Sunday, December 29, 2019

My Favorite Fiction Reads of 2019...

I read a lot of good books this year in many different genres, so many there's no way I could list them all in one post. So I decided to narrow my list to just the top ten instead. Which was still hard. Because how do you choose one book over another when they're both really good? But I did my best. Here they Top Ten Reads of 2019 (Drum roll, please!):

(I loved this entire series!)

(AND the two books that follow it!)

What were your favorite reads this year?
Here's hoping for even more great reads in 2020!

Happy New Year...and Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Last the best!

I read several good nonfiction books this year:  It's All A Game: The History of Board Games From Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, Obsessive Genius (about Marie Curie), 1776, Educated, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, and The Lost City of the Monkey God. But The Operator by Robert O'Neill is by far the best.

It's a fascinating chronicle, not just of O'Neill's personal journey from Butte, Montana to being a key member of the SEAL team that found and killed Osama bin Laden, but of the Navy SEALS themselves. No wonder these men are so remarkable: their training, teamwork, and "never quit" attitudes are unmatched. They're the ones called in to do the things no one else can do. And after reading this book, I respect them and their valor, unflinching sacrifices, and mad skills even more.
"I would learn that in a gunfight the combination of adrenaline, muscle memory, and super-human focus leaves no psychic space for fear. I wasn't shutting it out. There was just no room for it."
O'Neill himself enlisted in the Navy in 1995, became a SEAL in 1996, and participated in more than 400 combat missions between then and 2012, including the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates and firing the shots that killed bin Laden. But he'd probably tell you he's no hero; he was just doing his job--being a Navy SEAL.
"...we were always joking around and high spirited. We were on a mission we believed in, doing something very few in the world could do as well as we could. And we had absolute faith in and love for everyone on our team. When we called each other brothers, we meant it."

This is such a great read! I loved it.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Wishing you all peace, light, and joy this Christmas season!
Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas-y Haiku Reviews....

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

It's all in the family
when cantankerous old Simeon Lee is
murdered on Christmas Eve.

Mystery .... 271 pages .... 4/5 stars.
(It's Agatha Christie...need I say more?)

A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson

A Maine town charms a
single mom and her son when they inherit
an old beach cottage.

Christmas novella/Romance .... 167 pages .... 3.5/5 stars.
(Cute story, but the ending felt rushed and just a little too neat.)

The Christmas Trespassers by Andrew J. Fenady

Three orphans disrupt
Shad Parker's plans for a quiet
Christmas. (As do some bank robbers.)

Western .... 306 pages .... 3.5/5 stars.
(I liked this one; I just wish the author had focused more on the three orphans and Shad and less on the bank robbers and townspeople of Gilead, Texas.)

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dear Santa,

My first wish for Christmas is this 24-day Around the World Trip in a private jet with National Geographic--visiting Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, the Ngorongoro Crater, Petra and Marrakech. It's only $90.000. I know it's expensive...but you are Santa. And I have been a very good girl this year! Still, if that's too much, how about this book instead:

(See Nadia's review of it here.)

My second Christmas wish is this turquoise blue Mini Cooper convertible. Isn't it cute? And I'd look so good in it! I know it won't fit under the tree, but you could leave it in my driveway instead. (Pretty please!)

But, if that's asking too much, I'll settle for any of these simple stocking stuffers instead:

πŸŽ„ Christmas PEEPS...any flavor.

(Did you know there's an Official PEEPS website?
Check it out; it's kind of awesome.)

πŸŽ… Katie Ruggle's latest release Risk It All.
(I know it doesn't come out until December 31st, but I'll wait.)

πŸŽ„ This bookish keychain would also be perfect for me...
(Don't you just love the quote?)

πŸŽ… Book Love by Debbie Tung would also fit nicely in my Christmas stocking!

πŸŽ„ Or these bookish earrings might be fun...

πŸŽ… I like this dragonfly notebook and this dragonfly necklace, too...
(because, you know, I really like dragonflies.)

πŸŽ„Also, a gift card in any amount to ANY bookstore would be appreciated.
(I promise, this is one gift card that would NOT go to waste.)

πŸŽ… And last, but not least, you know how much I LOVE Sees soft center Chocolates...
(A gift which would go to my waist, but they're so good, I just don't care.)

So, there you have 2019 Christmas wishlist. Won't you see what you can do?
Thanks, Santa!

Wishfully yours, Lark

Monday, December 16, 2019

Another British Library Crime Classic...

A locked train compartment.
A mysterious red light in the Blackdown Tunnel.
A gun under the seat.
A missing ticket stub.
Sir Wilfred Saxonby found dead.
Was it suicide....or murder?

"If you find a man dead in a locked railway carriage, with the weapon which killed him within a couple of feet, the suggestion of suicide is bound to be pretty strong. But, all the same, there are certain objections to the suicide theory ....  We don't know enough about Saxonby and his affairs. We may find that he had a reasonable and sufficient motive for committing suicide. It is equally possible that we find that somebody had a reasonable and sufficient motive for killing him."
So begins Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard's investigation into Sir Wilfred's death. There are a lot of questions to answer, but each answer only leads Inspector Arnold to more questions. And more suspects. I'm glad it wasn't up to me to figure this mystery out; I had no clue as to who did what, or why. Arnold and his friend, Desmond Merrion, an amateur criminologist, did a very good job of ferreting out every last detail of the crime. I enjoyed the way this mystery unfolded piece by piece. I thought it was very reminiscent of those puzzling murders that Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot seems to figure out so easily. Miles Burton's Death in the Tunnel is both well-written and entertaining. It's not exactly a suspenseful page-turner, but I liked it all the same. It was well worth the 25¢ I paid for it at the library's used book sale last year.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

2019 Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap Up...

There were twelve categories in this year's Back to the Classics Challenge (which is hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate). It's one of my favorite reading challenges because I love a good classic. I managed to read books in eight of the categories. I'd hoped to complete ten, but even though I own books that fit the Tragic Novel and Very Long Classic categories, I ran out of oomph before I managed to read either one. Oh, well. There's always next year. Here are the eight classics that I did read this year, and the categories they fill:

19th Century Classic:

20th Century Classic:

Classic by a Woman Author:

Classic in Translation:

Classic Comic Novel:

Classic Novella:

Classic From a Place You've Lived:

Classic Play:

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

The plot in brief:  First she gets laid off. Then she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend. Now Jules Larsen is both broke and homeless. So when she sees an ad to be an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, the setting of her favorite childhood book, Heart of a Dreamer, and one of Manhattan's most exclusive, glamorous, and infamous buildings, it feels like an answer to her prayers. Even better? They're going to pay her $4000 a month just to live there. Of course, she jumps at the chance. Who wouldn't? But is it too good to be true? Is her dream apartment really a nightmare in disguise?

Some of the Bartholomew's other inhabitants:
LESLIE EVELYN--the woman who keeps life at the Bartholomew running smoothly; she's the one who interviews all the apartment sitters and informs them of the rules for living there--the rules she also enforces.
GRETA MANVILLE--the reclusive author of Heart of a Dreamer; she grew up at the Bartholomew in 12A, the apartment where Jules is now staying, and though Jules would love to chat with her, she's not the friendliest of neighbors.
INGRID GALLAGHER--the young, fun apartment sitter living below Jules in 11A. Her sudden departure in the middle of the night is what makes Jules start to ask dangerous questions about the Bartholomew and its inhabitants.
DR. NICK--the rich and handsome surgeon who's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all lived at the Bartholomew before him. He's a legacy.
MARIANNE DUNCAN--a former soap opera star, and her dog, RUFUS.
DYLAN--another apartment sitter; he knows more about the former occupant of 12A than he's willing to admit.
CHARLIE--the helpful and friendly doorman.

My thoughts:
You know right from the start that something isn't right at the Bartholomew, you just don't know what the dark truth is. And it's that mystery, and Sager's excellent writing, that kept me reading late into the night. Jules is one of those characters that is easy to like. She's engaging and determined. I totally understood why she jumped at the chance to apartment sit. (For that kind of money, I would have jumped at the chance, too.) I also got why she was so invested in finding out what happened to Ingrid, a person she just met. It all goes back to her own sister who disappeared years ago and was never found. As for the mystery itself? The deep dark secret of the Bartholomew is one I never would have guessed! I thought it was both creepy and compelling. And talk about a suspenseful ending! For me, this book is a definite must-read. Of course, Melody, who buddy read this book with me, has a slightly different opinion of this one. Be sure to check out her review and see what she thinks!

Happy Reading!

Melody's questions....and my answers:
Q. What do you like or dislike about the Bartholomew? 
A. My favorite part of the Bartholomew was all the gargoyles and Jules' view from apartment 12A. I love gargoyles and would love to live in a building where I had a stone gargoyle guarding my balcony. My least favorite part? The small, creaky elevator, and all the rich, snobby people who live there. I would not want any of them for my neighbors. 

Q. What do you think happened to Jules' sister, Jane?
A. I'm not really sure. We only know that she willingly got into someone's car after work one day and then was never seen again. Something bad must have happened to her after that though, because I don't think she'd would have let Jules bear the burden of their parents' deaths alone. I think she's probably dead.

Sager's other books:

The Last Time I Lied Review
Final Girls Review

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Wrapping up the 2019 Backlist Reader Challenge:

The goal:  read books from your existing TBR pile or TBR list.

This challenge, hosted by  Lark at The Bookwyrm's Hoard, is always a fun one because it pushes me to read the books I already own--all those books that have been gathering dust on my bookshelves for years now. I didn't have a set goal when I started this challenge last January, although I was kind of hoping to read at least one TBR a month. Did I reach my goal? Not quite. But I did manage to read ten books off my own TBR shelf this year...and I'm good with that. 

Here are the 10 books from my TBR shelf that I read this year:

They were all decent reads, but my two favorites were definitely When the Power is Gone and The Crawling Darkness. But then you know how much I like EMP survival and haunted house books.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

From the E Shelf...

Author:  Aaron Elkins
Title:  A Long Time Coming

First line:  "My name is Val Caruso and I'm a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have been having one hell of a day, and I don't mean in a good way."

It was the cover of this one that first caught my eye. Then, when I saw that the story involved a Holocaust survivor, two Renoir paintings, looted art, a trip to Italy, mystery and murder, I knew I had to check it out. And I'm glad I did. I enjoyed the way this story unfolded from Caruso agreeing to do a favor for a friend, to Sol Bezzecca's story of his great grandfather's two Renoir paintings and how they were stolen during World War II, to the quirky characters Caruso meets in Milan as he tries to get one of the paintings back for Sol. Throw a little art theft and murder into the mix and the story gets even more interesting. This book is a well-plotted and entertaining mystery. I especially liked all the art history bits. And Caruso, or Tino as he's called in Italy, is a very likeable character. This was another serendipitous library find. I'm so glad I found it. Aaron Elkins is an author I'd definitely read again.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

December's Bookish Art...

August Macke -- Elizabeth With Colorful Book

"A book is a dream that you hold in your hands."
--Neil Gaiman

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Survive this!

Title & Author:  Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson
Genre:  YA Adventure
Setting:  Alaska

How it begins:  "All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline. they claw the ground in frustration as the loudspeaker blares. 'Here's team number five. Our hometown girl, fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord!'"

What happens next:  Victoria is still grieving the death of her father who taught her everything she knows about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. Her dogs and mushing are what she loves most...and what help her survive her overwhelming grief. So when she gets a chance to acquire a new lead dog from a neighboring musher, she heads out cross-country with her sled and her dogs without telling anyone where she's going. Only she forgets to check the forecast. When a sudden March storm threatens, she debates about turning around and heading back home. But then she runs across a crashed snowmobile. The driver, Chris, is a teenager who's new to Alaska; he's hurt, and he's lost. As the storm worsens, it's up to Vicky and her dogs to keep them both alive...and somehow find their way back home.

My thoughts:  At 279 pages, Ice Dogs is a fun and fast-paced adventure. I read it in a day. Vicky's survival skills were impressive, but the Alaskan wild is unpredictable and dangerous. Finding food, staying warm, and protecting her dogs from wolves and moose takes everything Vicky's got. And Chris's lack of outdoor skills isn't exactly helping (especially when he accidentally burns up her only map). I have to admit, while I liked both these characters, Vicky's lead dog, Bean, was my favorite. I liked all the survival bits, too. Johnson's writing rings with authenticity, especially all the dog sledding parts, and her pacing never lets up.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude should be expressed much more often than once a year, 
but I for one am glad there's one holiday that reminds us to stop and give thanks.

Here are a few of the things I'm most grateful for this year:

Game nights
Beautiful mountain trails
Blue skies and sunshine
Enough to eat
A warm place to sleep
Letters in the mail
Homemade cookies
Good books, bubble baths, and cute boots
Family & Friends
Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness!

Enjoy some turkey and a piece of pumpkin pie and have a very happy day of Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Would Like To Meet by Rachel Winters

A brief summary: Evie Summers is 29 and living in London. She once dreamed of becoming a screenwriter; instead, she's been a lowly agent's assistant for the last seven years. And now, in order to save her job, she has to convince arrogant Ezra Chester to actually finish the screenplay he's been promising her boss for the last year. Only Ezra claims romantic comedies are unrealistic and completely beneath him. (Evie suspects he has writer's block.) To help him out, she offers to reenact those meet-cute scenes from her favorite rom-com movies to order to prove to him people really can fall in love like they do in the movies. Only so far it isn't working. She's spilled orange juice on a stranger, attended a book group, and even gotten her heel stuck in a sewer grate in the hopes a handsome stranger will rescue her. The results? Public humiliation and failure. And Ezra still isn't writing. What is she going to do?

My thoughts:  There is a lot to like about this book! It's entertaining and humorous and it has that happy "ahh" moment at the end. Evie's attempts to recreate her favorite meet-cute movie moments made me smile, especially when those moments came from some of my own favorite romantic comedies. My favorite parts were Evie's interactions with single dad, Ben, and his seven-year-old daughter, Anette, who witness several of her less-than-successful attempts to meet a cute guy. The way her friends cheer her on through their group texts was also fun. And what happens on the red carpet and at her friend's wedding totally made me laugh. I do wish Evie had stood up to her boss and Ezra more often, because neither one deserved her help or loyalty, but I was glad she finally stood up for herself at the end. It's hard to put a fresh spin on a romantic comedy, but Winters manages to do it well. Of course, the happy ending was completely predictable, but I thought it was cute and very satisfying. All in all, I'd give this one 4 stars.

Happy Reading!

P.S. I won a free copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Happy 200th Birthday, George Eliot!

Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819. She grew up in Warwickshire, England and moved to London in 1851 where she met George Henry Lewes. Though they never married, she and Lewes lived openly together for 24 years, a daring move in Victorian times. More importantly, Lewes encouraged Mary Ann's writing. Under the name George Eliot, she published her first novel in 1859. Five more classics followed. Eliot became the foremost woman novelist of her day. She died in 1880 at the age of 61.

George Eliot in Love by Brenda Maddox is an excellently written biography of this amazing writer. It details the most important moments in her life and gives you a sense of what kind of person she was. I really liked it, almost as much as I love these three favorite novels by Eliot, and these favorite quotes:

"Love once, love always."

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."

"And, of course, men know best about everything, 
except what women know better."

"It will never rain roses: when we want to have 
more roses, we must plant more roses."

Happy Reading!