Tag: Backlist Books

Backlist Beauties: The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

October 10, 2017 Book Lists 21

Since my Fall reading has been so lackluster, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the best backlist books I’ve read in 2017 so far. When new releases aren’t working for you…dive into the backlist for some relief!

I always say I’m going to make more time for backlist titles and, every year, I don’t follow through. My goal is to read enough additional backlist titles by the end of the year to warrant another Backlist Beauties post!

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The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeBooks for Living by Will Schwalbe
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 27, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.

My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. And, I’m now in the process of reading a couple books Schwalbe talked about in Books for Living (What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). This book would be a fantastic gift for serious readers or someone who is reflecting a bit on life. 

Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Fiction – Thriller / Sci-Fi (Released July 26, 2016)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: After college physics professor Jason Dessen is abducted at gunpoint one night, he awakens in another world.

My Thoughts: Despite the hype, I avoided this book for quite awhile because I’m decidedly NOT into sci-fi. But, Dark Matter is sci-fi like The Martian (my review) is sci-fi (i.e. it has broad appeal). There’s definitely some science in it, but the story is deeply human and is more about life choices than the science. The story begins with a “WTF is going on here” vibe reminiscent of The Beautiful Bureaucrat (my review). I had no idea what was going on for awhile, but could not stop reading. Dark Matter is a page-turner in the purest sense…with an action-level on par with an episode of 24

No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Fiction (Released May 3, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A multi-generational family saga of the impact of depression and mental illness on a family.

My Thoughts: Incredibly sad, but poignant, this 2016 National Book Award Long-Lister is beautifully written and captures the frustration, resentment, and crushing sense of responsibility and worry that come with having a family member who suffers from mental illness. While extended sections from Michael’s perspective are hard to read and nonsensical at times with long tangents on esoteric music, they serve a distinct purpose (allowing the reader inside mind of someone suffering from depression). And, the second half flows beautifully toward the inevitable, yet still drama-filled conclusion.

There is no getting better. There is love I cannot bear, which has kept me from drifting entirely loose. There are the medicines I can take that flood my mind without discrimination, slowing the monster, moving the struggle underwater, where I then must live in the murk. But there is no killing the beast. Since I was a young man, it has hunted me. And it will hunt me until I am dead. The older I become, the closer it gets.

Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake by Anna QuindlenLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
182 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Random House)

Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!

My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read!

Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward: We are good parents, not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us.

Mothering Sunday by Graham SwiftMothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Historical Fiction (Released April 26, 2016)
177 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Knopf)

Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.

My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all (maybe also because I’m not a romance fan). It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from the Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey.

It was called “relaxation,” she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid’s vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid’s vocabulary. Even the word “vocabulary.” She gathered them up like one of those nest-building birds outside. And was she even a maid any more, stretched here on his bed? And was he even a “master”? It was the magic, the perfect politics of nakedness. More than relaxation: peace.

One True Thing by Anna QuindlenOne True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Fiction (August 30, 1994)
315 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Random House)

Plot Summary: Ellen Gulden returns home from her prestigious job as a New York City journalist to care for her mother as she’s dying of cancer…only to be accused her mercy killing.

My Thoughts: I’m a bit late to the Anna Quindlen party, but she’s fast becoming a go-to author for me whenever I’m craving some “life lessons/perspective” in my reading. She just gets life…especially marriage, motherhood, and women’s work/life balance. One True Thing explores the relationship between Ellen (an ambitious career woman) and her mother (a Stepford-style stay-at-home mother) and their efforts to understand each other as people before it’s too late. This novel is heartfelt, sad, moving, and thought-provoking and reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton (a novel about a mother and daughter getting to know each other during a hospital stay) and Home is Burning (a memoir about children serving as caregivers for their parents). 

But in the end what was important was not that we had so misunderstood one another, but that we had so misunderstood her, this woman who had made us who we were while we barely noticed it.

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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

September 12, 2017 Book Lists 25

Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging


Last week was all about books I didn’t like, but we’re flipping the coin this week. There are so many books that I adored years ago, way before I started blogging, that I don’t talk about much here.

So, today I’m going to spotlight 12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

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12 Books I Loved Before I Started Blogging

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I honestly haven’t read much John Irving since I started this blog, but he still remains one of my all-time favorite authors and Owen Meany is my favorite book of his. It’s on my all-time favorites list and is due for a re-read!

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
I love fiction that’s inspired by real people and this one had me all kinds of curious about the inner life of Laura Bush.

Another City, Not My Own and anything else by Dominick Dunne
Dunne is the man responsible for getting me started reading about “wealthy people behaving badly” with his nonfiction about wealthy and/or famous people in criminal situations. I loved his snark, his tenacity in taking down prominent people who took advantage of being prominent, his gossipy tidbits…and his Vanity Fair column. RIP Mr. Dunne.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy
My love for Pat Conroy began when I was pretty young and I read all my favorite books by him before I started this blog. Beach Music is one of the few that I haven’t re-read in the past five years and I’m due. I also have a slight concern that it won’t hold up for me…luckily, my cousin is test-driving it as we speak!

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis
Awhile back, Michael Lewis was one of my all-time favorite authors. He can make the most mundane financial stories riveting and is a master at clearly explaining complicated financial concepts so non-finance nerds (like me!) can understand. In Boomerang, he investigates how the 2000’s real estate bubble and 2008 crash impacted various foreign countries. He melds finance and hilarious studies of each country’s culture into what I think is his most entertaining book! Sadly, his latest two books (Flash Boys and The Undoing Project) have missed the mark for me.

My Life in France by Julia Child
I used to read a ton of food / cooking memoirs before I started blogging and this was one of my favorites. Julia’s booming personality shines through and I enjoyed reading about the period when she first fell in love with food.

No Angel and The Spoils of Time Series by Penny Vincenzi
The British Spoils of Time series are juicy, multi-generational, historical fiction sagas that are full of drama. These were my guilty pleasure reading way back when!

Philistines at the Hedgerow : Passion and Property in the Hamptons by Steven Gaines
Rich people real estate porn set in the Hamptons. Similar to Michael Gross, but without the crushing, excruciating detail.

The Charm School by Nelson DeMille
Another of my old-school favorite authors! The Charm School is one of his more unique books and it made me wonder if something like The Charm School might have actually existed in the USSR during the Cold War. Bonus: DeMille has a new book (The Cuban Affair) coming out on September 19th!

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
This was the first book that introduced me to Stephen L. Carter’s political thrillers. His books are page-turning thrill rides, but they’re smart and throw in a fascinating look into upper crust, Harlem society. I went on to read four more of his books, including Back Channel most recently.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Believe it or not, I knew nothing about all the hype surrounding this book when I read it. I just wasn’t plugged into the book world back then. It blew me away. I went on to find out that it blew most everyone else away too. 

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
I remember picking up this coming of age memoir on a complete whim, knowing nothing about it. It’s stuck with me and introduced me to J.R. Moehringer’s writing, which is right up my alley.

What are some of your old favorites?

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Backlist Beauties: (Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

January 19, 2017 Book Lists 18

One of my 2016 goals was to read more backlist books since I had great success with the few I read in 2015 (50% were 4.5 or 5 star reads). As I approached 2016’s halfway mark, I realized this was the one goal where I was utterly failing to make inroads! So, to keep me honest, I decided to briefly highlight a few backlist books in an occasional “Backlist Beauties” feature.

Here’s the 2016 crop (with one missing, which was so good it’s getting it’s own mini review) and, hopefully, I’ll read enough excellent backlisters throughout 2017 to warrant more than one post!

(Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

Our Souls at Night, Kent HarufOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Fiction (Released May 26, 2015)
179 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

Our Souls at Night is a sweet, calm, and uncomplicated novel about two older people (Louis and Addie) who stopped caring what everyone else thought and did what they needed to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, which I happened to be listening to while reading this book. This novel reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton, as much of the story and background on the characters is revealed through conversations between Louis and Addie.

I told you I don’t want to live like that anymore – for other people, what they think, what they believe. I don’t think it’s the way to live. It isn’t for me anyway.

Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Fiction (Released June 3, 2014)
286 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

This powerful book about the life of immigrants living in the U.S. is initially quiet, but I couldn’t put it down towards the end. It forces the reader to see life in America through a different set of eyes. There’s lots to chew on here and it would make a fantastic book club selection.

When I walk down the street, I don’t want people to look at me and see a criminal or someone that they can spit on or beat up. I want them to see a guy who has just as much right to be here as they do, or a guy who works hard, or a guy who loves his family, or a guy who’s just trying to do the right things.

 

This is the story of a happy marriage, Ann PatchettThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper) 

Pat Conroy is one of the rare authors whose fiction and nonfiction I’ve truly enjoyed. Now that he’s gone, Ann Patchett might be taking his place (thanks to his recommendation in A Lowcountry Heart). She covers the gamut of topics in this essay collection: marriage (obviously), divorce, writing, book tours, opera (the only low point for me), friendship, how to be productive, and the story behind the opening of Parnassus Books. She lives an interesting, yet fairly normal life and I like her outlook on things.

What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God you’re ever going to get. All of the decisions are yours. You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a car. You have to make all the trees and all the leaves and then sew the leaves onto the trees. You make the entire world.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction (Released July 10, 2012)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Vintage/Random House Audio) 

In this compilation of columns from her time as the Dear Sugar advice columnist for The Rumpus, Strayed blends empathy, truth, bluntness, and humor to form a perfect blend of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and useful, non-judgmental advice about how to live it. I’m not an advice column type of person or an audiobook lover, but the audio version of this book (narrated by the author) earned 5 stars from me.

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

You Are An Ironman, Jacques SteinbergYou Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 15, 2011)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Gift (Publisher: Viking) 

The intertwined stories of six amateur triathletes’ attempts to complete Ironman Arizona 2009 (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), a race that can last as long as 17 hours. A friend gave me this book after learning I was competing in a Sprint Triathlon and I figured I’d peek at a few pages, but probably not read the whole thing. Boy, was I wrong! I teared up within the first 50 pages and was thoroughly inspired by the stories of these regular people attempting an extraordinary feat. 

The road to an Ironman truly begins with someone deciding to place one hand in front of the other in a pool, or one foot before the other on a fast-walk that might progress into a jog or a run.

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The Best of My 2015 Backlist Reading

December 22, 2015 Annual "Best Books" Lists 29

I don’t normally read a ton of backlist books and this year was no exception. Every year, I say I will make more time for older gems, but seem to find myself enticed by all the shiny new releases. But, my stats tell me some of my best reading comes from the backlist. I read ten backlist books this year and half of them were either 4.5 or 5 star reads. There is no other category of reading that has that kind of success ratio for me. So, 2016, I swear you will include more backlist books!

I still plan to fit in at least one more backlist title before the year is out, but I’ll just include it on next year’s Best of the Backlist if it’s up to snuff!

The Best of My 2015 Backlist Reading

Best Backlist of 2015


The Dinner
 by Herman Koch (review)
Best Social Commentary

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Best World-Creating

Biggest “WTF is Going On Here” Feeling
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (review)
Best Investigative Journalism

Best Look Into an Unfamiliar Culture
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (review)
Best Book About Marriage

Most Gorgeous Writing
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (review)
Best Life Lessons

Most “Good and Pure” Character
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon