January 3, 2015

A Year in Books

(Photo: Owego, NY  May 2013.  I loved it there.)

When I was in 4th grade I moved to a new school.  4th grade changed my life in many ways.  One of them was my teacher, Mrs. Ferraro.
Mrs. Ferraro is a tiny lady filled with big passion; for children, learning, reading and writing.  She's a literacy super hero. 
I could go on, but today I'm thinking back to 4th grade because about once a week our class was required to "sell books."  We would stand in front of the class, hold up the book we'd read, and "sell it."  We'd share what we liked about the book, what it was about, and then ask, "Who wants to buy this book?"  Hopefully hands would shoot up, and the seller would pass the book on to another student.
I was a shy kid, bordering on painfully shy in some situations - mostly anything to do with speaking or being in front of a group of people.  Selling books was awful for me.
But I loved to read them. 
In 4th grade I became a reader and writer.  It was a wonderful year.

Some 25+ years later, I love to read (and write) more than ever.
In 2014 I set myself a loose goal of reading fifty books (finishing forty-five.)
I traveled to Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, London, India, Australia, Sweden, France, New York City, the Past, the Future, and all over the countryside in the pages of books.
Books have been wonderful companions and teachers.  
I thought I'd briefly share why (or why not) I think you should "buy" (read) these books.
These are just opinions, so feel free to differ.  I love a good book discussion.

My year in books looked mostly like this: 
*Highlighted are the three books I read that struck me as most remarkable this year. 
A guy named Standhal once said, "A good book is an event in my life."

1.  *The Book Thief  by Marcus Zusak
Set in WWII Germany and narrated in the most unexpected way, this book astounded me.  If you haven't read it, I urge you to.  Outstanding.

2.  Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
I was supposed to read Uncle Tom's Cabin in about 9th grade, but never did.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, pushing the envelope on equality and human rights,
was quite a lady of her time and for all ages.  I'm glad I took the time to read this piece of history.

3.  The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van, Allen Bennet
This is a strange little book made of two separate, unrelated, British short-ish stories. 
If you happen to come across it like I did, I suggest you enjoy a walk, visit with a neighbor, or read another book instead.

4.  Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3)

6.  An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5)

  Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9) 
11.  Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10)   

12.  Life of Pi, Yann Martel
An interesting, surprising, and perplexing read, involving a boy on a boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  You have to read it to understand the surprising/perplexing factor. 
Life of Pi threw me for a loop.

13.  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 was always showing up on lists of classic books to read.  Published in 1953 (the year my parents were born), the story portrays a futuristic American society in a pretty frightening way.  I can't say I enjoyed it, but I can say I've read it now, and I see why it's somewhat iconic.  Some (not all, thank goodness) of the futuristic ideas aren't far off from current realities.

14.  Hope Was Here, Joan Bauer
A Newbery Honor young adult book about a girl named Hope and her experience moving to a small town.  A good book for adolescents.  An ok book for people like me who like to read young adult books now & then. 

15.  The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
"This is a story about right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same.."
A good read that took me to far away Australian shores and the isolation of lighthouse living.  My heart became quite involved when reading this novel.

16.  Stealing the Ruby Slippers, Amanda Michelle Moon
The author of Stealing the Ruby Slippers is from our nearby small town.  We went to the same school and I enjoy following her creative & writing endeavors.  Our nearby larger (but still small) town is birth place of Judy Garland.  A pair of ruby slippers she wore while filming The Wizard of Oz were stolen from the local museum in 2005, a true event that inspired this fast paced, gritty crime-fiction story.   

17.  The Plague of Doves,  Louise Erdrich
With a little time gone by, I cannot tell you what this book was about.  The story (?) was hard to follow, and there were so many characters I lost track of how they were connected, if they were.  A few unpleasant things are what stand out in my memory from reading it.  Because I've heard good things about the author, and because of its Ojibwe background, I wanted to love this book.  I disliked it.

18.  *A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kahled Hosseini
A powerful, painfully beautiful story (I call it a love story, though it doesn't always seem it) that expanded my perspective and knowledge of our world and modern history.  Not an area I'd likely be drawn to reading about (Afghanistan), it was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Ferraro, who's praise "sold" it to me.  Horrific at times, yet a book rarely leaves me more satisfied overall with its story telling and conclusion. 
If you haven't read it, I urge you to.  One of the best books I've read.

19.  The Sugar Queen
20.  Garden Spells
21.  The Girl Who Chased the Moon
22.  Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen
Each of the four Sarah Addison Allen novels above has some touch of magic or charm in them, applied to a normal (non magic) plot or story.  They were easy, lighter reads when I didn't feel like tackling a heavy (literal or figurative) book.  For instance, when our dog died this year.  Sometimes you just need a book with an easy-to-fall-into story and a magic tree that tosses apples at people to take your mind off things. 

23.  Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
The opening sentence of this books speaks of a drowning.  At the end of the book, the circumstances of the drowning are revealed.  I felt there wasn't enough going on in between, leaving the majority of the book unremarkable.  When I dislike a book, I feel a little like I failed somehow, or that maybe there was something I missed, so I look to reviews to see what others think.  I read a lot of reviews that assured me I was not alone in feeling unimpressed with Drowning Ruth.  Of course, some people enjoyed it, too. (It was an Oprah's Book Club pick.)    

24.  My Name is Mary Sutter, Robin Oliveira
About a young woman's struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War, this work of historical fiction is loaded with historically accurate events, figures, and information. 
I learned a great deal about all medical aspects of the Civil War (medical aspects being major aspects of it.  Of the 620,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War, around 400,000 of them died from disease, not from fighting.) 
I also learned a great deal about amputation from these pages!  (If you don't care for reading about bone saws, this may might not be for you.)  I found it very educational.

25.  Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons,  Lorna Landvik
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons made me wish I was part of a book club.

26.  Chocolat, Joanne Harris
With a name like Chocolat, I expected it to be sweeter.  Instead, I found the plot rather dark & bitter, and the book rather dull.  I didn't enjoy it much.

27.  The Wind in the Willows,  Kenneth Grahame
Oh, that Mr. Toad and his motorcar shenanigans!  Beau, 7 years old, & I read this classic together (along with others throughout the year that didn't make the list because I've read them before).  Our favorite parts involved Mr. Toad. We laughed and laughed!
Find a young person to read it with, and I hope you laugh like we did.

28.  The Fault in Our Stars, John Green 
Was it as great as I expected?  In all honesty, no. I was clearly not a member of the targeted (teen) audience.  Did I cry?  Yes. Cancer is sad, and particular pages hit close to home.
A story of teenage love, youthful bits of philosophy & wisdom.  And sadness. 

29.  The Night Circus,  Erin Morgenstern
Vivid in imagery and magic, this is a brilliantly unique book.  I agree with some claims that the plot grew sluggish, but I was too enchanted by the fantastic spell of the Night Circus to mind. 

30.  Astrid and Veronika, 
Linda Olsson 
A story of two women of different generations, with painful pasts, who become friends.
I liked that it was set in Scandinavia.  But it didn't quite hit the good-enough-for-me-to-recommend-to-others mark. 

31.  Love Walked In,  Marisa de los Santos
If you're looking for a story with an ending that'll make you feel warm & sappy, and don't mind a little language and what-not along the way, this is the Chick Flick in book for you.  I enjoyed it.

32.  The Kite Runner,  Kahled Hosseini
Another very compelling story by Kahled Hosseini.  I didn't love The Kite Runner like I did A Thousand Splendid Suns.  The content was more difficult for me to process, and even more heartbreaking to me, I think because this one involves the abuse of a child.  Still, an unforgettable story and beautiful writing.  I just picked up And the Mountains Echoed, which I look forward to reading in 2015.

33.  Big Stone Gap, Adriana Trigiani
My first Trigiani book, full of humor and quirky characters.  Ave Maria, voice of the story, awkwardly finds love in this small coal mining town, as well as a family in Italy she never knew she had.  The first in  a series of four books.

34.  Big Cherry Holler (Big Stone Gap #2)  Adriani Trigiani  
This installment begins 8 years after the last left off.  Ave Maria's loss of a child sets a more serious tone, and her marriage is in a rough place.  This segment of the story left me with some hangups.  Those hangups were satisfied by the end of the series.  For me, that was part of the lesson I took from these books: Patience. Commitment to things that matter.  Don't call it quits during a rough patch.  You might miss the best part. 

35.  Milk Glass Moon (Big Stone Gap #3)  Adriana Trigiani
Book 3 of the series focuses more on Ave Maria as a mother, as her daughter is on the verge of growing up.  The stories of all the folks from Big Stone Gap continue to weave into the whole. 

Home to Big Stone Gap (Big Stone Gap #4)  Adriana Trigiani
The final Big Stone Gap novel, I was satisfied with the conclusion this book was to the series.
Sometimes it occurred to me while reading that there wasn't much of a plot, more the telling of a life unfolding and the lessons along the way. 
I didn't find them riveting or thrilling, but each book grows more comfortable, like we
(hopefully) do with ourselves, and in our relationships over time. 

37.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,  Ransom Riggs
I didn't enjoy this book.  For starters, it contains murderous flesh-eating creatures, which aren't my thing at all.  I had a hard time finishing it, only to find the end is more of a beginning to the next book, which I had in my possession and opted not to read.  
However, the peculiar photos are interesting, and the cover and page design are attractive.

38.  The Wednesday Letters, Jason F. Wright
This is a story about the letters written by a husband to his wife every Wednesday for 39 years, and what their children learn from those letters after their parents' deaths. 
Side note: Ave Maria and Jack Mac (of the Big Stone Gap novels) write to each other once a year in an anniversary book.  I like both ideas.  Written words can be a treasure.

39.  Lucia, Lucia,  Adriana Trigiani
Set in
1950's New York City, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucia's story.  My favorite Trigiani novel so far. 

40.  *The Glass CastleJeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls' account of her dysfunctional upbringing..  T
hat this was a true story astounded me at times.  She tells the painful and sometimes ugly truth of her family life with grace and even humor.  And amazingly, without a hint of resentment toward her parents.. eccentrics who were unconventional at best, while mostly neglectful and irresponsible.  There is so much to discuss about this book!
Walls is proof that despite tangled roots, we can make the life we choose for ourselves.  A memoir worth reading. 

41.  Reconstructing Amelia
Kimberly McCreight
This was not a pleasant book for me to read, but as a parent raising kids in the age of social media and cell phones, an eye opening story.  More important than reading this book: If you are a parent, raise good people and guide them in our modern world with caution.   

42.  The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
Beau and I loved reading this chapter book aloud together over the course of a few evenings before bedtime.  The story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.. Filled with poetic narration of light and dark, and rich vocabulary (like perfidy and chiaroscuro.)  We adored the tiny hero Despereaux, and his wonderful, powerful, ridiculous love.  A fun tale to read aloud with a child.  "I honor you."  

43.  Rococo, Adriana Trigiani
My sixth Trigiani book of the year, and the first that struggled to hold my interest.  (Also the first narrated by a male main character.)
I'm not deterred though.. I look forward to reading her next book in my stack.

44.  One Million Lovely Letters, Jodi Ann Bickley
One Million Lovely Letters is the author's true story of being struck with a serious brain infection, her struggle to recover, and the idea/movement that came from it: to reach out to others in uplifting, lovely letters. 
Reading her story left me inspired to get out my favorite pens and write some lovely notes and letters, myself.  I do believe kindness and words make a difference.

45.  Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
A classic that I'd never read,
I can't say I liked nor loathed Of Mice and Men
I was left thinking that regardless of my enjoyment of his books, Steinbeck has a way of making me think about tricky things.  There isn't always a pleasant line between moral rights and wrongs.  

This was a likely candidate from my to-read shelf, since I was nearing the final days of 2014 and had a handful of books to go in order to hit my goal of 50.  I thought I might do it if I read thin ones, and this book is very thin!

Once completed, I decided 45 was a good number.  I had family and holidays to be present with, tend to, and enjoy.  And I have all of 2015 to read more books. 

In the coming year, I think I should do this one book at a time. 

If you have any books to "sell" I'd love to hear about them!


  1. i'm not much of a reader these years (besides too many blogs). glad you did really well on your goal. squeezing in time for it has got to be tough for you. :)

  2. I've read some of these books you've listed, but others I need to check out! Love your list, it's always a leap of faith to buy a book you know nothing about, so I appreciate the advice of others.

    I commute to work on a light rail train, 25 minutes each way, every day. It's a perfect time to read (and the only time I get to read each day). I have a Kindle and love it! Two of my faves last year were "The Boys on the Boat" and "Unbroken." If you're a history buff (and I am) I also like "Astoria." There are also two books by Heather Lende "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name" and "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs." Wonderful writer - she writes about her life in Haines, Alaska. Sorry for the long comment - you have touched on a subject I'm passionate about (well....besides skiing, hiking, photography.....)

  3. Great post, I definitely be checking out some of these books.. Thanks for sharing. Have a happy day and week ahead!

  4. Congrats on almost reaching your reading goal. I recognized some on the list, titles I may have passed on to you some time back. What surprised me about your list is that you actually finished reading the books you didn't like. For me if I'm feeling that way, I'll read the end to see if its worth plowing on. Usually it's not and I stop. I'm going to add some of your titles to my list to look for this year. Oh, and I have a Winspear book not of the Maisie Dobbs series waiting for me to read it: "The Care and Management of Lies". Right now I'm finishing up a book on archaeologists called Life in Ruins. It's very good.

    1. I read The Light Between Oceans thanks to you, Marcia! Thank you!

  5. 2 more book recommendations for you: 1) Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Woman who dresses as a man to fight in Civil War. 2) Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole - if you liked Guernesey Literary ... you'll like this one.

    1. I LOVED the Guernsey Literary PPS, it's one of my favorite books. Adding these to my list.

  6. Yea for reading 45 books in 2014, Amanda!

    As I glance through the titles I have read many of these books too. I will be back to check out your "sell" list as I am always looking for a good read.

  7. I had read all the books you had highlighted in red except one, the Glass Castle, so I immediately went over to the library website and put a hold on it. I'll have it next week for sure, since I'm number two in line with 16 copies available. Thank you for this wonderful retrospective of your 2014 reads, Amanda. I am an avid reader, too, but I think you have me beat for sure! :-)

    1. I hope you find it as interesting as I did, DJan!
      This may have been the most books I've read in a year. My goal was for roughly one per week. Some weeks are busier than others though!
      We'll see what 2015 brings. :)

  8. I admire the fact that you made time for reading with your busy family life. I adore reading and between blogs and books, I rarely watch tv anymore.

    1. We haven't had television signal in our house for over 6 years. I LOVE IT! :)

  9. Hope you realize that Adriana Trigiani is from my home town, don't you? I grew up in Big Stone Gap, VA..... They have just made the book, Big Stone Gap, into a movie --but it won't be released to the public until Spring.... Glad you now know more about 'my' hometown...


    1. I had no idea you grew up in Big Stone Gap, Betsy! That makes me smile!
      One of the things I considered keeping tabs on as I made my list was, how many of these books have been made into movies. There are quite a few! Though I haven't see any of them.
      I'd like to watch this one.

  10. I'm very impressed with the number (and variety) of books you read in 2014. Since Betsy grew up in Big Stone Gap, she's delighted you read that series.

    1. Thanks, George. I'm delighted to learn that she grew up there! :)

  11. Love the "sell the book" idea . . . Wish I was still a teacher, I would borrow this idea . . .
    You did very well "selling me" on some books. I have read some/many you have read . . .
    Uncle Tom's Cabin I have not read . . . I will in 2015!

  12. A thousand Splendid Suns is one of my favorite books . . .

  13. I attended a lecture led by Jeanette Walls . . . I loved this book which introduced me to her but I haven't been a fan of her others.

  14. Loved your book sales. A couple of them have been on my "to read" list for awhile. You just moved them closer to the top!!

  15. A lovely list of books!

  16. Wow, how did you find time to read all those books. I will read a few books and then not read again for months. "The Light Between Oceans" caught my eye.

    1. We don't have TV (at all!) so I think that frees up a lot of time for reading. I probably spent far less time reading than most people do watching television.
      50 books is less than one a week, which I thought was attainable for me. 45 works out to be one every 8-9 days. I almost always finish a book within a day or so of starting it, so sometimes there were many days between starting another. :)
      The Light Between Oceans was good!

  17. Thanks for your list of books...I listen to books instead of reading them and am always looking for more:)

  18. I cannot imagine a day without a book! Some of the books you listed I have read ( Glass Castle left me speechless) others not. The ones you highlighted would have been my choice as well. Thank you so much for introducing me to books I have not come across yet! Will need to do some shopping!

  19. I am so bad about reading books! I'll get in a reading mood and go through several in a row, then not pick anything up for years. You have inspired me to get back into it!

  20. I really enjoyed reading about the books you have read. What a great list. I had read the glass castle and found it amazing what they went through. I also read a Fault in our stars, I really liked it but it didn't live up to the hype. I just got the book Light between Oceans, but have been too busy too read it! Can't wait to start it. Have you ever read "Firefly Lane"? it is a pretty good book,

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!


  21. I'd rather be sewing...or looking for creative ideas but I know some like yourself, my eldest daughter and a local friend are passionate about books. Enjoy!

  22. Thank you for this post, Amanda - I am going to read the three books with a start this year! Starting with your number one on the list ... Books are treasures, tickets to distant paces across time - yes, I share with you the love book books. I look forward of hearing what books are on your list this year :)

  23. What a great list - thanks for posting. I've been reading, and thoroughly enjoying, your blog over the past year. We have a cabin near you and I like seeing your outdoor pictures and knowing if there's snow on the ground!
    There are a few books I read in 2014 that I would recommend:
    The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
    The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (I love anything by Sue Monk Kidd)
    Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline
    We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (YA novel that I read before my 15yo daughter)

  24. I enjoyed reading the Book Thief.

  25. If only every child has at least one Mrs Ferraro, they will be given a lifetime love of learning. You do your teacher proud, Amanda. I've read several of these books and will go looking for several more on my Kindle. I'm a voracious reader, sometimes going through 2 books a week. Reading is one of my greatest joys, starting when I was a preschool child and lasting to my present age of 70. Now, I try to instill the love of reading in my grandchildren.

  26. PS Amanda, I have page of book reviews on my blog. Have a look sometime if you want a few recommendations.

  27. Amanda! Thank you for including my book! I'm so honored to be a part of your list!

    My mom was doing some cleaning and just brought me a stack of books from their house, one of them was a reading group book from Mrs. Ferraro's class. She is awesome.

    I just started The Glass Castle the day before yesterday. I've had it for years and never read it. I read the first two pages on Friday and stopped-- I have a book deadline this week and I know if I read anymore I'm not going to get anything else done. Excited to really dive in as soon as I finish my draft.