was like being on a terrible diet and suddenly everything I owned looked gross and diet-like. This year I will certainly try to enjoy what I own but if I see a book I want to read I am absolutely going to buy it.

Tell me, please!

How did your challenges go? Any you recommend?

Challenges · Classic · Fantasy

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

It is a classic story for a reason. I have always meant to read the books and when I saw Ryan reading them this year I was inspired to pick them up and enjoy the journey.

Book One: The Fellowship of the Ring

This is the portion of the story that I am most familiar with. Sadly, there was a lot less of Legolas than I wanted. Also, the book has a LOT of singing. I really struggled with the songs because I kept singing them to the tune and tempo of a sailor’s ditty. Just imagine it with a little harump and accordion workings. Nasty Hobbits. All in all I did feel that the first book went fairly quickly. I ended it feeling smug and determined to just zip through the entire series. “Just twenty pages a day!” I told myself. Hah!

Book Two: The Two Towers.

This book took me, literally, four months to finish. This is the book that separates the reader from the determined fan. If I could get my hands on those Ents I would tell them to hurry the hell UP. This book is slow and you really start to feel the fatigue of the massive journey. It doesn’t help that throughout the second book you meet countless new characters and, frequently, each character has multiple names. It begins to feel like a fantasy version of War and Peace and I regretted not making a chart. At one point I think I sleep-walked and hid the book from myself. I have never been more thrilled than when I closed the second book.

Book Three: The Return of the King.

This is my favorite movie in the trilogy so I was hoping for a little more action. Thankfully, Tolkien delivered in spade here. While the first two books spend a great deal of time walking and looking around, the third book has epic battles, valiant speeches and  loads of action. This book continued to confuse me with the multiple names (Strider is Aragorn but also King Elessar) and the names which are very similar (hello Eowyn and Eomer!) but finally I watched Frodo drop that dang ring into the Fires of Mordor!!! The hands down absolute best moments for me were the fifty or so pages after the destruction of the ring and the crowing of the King where the Hobbits return to the Shire. These scenes were not in any of the movies and I loved seeing the completely transformed Hobbits go forth in defense of their home without any aid and triumph.

A few thoughts.

My favorite character was and always will be Legolas. However, I don’t know that I would have noticed him if not for the movies. Truthfully, I would never have read these books but for the movies because the whole thing sounded wretched to me. But, I am so glad that I did.

The hero of this story is absolutely, hands down, Samwise Gamgee. I aspire to be as good a person, as strong a character and as supportive a friend as Sam.

Tell me, please!

Have you read LOTR? Who is your favorite character?

Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

One of my longstanding personal quotes is, “Laugh or Cry, you choose!” I say this to myself when I become overwhelmed and I try to reflect on the humor in the situation. But, I know that mental health is no joke and it can rob people of the ability to control this choice. So what do you do if your life is deeply affected by mental health? Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) forced herself to be “furiously happy” to balance those times her mental illness makes her unfathomably sad. She invited us on her journey in accepting her mental health and the hilarity of it all in her new book Furiously Happya Funny Book about Horrible Things.

furiouslyhappyI have never read Jenny Lawson’s blog, I didn’t follow her on Twitter and, honestly, she wasn’t on my radar at all.  But, someone highlighted her book on WWW Wednesday and I dutifully added it to my to-be-read pile. Mostly, I fell in love with the hilarious taxidermy raccoon (Rory) on the cover of the book. When the audiobook caught my eye I downloaded it simply because I needed something to listen to during my commute and it was immediately available. All of these cosmic connections resulted in my listening to and falling deeply in love with Jenny Lawson. (I hereby promise I will not stalk you Jenny, tell Victor not to worry).

Now see how I have referred to this total stranger by her first name? And, I write as though I know her husband? This is the talent of a well-written memoirist. They make the reader feel like they have a new friend, one they know and understand on a deeper level. But what elevates this memoir to a whole new level is that my new friend Jenny managed to weave awareness and understanding of mental illness through her book so seamlessly. After listening to her read her own story I feel like I have a much better understanding of mental illness, taxidermy, depression, the perils of traveling through Australia, and the power of acceptance in equal measure.

Jenny’s decision to live Furiously Happy has changed her life. Perhaps her book will alter yours. All I know is that I would really like to thank her for explaining the nuances of mental health to me. And I would really like to hold Rory for a bit. Please?!?

Tell me, please!

What books do you recommend for understanding mental illness?

Audio Book · fiction · humor

Today I Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I was surprised by how much I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? and so when I saw that Marie Semple had a new book out I knew I would read it. I was even luckier to have the opportunity to enjoy the audiobook version of this book because the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite, did an amazing job capturing the feeling of all of the characters. Perhaps that is why she also narrated Bernadette!

todaywillbedifferentIn Today I Will Be Different Eleanor Flood, her famous husband, Joe, and her son Timby live in Seattle. Eleanor and Joe are New Yorkers and atheists. While Joe has found grand success as a sought-after hand surgeon in Seattle, Eleanor has been struggling to fit into their community and especially with the parents at Timby’s school. She begins the morning by setting small obtainable goals that she feels will make today different. She makes a promise to herself to shower and get dressed, to take her son Timby to school and then attend her poetry lesson, and to initiate sex with her husband. But before she can quietly change her day in these small ways her son Timby plays sick. That small change in her plans, unintended by Eleanor, alters the course of her life dramatically.

Maria Semple delivers, in Eleanor, another complex female character that I could not help but connect with deeply. Her problems may be first-world ones but they are so common that if you can read this book and not see women you know then you either; (a) don’t know any women or (b) you aren’t paying attention. Eleanor’s quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor furthers my love of this character and keeps the story moving. As Eleanor and Timby work through their day we see the subtle (and not-so subtle) layers of Eleanor more and more clearly. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette there are twists and turns. But, for me, the characters drive this story and Eleanor will stay with me much longer than any the plot.

The narrator for this audiobook has a wonderfully gravelly voice that captures both the New Yorker feel of Eleanor as well as the other characters, especially Timby, perfectly. Perhaps it is because I just finished The Princess Diarist but her voice reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s. This is also a short audiobook, only about six and a half hours, and it goes too quickly.

If you enjoyed Maria Semple’s first novel you are sure to enjoy Today Will be Different.

Tell me, please!

If you read this book, what did you think?

If not, what are some of your favorite female characters?

Audio Book · nonfiction

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I remember hearing long long ago that Carrie Fisher did not love Princess Leia and she was tired of being compared to her. I vividly recall being crushed by that idea. Princess Leia was my hero growing up. She was strong, confident, beautiful, smart, capable…basically the total package. If you had become famous and synonymous with a character, wouldn’t Princess Leia be the ideal?! But, as I grew I began to understand how having your personal identity become confusingly intertwined with a fictional character might be difficult. When I saw that Carrie Fisher had recorded her audiobook of The Princess Diarist I wanted to listen to it and I hoped she would be able to explain her complex feelings about one of my favorite sci-fi characters.

The Princess DiaristI was thrilled that Carrie spent a great deal of time in her book addressing her lifelong relationship with her silver screen alter ego. Of course, there were some wonderful stories about her childhood and adolescence, her experience auditioning for Star Wars, and the long hidden affair she had with Harrison Ford. But her beautiful words about her ever-changing perception of herself and how being identified interchangeably with Leia affected her were truly life changing for me. Her story helped me redefine how to reconcile self-identification with the public’s perception of who they think you are.

I cannot talk about Carrie Fischer without stopping to reflect on her amazing writing skills. Her daughter, Billie Lourd, read the diary sections from her time filming Star Wars and her writing skills at 20 were jaw dropping. I found myself sitting, parked in my car, just letting the gorgeous phrases roll over me. I knew that Carrie had worked as a script doctor and I have read at least one of her prior books but, truly, I had not taken the time to recognize incredibly talented she was as a writer.

It has been almost a year since Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. I could not have imagined listening to this audiobook earlier in the year but as the anniversary came closer and closer I craved just a few more minutes with my first Princess. The book gave me that and so much more. If you are even vaguely interested I heartily recommend listening to this Grammy award winning audiobook.

Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Please, if you don’t love Star Wars, don’t admit it to me because then I will have to defend my fandom and I have huge chunks of time in the coming weeks that I can dedicate to this.

Audio Book · nonfiction

So That Happened, by Jon Cryer

The movie Pretty in Pink came out in 1986. I’m not sure how old I was when I saw it but I remember absolutely hating everything about it….except Ducky. Since the moment Andie chose Blane (for the love of all that is holy….Blane??) over Ducky I hated Molly Ringwald and pink dresses forever. But, I have held a special place in my heart for Jon Cryer. So, when I saw he had a celebrity memoir out I wanted to read it. I worried that he would stoop to gossip but I still wanted to take the opportunity to spend more time with the delightful actor whose career I have followed all of these years.

sothathappenedHe has wonderful stories of growing up in New York City and of his mother’s and father’s careers on Broadway. Truthfully, I didn’t realize how incredibly varied his talent was until I heard about his life. The sheer amount of work he put into honing his craft is impressive but learning that he attended the prestigious Bronx School of Science added an additional, and alluring, facet to the actor. Since he frequently plays neurotic or anxious individuals who are nerdy it is nice to know that he connects with these characters on a personal level.

With celebrity memoirs there is always the possibility of gratuitous gossip. Jon does talk about his first famous girlfriend (Demi Moore), his costars in Pretty in Pink, and a variety of other famous people who have crossed his path. But, at no time did I feel like he was being mean or spiteful. I didn’t learn anything about anyone else that I didn’t already know. He kept the focus on himself and his own drama. Still, when you work (twice) with Charlie Sheen and you have a front row seat to the implosion that was Charlie’s last year on Two and a Half Men it is hard to tell your story without including Charlie. I would argue that he did so in an incredibly respectful manner. In fact, I would have been comfortable listening to this book with Charlie Sheen.

Now, I did learn a whole lot about the movie business and how a storyline can dramatically change. For example, did you know that Ducky and Andie were supposed to end up together? But the test audience (those horrible people) thought Andie deserved the rich guy and they had to re-film the ending!! They ruined it. This and many other wonderful anecdotes were shared by Jon.

I had the added bonus of listening to the audio version of this book. Jon Cryer read it himself and he is as talented a narrator as he is a storyteller. I enjoyed the way he loved the characters he portrayed and you could certainly feel the his enjoyment he gets from acting.

My only complaint about this audiobook was it was only 9+ hours long. I could have spent at least another 9 listening to Jon’s stories. He may not actually be Ducky but he managed to make me love that character even more.

Tell me, please!

Have you ever loved a character enough to follow the actor forever?

Middle Grade

The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

I want a robot. I’m absolutely willing to take the risk that my AI robot might one day imprison me for my safety so that I can have a robot friend. I have one of those vacuum robots and I named him, I talk to him, and he is my tiny friend. Middle Grade books like The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes only encourage me to believe that one day I will be able to have a smart and kind robotic friend.

thewildrobotThe Wild Robot introduces readers to robot Roz. After being shipwrecked on an island Roz awakens for the first time alone and surrounded by wilderness. As a robot she knows that she must have a purpose but what is it? She battles storms and dangerous animal attacks on the island before she understands that she must adapt to her environment in order to survive. As she begins to learn the language of the animals, make friends and form connections, the island starts to feel like home. But then, Roz’s past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is lauded as a wonderful for examining where technology and nature overlap. However, the more profound aspect of this book for me, and the children I have read it to, it Roz’s struggle to fit in. Children have told me that Roz is like being a new kid in class, an immigrant in a new country, or someone learning a new language. All of these important issues came to these middle grade readers while watching Roz try to adapt to her wild environment. And, for me, I strongly identified with the cultural and social struggle that accompanies learning a new language.

wildrobotescapesThe Wild Robot Escapes begins with Roz on a farm. As she meets the owner of the farm and his two young children she tries to hatch a plan to return to her wild island and her animal family and friends. But how will a wild robot adapt to working in a civilized situation?

As a sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes is almost as enjoyable as the first book because Brown created, in Roz, a character that the reader cares about deeply. It is slower to start but when the action does begin it is incredibly fast paced – especially for a middle grade book. Roz continues to struggle through situations where she begins as an outsider and has to work to be considered part of her community. The real question starts to become, will Roz be able to leave this new home to return to her wild island?

In both The Wild Robot, but even more so in The Wild Robot Escapes, we see Roz using two things in order to make friends and belong: kindness and honesty.  In so many middle grade books the parents are removed from the story so that the child can be the in charge of the action. But Brown’s use of an innocent robot has made for a unique protagonist that is simultaneously wise and immature.  But Roz is smart enough to be honest and mature enough to be kind and those two things work for her over time.

Middle grade books are a perfect reminder of the difficulties children face. And these two books arm us with a story that explains how it feels to not fit in, how a person can cope with those feelings, what is our higher purpose, and how using kindness and truthfulness will help us become who we want to be in the end.

Tell me, please!

Do you read middle grade books? Why?