Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Dog Year by Ann Wertz Garvin

The Dog YearThe Dog Year by Ann Wertz Garvin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Step inside The Dog Year and meet Dr. Lucy Peterman, a plastic surgeon struggling to navigate her life after losing her husband and unborn child. She copes by stealing hospital supplies and stockpiling them in her bedroom. Until she gets caught, and discovers she can't continue through life without help from friends.

Peopled with realistic human characters, The Dog Year contains many life lessons and a generous dose of humor, tempered with just the right amount of sadness.

Ann Garvin just might become your new favorite author. I'm lucky enough to possess a copy of The Dog Year signed by Ann herself--if you have a chance to hear her speak, do it!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a charming little sandwich book. AJ Fikry is a widower who lives above his bookstore and is slowly drinking himself to death when he meets a pretty young bookseller from one of his favorite publishers, suffers another loss, and then discovers a toddler left in his store with a note asking him to care for her. He ends up raising Maya in the bookstore, and strikes up a close friendship with a local police chief.

AJ is a lovable character after you get past his initial gruffness. He loves reading as much as a bookstore owner should, and each chapter begins with a brief note from him about a book he read. It's a story I'll remember for a long time.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great tome by Jojo Moyes!

What do you get when you throw a math genius, her gothic brother, their desperately optimistic mother, and their slobbering behemoth dog into a plush luxury car owned and driven by an arrogant executive recently charged with insider trading? One heck of a story! The math genius, Tanzie (short for Costanza, which, up until now, I thought was a piece of office furniture), is desperate to win the Maths Olympiad in Scotland so she can afford to attend the school of her choice. Jess,  her mother, has no car, no money and no prospects, but somehow remains fueled by hope. Tanzie's brother Nicky is Jess's estranged husband's son, but she raises him as her own. The owner of the luxury car, Ed, is one of Jess's clients--she cleans his house.

It's a study of humanity: our capacity for forgiveness, our belief in ourselves and our ability to make do with what we have.

I'll let you discover the rest of it as you go along. It's a great ride.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Financial Lives of the Poets

The Financial Lives of the PoetsThe Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jump in with both feet and read this witty, darkly comic tale of financial, moral and marital ruin. Matt Prior is a former newspaper reporter with a mortgage in forbearance (six days until eviction), two boys at a private school,  and a wife contemplating an affair, when he encounters a couple of potheads at the 7-11 store and gets sucked into their world. Oh, and his father is senile and has to live with them. The story is interspersed with poetry, which Matt aspired to write when he quit his reporting job and started a financial poetry business, inspired as he is by stock averages and the promise of high returns. My favorite line: This meeting is as predictable as coffin shopping.

Things go from bad to worse before the end of the book, but I won't wreck the ending for you here.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful Ruins was a suggested reading selection for the University of Wisconsin writers' workshop: Weekend With Your Novel, in Madison, WI November 14-16. If you write fiction, and you're within 12 hours of Madison, this workshop is worth your time.

This is the story of Dee Moray, an up-and-coming American actress, and Pasquale Tursi, owner of the struggling Hotel Adequate View in a crumbling town along Italy’s Cinque Terre coastline. It’s a story of paths not taken, of regret, of secrets, hidden agendas and delusions, and of the impact a few moments can have on an entire lifetime. The author, in an interview, describes Beautiful Ruins as “a multigenerational, multi-genre, multi-point-of-view book about 1960s Italy, present-day Hollywood, World War II, and the Donner Party”.

My favorite line in the book is one uttered by the least likable character, Hollywood Producer Michael Deane: “All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character—what we believe—none of it is real; it’s all part of the story we tell.”

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

A Grown-Up Kind of PrettyA Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A pot-boiler! I listened to this on my recent drive to Madison, Wisconsin to attend a writers' workshop and it kept me occupied the entire way (eight hours).

This story is told from multiple viewpoints: Big/Ginny, the 45-year-old grandmother; Little/Liza, the 30-year-old mother; and Mosey, the 15-year-old daughter and granddaughter. Liza has had a stroke, caused by extensive drug use in her extreme wild-child youth, and they all live together and take care of each other. Early in the book, a metal box is unearthed in the back yard. The box contains the bones of a newborn baby, along with a blanket and toy that Ginny recognizes. Liza can only make limited, garbled noises, so Ginny and Mosey separately try to find out what happened and if Liza was involved.

Each character is well-developed, and the story is intriguing, disturbing and realistic. It's a feel-good mystery/mother-daughter tale/coming of age story.  Enjoy!

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zelda Fitzgerald is someone for whom I never spared a thought.  Everyone knows she was selfish, jealous, shallow and more than a little crazy, right? Wrong! Therese Anne Fowler portrays Zelda as a smart, supportive wife with plenty of aspirations of her own. She was artistic and interested in women's rights (or lack thereof) and overcame some challenging personal struggles and health issues. She even wrote many of her own essays and books, some of which bore her husband's name! I felt page rage (similar to road rage) on Zelda's behalf when I read about the credit she deserved but never received.

I recently read The Paris Wife, which explores Hemingway's first marriage from his first wife's perspective; this is a nice follow-up book, as the timeline overlaps The Paris Wife, and then goes beyond it.

Zelda Fitzgerald was born before her time; if she were alive today, she'd be influencing our daughters.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm ready to hop on a plane to Paris. I only wish I could also travel back in time to those crazy years in the 1920s. What a whirlwind tale!

This is the story of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, to Hadley Richardson, and their joys and challenges during that time. I have always felt embarrassingly uninformed about Hemingway's life and writings, and this story really made him come alive in a very interesting way. The socializing with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the bulls in Pomplona, the trips all over Europe...what's not to like?  Well done, Ms. McLain!

I plan to read A Moveable Feast soon, which is Hemingway's story of those same years, written about 40 years later.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How far back can you remember? Can you trust your earliest recollections, or have they been colored by time, maturity, perspective, subsequent events, or listening to others telling stories? Maybe your memories aren’t yours at all; maybe they’re conjectures you’ve invented to allow yourself to function.

Rosemary tells her life story: father a Psychology professor at Indiana University, mother a housewife, older brother Lowell and twin sister Fern, who was somehow subtracted from her life at an early age. If you’re a reader who reads the backs of books, you’ll figure out quite quickly that Fern was a chimpanzee, and she was raised as Rosemary’s and Lowell’s sister as part of a psychological study sponsored by the University. Don’t let the chimpanzee aspect steer you away from this book—it’s well-written, and Rosemary’s narration is so compelling, you’ll find yourself reading as fast as you can while hoping the story doesn’t end too soon.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Still Life With Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread CrumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of course this is a 5-star book; does Anna Quindlen write any other kind?

This is the story of the self-reinvention of famed photographer Rebecca Winter. Divorced, alone, broke and dispirited, Rebecca sublets her beloved Manhattan apartment to make ends meet. She moves to a small town a couple of hours from the city and rents an old cottage. While there, she meets some locals, travels back to the city to visit her failing parents, has her son over for a visit, and does what she always does: takes photos of what she sees.

Quindlen's characters  are always personable and realistic, and Rebecca teaches us that it's okay to continually become who you are, whomever that might be at a given time.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest FamilyBurnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What's not to love here? Family, fishing, foibles and food are all part of this fabulous Michigan memoir that includes the recipes mentioned in the story. Kathleen Flinn, author of bookshelf-worthy reads The Sharper Your Knife The Less Your Cry and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, delivers yet another engrossing true story, and this one is set in Michigan (also my home state)!

I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you I laughed at the chicken coop tale and the streaking story, and I cried at one point...maybe two. Kathleen included family photos as well, captioned with quotes and other wise words from her parents and ancestors. This book is a celebration of family and an inspiring invitation to cook a grand yet simple meal to share with your loved ones.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Biology of Luck

The Biology of LuckThe Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part guided tour of America's greatest city, part love story, part character study, The Biology of Luck makes me want to return to NYC just to soak in the atmosphere. This is the story of Larry Bloom, certified NYC tour guide, dreamer, writer. Larry is looking forward to his date with Starshine Hart, and he has written a novel in which Starshine is the main character. You get a novel within a novel, some fabulously realistic characters, and enough vivid details to make you feel like you're walking through Gotham on a beautiful June day.

The author (a real NYC tour guide and psychiatrist) gave me a free copy of this book and asked for a review; I would purchase this book myself, and I'll watch for more works by this writer.  I'll also pass it around my book club to garner more feedback. Well done!

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Home Front

Home Front: A NovelHome Front: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of an incredibly strong woman learning to live with some weakness, some vulnerability, and some reliance on others.  Jolene is a black hawk pilot in the National Guard, and she's deployed, along with her best friend Tami, to Iraq.  The deployment occurs right after her husband tells her he no longer loves her and while her preteen daughter is treating her with typical disdain and disrespect.  She also has a four-year-old daughter and her husband, who will be a single parent during the year she'll be gone, is a criminal defense attorney who works 60-plus hours at his own law firm. There's a lot to the set-up, the history and the current situations of all of the characters, but I'll let each reader discover these elements for herself.

There are some twists and turns in the story, and there were several times I had to close the book and get a grip on my emotions before continuing.  Note, I am NOT usually emotionally affected like this!

This story is the best Kristin Hannah book I've read.  I have a new, more intense respect for, and a better understanding of, our service people.  Well done! 

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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I've read in a long time, from the first page to the last.  I listened to the Audible version, which was so well done, I didn't read a word in the paper version (although I have it, sitting right here).

The story starts with Theodore Decker, a thirteen-year-old boy, and his mother, on their way to a meeting with the principal to discuss Theo's latest transgression.  On the way there, they stop in the museum.  There's an explosion, and Theo's mother dies.  Theo remembers seeing a pretty girl seconds before the explosion, and he spends a dying old man's last moments with him, lying in the rubble. From there to the end, Theo's life is one grand adventure full of grief, friendship, massive amounts of drugs, good and bad decisions, and fortuitous circumstances that end up leading him full circle.

Theo lives and learns, and imparts his lessons to the reader. It's a fabulous, all-consuming, dive-in-able story, and if I didn't have a stack of 10 books to read on my shelf right now, I'd read it again.  Immediately.

I hope Donna Tartt is busy writing another novel...

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Harold Fry receives a card from former co-worker Queenie Hennesey telling him she's dying of cancer, he sets off on a 600-mile walk to see her.  He does this without a plan, a map, or a cell phone, in yachting shoes.  Harold is recently retired and exists with his wife in their home, in separate bedrooms for the past twenty years.

As he walks, Harold ruminates on his past and examines some of his regrets and choices, inspects his memories and stares into the cracks.  He encounters people, he learns how to eat roots and mushrooms, he learns how to tell which direction he's heading from the sun and the bark patterns on the trees. He evolves.

The writing is fantastic, and Harold's journey is inspiring.  He saves himself.  I won't ruin it for you by telling you whether or not he makes it to Queenie and what else happens along the way, but I will say this: the ending is not sad.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Bookworms Anonymous Volume Two: Win a FREE copy!


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Bookworms Anonymous Volume Two by Jan Stafford Kellis



          Bookworms Anonymous Volume Two

          by Jan Stafford Kellis


            Giveaway ends February 28, 2014.
            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.

      Enter to win

Bookworms Anonymous

It's here!

You can find your copy on  

The women are gathered again! Bookworms Anonymous is a non-traditional reading group established in 2000, comprised of seven women in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They meet monthly to share a gourmet vegetarian meal and discuss and swap books. Part memoir, part cookbook and part celebration of words and reading, Bookworms Anonymous Volume II contains many of the same things found in Volume I: reading group meetings, anecdotes, book reviews and recipes. "A love letter to reading, beautifully rendered, and with all the warmth and fun and closeness of your favorite book club on that perfect meeting night." - Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers and Crashing Through "A warm celebration of two of life's most vital ingredients--books and friendships." - Ellen Airgood, author of South of Superior and Prairie Evers

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bookworms Anonymous Volume II

Coming Soon:  Bookworms Anonymous Volume Two!

If you enjoyed the first volume, you'll love this one!  

Part memoir, part cook book, part love letter to reading, Bookworms Anonymous Volume Two allows the reader to attend meetings of everyone's favorite book club.  Enjoy more book reviews, more recipes and an updated list of Bookworms Anonymous Stamp of Approval books.

Watch for it on, available on or before February 7, 2014. 

Don't just sit there, read!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

BunheadsBunheads by Sophie Flack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book on the recommendation of the Curtis (Michigan) Library Reading Group, and it was fantastic!  The story takes you into the inner workings of a ballet company in Manhattan.  Hannah Ward, the main character, is nineteen years old and has been with the company for 5 years already.  Hannah is dedicated to ballet, but she struggles with the singular focus required to continue to improve her dance.

This is a fascinating look into a world most of us never see.  Great book!

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Me Before You

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the diner where Louisa Clark works closes and she loses her job, she tries a few unpalatable positions (including one at a chicken factory) before finding a position as a caretaker for a quadraplegic man.  Will Traynor had led a big life before he was hit by a motorcycle and all but died.  He's resentful of the remnants of his life, and hates relying on others for every aspect of his care.  Louisa gradually warms to him, and this is the tale of their relationship.

It's also the story of Louisa's family and their various relationships, and of her boyfriend and how she fits in (or doesn't) with his circle of friends. It's about loners and dreamers and hope and fear.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lone Wolf

Lone WolfLone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a Jodi Picoult...what can I say?  It's engrossing, has multiple narrators with interesting personalities, and it finishes with a satisfying ending.

Luke Warren enjoys a minor celebrity status for his enthusiastic wolf studies, which include living with the wolves in the wild as well as raising a wolf pack at his own park, where people can come and watch him interact with them in an enclosed fence.  Known for being larger than life, Luke has just survived a car accident only to be trapped in his own body in a vegetative state.  His daughter, also in the car at the time of the accident, suffered a shattered shoulder.  His son, estranged for the past six years and living in Thailand, hops on the first flight home.  His ex-wife, now re-married and the mother of twins with her second husband, struggles to help everyone maintain all tenuous familial relationships.  The question is: Who should decide whether or not to pull the plug?  Luke's son wants to pull the plug; his daughter wants to wait until Luke heals, whether that takes twenty days or twenty years.

I learned a lot about the psychology of wolves and wolf packs, and cheered for each character as I discovered their individual motivations.  There's courtroom drama, family drama, teen angst, secrets revealed...all the good stuff is in here.

It's a thick book that reads so fast you won't believe it.  Enjoy!

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