Better Late Than Never: My Best Books of 2020

Even though 2020 might not have been the best year of our lives, there was no dearth of enthralling titles to keep us occupied over the year. Following is a selection of titles I especially enjoyed but check here for the complete printable list with annotations.

During the first few chapters of Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, I thought I was reading a suspenseful story of an AirBnB stay gone wrong but that wasn’t the case. The unsettling story of two couples grappling with unknown events became much more than that. Some readers have loved it and some have hated it not seeing the point (and I admit it wasn’t particularly clear) but these are the kinds of books that make for a great discussion.

My favorite novel of the year is the fascinating The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. Based on the real life event of Agatha Christie’s 11-day disappearance in 1926, the story is told from the viewpoints of Agatha and her husband who narrate the story of how and why she managed to pull it off along with a few twists along the way.

For more insight into Agatha’s story (along with other exposés of other real-life authors’ scandalous lives), get a copy of Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Reardon.

Crime Fiction

If you’re looking for something to keep you on the edge of your couch, any of the following will take care of your needs.

The Guest List was a compelling gothic-tinged mystery set on a remote Irish island featuring the wedding of two celebrities and an array of suspicious guests. And then the storm rolled in…

If you’re looking for a simple procedural murder mystery, try Matt Goldman’s Nils “Shap” Shapiro series. Most are set in Minnesota although in Dead West, Nils travels to Los Angeles to solve a mystery. Readers who miss Sue Grafton may wish to give this series a try, and if so, start with Gone to Dust.

Even though the ending left me a little puzzled, I loved Alice Feeney’s mind-bending, Sometimes I Lie, and her follow-up, I Know Who You Are, also kept me in suspense. Her third book, His and Hers, is told from three viewpoints with twists galore and the suspense didn’t let up until the very last page.

In Julie Clark’s The Last Flight, two strangers meet in an airport and decide to switch identities, each taking a different flight. But one of the planes crashes killing all aboard, which sets a path of mayhem for the survivor. One might be tempted to take this on a long plane trip but trust me, this is best read while on the ground, preferably in your back yard.


It was a good year for narrative nonfiction, especially memoirs. Here are a few of my favorites.

I love books about adventure and Roman Dial’s The Adventurer’s Son was both gripping and moving. The first half of the book focused on Roman Dial’s epic experiences and the second half chronicled his family’s exhaustive search of their son who disappeared in Costa Rica. This is perfect for those who liked Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

During the height of the lockdown last spring, I read Peggy Rowe’s About Your Father and it was the perfect uplifting book for the time. Peggy Rowe, Mike Rowe’s (of Dirty Jobs fame) 82-year-old mother, channeled her inner Erma Bombeck and wrote a wonderful homage to married and family life complete with heartfelt observations about growing older.

Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting was one of my favorite memoirs of the year. Although born around royalty (Princess Margaret was a good friend), Glenconner’s life wasn’t all silver spoon-ish. Her married and family life had many tragedies but despite it all she kept her sense of humor. The most interesting part of the memoir was the story of how she and her husband developed the island of Mustique, which became a celebrity destination.

I adore a good tell-all about any business and even though I can’t remember the last time I was in a bar, the story of building a trendy speakeasy from scratch was fascinating. In Unvarnished, Eric Alperin writes in minute detail how he developed bar Varnish from the ground up and includes a huge amount of cocktail recipes. Try this is you liked Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr examines life behind the fish counter at Whole Foods market, how a new food product makes it to the grocery store shelf, the origination and development of Trader Joe’s, the slave labor of harvesting shrimp in Asia, plus more. This was a wee bit dry in places but you’ll never look at grocery shopping in quite the same way. If you want to learn even more about how grocery stores operate, try Michael Ruhlman’s Grocery.

Do you ever drop off donations to the local Goodwill store thinking they will all appear on that store’s shelves in a few days? Probably not going to happen. They could be on their way to Mexican secondhand stores or even overseas. Adam Minter’s Secondhand also gets a little too detailed at times but the journey of where our used goods go is very informative. [When we were in Arizona, we would see almost daily a rickety truck piled high with used mattresses heading south to be sold in Mexico, and turns out that is one of the top imports from the US to Mexico.]

Terry Virts isn’t exactly a household name but he sure knows his space travel! I was fascinated by all of the nitty gritty details about training, traveling, and living in space he packed into How To Astronaut. This is the perfect for curious minds that want to know the “no-holds-barred” scoop about “going” in space.

This is going to be a fabulous year for books from Oregon authors and I’ll be highlighting a batch in my next post.

COPYCAT JACKETS: You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

For those wondering where I’ve been for the past year: Like many of you, this pandemic thing quashed my creative juices for book reporting, plus WordPress “improved” their format and I just didn’t have the energy to figure it out. The other issue is the app I used to make collages for my book covers wasn’t working right but it’s back along with my desire to write about books. I will follow with more posts over the next few weeks, including a continuation of my reading history series. Was it because I received my first dose of the Covid vaccination? Or could it be because Typing Maniac is kaput and I seem to have a bit more time? You make the call.]

How many of you have browsed the shelves at the library (pre-quarantine, natch) and picked up a book only to discard it thinking you had read it? Don’t be so quick to judge! Check out the inside flap before reshelving as it’s entirely possible the title has a “copycat” jacket with the publisher using a similar font and graphic similar to another popular book. It’s more common than you might think with some even using the same photograph, as seen in the article Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images. Here’s a small sample of the image used for two very different books but check out the article for at least ten books that used the same graphic.

Another interesting article, 57 Books That Look Like Other Books, is worth reading in order to see the various cover trends from the past few years. Here’s a sample. Hmm, I wonder which book graphic was copied.

This trend has interested me for years but it wasn’t until I read Lucy Foley’s The Guest List that I started collecting graphics of books with similar covers. Here is my collage of recent thrillers. Can you name the book that started it all and the similarities?

Here’s another cover trend for books with the setting of a world war (usually) featuring characters on the cover (mostly with their backs to the viewer) and planes (or a plane) in the sky.

So don’t think your mind is going south if you can’t remember if you’ve read a particular book; it’s most likely you are picking up a book with a copycat cover!

Please let me know in the comments below how your reading year has been going. Also, you are welcome to email me at ilovelibraries at gmail dot com should you wish to send me a private message.

The Teen Years: Phallic Towers in the Valley of the Dolls

Thanks to everyone who is following my reading journey. If you missed my previous musings, links are at the end of this post.

valley3One day in 1966, when I was in the 8th grade, I was perusing the rental shelf (5 cents per day, if I remember correctly), when my eyes spied a book I had recently heard about, the groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. When I took it to the desk, Miss Clark looked at it with disapproval and said I needed a note from my “mommy” to check it out. What happened after that shaped my reading life forever.

But before that happened…

Gothic Love

After I finished the “teen” books in our small library, I asked Miss Clark what I should mellynread next, and she recommended Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt. I wish Miss Clark were still alive so I could thank her for how she changed my life. First of all, I was so enamored of the story, setting, and shocking revelation at the end that to this day, there’s nothing I like better than a good gothic novel with a creepy manor setting, a sense of unease, and a twist that knocks my socks off. And secondly, her help made me realize how much fun it can be to help someone find just the right book for their reading pleasure.

I went to read the rest of Victoria Holt‘s oeuvre, including Bride of Pendorric, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, Kirkland Revels, and more. After that, I scoured the shelves for books by other authors with covers featuring terrified women fleeing manor houses with menacing towers or other dark and foreboding covers that would send chills down my spine. I read books by Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and anything else with phallic symbols on the cover.

iPiccy-collage gothcsYes, that’s right. Did you know that back when gothic novels were “hot,” book cover artists were instructed to create covers with towering phallic symbols? Who knew? You can read all about it in my review of Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell.  Hmm, maybe the subliminal message went into my subconscious, which may have influenced my next reading obsession…

The Blue Years

When Miss Clark told me I needed a special note to check out Valley of the Dolls, I must have looked at her with puppy dog eyes and said something like, “Oh, Miss Clark, you’ve known me for a long time. May I please take it today?” And she relented. I was absorbed from start to finish, and quite frankly, I can’t tell you anything about the plot and characters, and I’m sure some issues went over my 13-year-old head, but I was ready to read more of this kind of book. I’m sure by today’s standards, the content would be relatively mild (and I did end up reading worse a few short months later, but I’ll get to that in a minute), but it was reasonably risqué for that time.

iPiccy-collage robbinsAfter that, it was a short coaster ride down the slippery slope to reading more smut. It wasn’t long before I discovered novels by Harold Robbins, such as The Carpetbaggers, but my favorite was The Adventurers, where I even learned a few Spanish words! Heh.

(If you have read his books and have the time, this 2019 article about Harold Robbins is fascinating.)

Then my stepmother started watching the TV series based on Grace Metalious’ shocking Peyton Place, so how could I resist getting the book which was described as “…a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust, and murder.” Hooboy! Right up my trashy teen alley! I bought it at the corner drugstore (for 95 cents) and inhaled it along with the sequel, Return to Peyton Place.

Next up were William Goldman’s Boys and Girls Together (same author who would later write The Princess Bride and Marathon Man), Robert Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment, and even Kyle Onstoff’s Mandingo (and sequels if I could find them). What can I say, if the paperback had a lurid cover, I would easily part with some of my hard-earned allowances.iPiccy-collage smut

But Where’s the Carnival?

One day during my 8th-grade language arts class, a boy who sat behind me handed me a paperback book to read, and since by now everyone has pretty much noticed I’ll read just about anything, I took it. I don’t remember the full title, but the word “Carnal” was included (no, it wasn’t Carnal Knowledge), and I thought it sounded interesting. Well, it turned out to be pure explicit porn, but that didn’t bother me as much as trying to figure out why the “carnival” was never featured! Silly me, eh? (Side Note: The boy who loaned me the book seemed a little disappointed when I handed it back saying it was an interesting story. I think he expected me to be shocked.)

(When I was doing readers’ advisory, and a parent expressed concern when a tween/teen wanted to check out a book with “content,” I usually responded that I read Valley of the Dolls when I was 13 and I turned out OK–well, I think I did anyway. I never told them about the “Carnival” book.)

But not everything I read was considered trash. Next post I’ll get into my late teen years and how a book finally taught me the real “facts” about the birds and the bees.robin 7th grade (2)


The Very Early Years

Chapter Books

Nancy Drew and Chums

The Tween Years


Going To the Right: The Tween Years:

Thanks to everyone who is following my reading journey. If you missed my previous musings, links are at the end of this post.

Once I exhausted all of the mystery series and started finding the children’s books a little, well, childish, I decided it was time to make a run to the right of the desk where the adult books were shelved. So one day, I skulked past the gimlet eye of Miss Clark and entered a whole new world of books. At first glance, many appeared to be a bit beyond my ken, but it didn’t take long to discover a treasure trove of books with “teen” spine stickers mixed in with the fiction. After loading my arms for the long trek home, I soon found myself immersed in the exciting new world of teen troubles.

ipiccy teenYoung Adult Books, 1950s/1960s Style

As a dweeby sixth-grader with frumpy dresses and a home perm who so badly wanted to be popular, books by Anne Emery and Rosamond du Jardin were a balm to my tween angst. All dealt with teen trials and tribulations, both frivolous and thoughtful, but mostly I identified with the stories where the main character was trying to be part of the cool kids’ group. Oh, and boy trouble…

Anne Emery’s Dinny Gordon series featured a teen whose career goal was to be an archaeologist, which sparked my interest in also exploring ruins and going to Egypt (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen). The series went through Dinny’s freshman to senior years, and I devoured them all. Another favorite by this author was The Popular Crowd, which I read multiple times.

Rosamond du Jardin wrote in a similar vein, and I plowed through all of her books such as Class Ring, Boy Trouble, One of the Crowd, which were all part of Tobey and Midge Heydon series. Here is a lovely description of parents in a simpler era:

“The Heydon family resides in the town of Edgewood where Mr. Heydon sells plumbing supplies and Mrs. Heydon is a homemaker who enjoys baking chocolate cakes and lemon cream pie.”

I also read books by Janet Lambert and Betty Cavanna and continuing my interest in the medical profession, novels like Candy Stripers. Occasionally I wandered into the nonfiction aisle and picked up books on Oregon history (Sacajawea was a favorite) and astronomy.

Mad about Magazines

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my magazine addiction started in grade school with the distribution of the Weekly Reader, and it wasn’t long before I got hooked on the hard stuff. In 1964 the Beatles took over the imagination of tween/teen girls (and yes, I was one although I became more of Herman’s Hermits fan), and I started noticing magazines such as ‘Teen, Tiger Beat, 16, and more. With such lurid headlines as “Beatles Weird Wishes” and “Herman’s Wild Life!” it was easy to part with my allowance so I could follow the latest about my idols.

ipiccy mags

16 magazine was my favorite, and I remember a contest where one “lucky” Meowreader could win Herman’s (Peter Noone) snaggle canine tooth he’d had removed. (I hope no one thinks of less me of when I admit I actually entered that creepy contest.) I didn’t read Tiger Beat very often (think it was hard to find), but I enjoyed Ann Moses’ recent memoir, Meow!: My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols, with lots of juicy behind-the-scenes revelations and interactions with the stars of the day.

‘Teen magazine was another fave that I read religiously. I don’t remember many of the articles, but I did lust after the fashions (especially the go-go boots) and perused the Pen Pal page to see who might have the same interests I did–you know, books, boys, and surfing–OK, so maybe I didn’t surf, but it was cool to think I could.

madI also discovered MAD magazine, and even though I’m sure much of the content went right over my head, I thought it was hilarious, especially the movie and TV show satires. I still remember my brother and me listening to the 33 1/3 RPM record insert of “It’s a Gas” and giggling uncontrollably. If you never had the pleasure of hearing this classic, listen to it here.

Next up: I discover smut and the start of my love for psychological suspense.

roibn 8th

8th grade, trying hard to be groovy

Earlier posts:

The Very Early Years

Chapter Books

Nancy Drew and Chums









The Series Years: Grades 3-6

I have a fantastic memory (which served me well when helping readers find the book that had a red cover and was set in New York City), but while I remember much of what I read over the past 64 years, please know I can’t pinpoint the age I read the books that shaped my reading life–well, except for a few smutty ones but we’ll get to those later.

ipiccy library

This is where the magic happened. Kids to the left, adults to the right.

Discovering the Joys of Books in Series

betsyMy memory of walking into the Cottage Grove Public Library and inhaling that unique “old books” scent is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, but what I also remember is the feeling of anticipation to see what new books awaited me for my reading pleasure–and that hasn’t abated a whit since then. It wasn’t long before I discovered books in series and that I loved following a particular character. I don’t recall reading many Beverly Cleary books (except for Fifteen in my later years) but loved Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy series.

However, Betsy and the gang were left in the dust when I discovered Nancy Drew. Whenever I entered the library, a beeline was made to the rack to see if there were any of the tweedy blue cloth-covered Drew multimysteries I hadn’t yet read.  I don’t think the library had a system for reserving books (or if they did, the librarian, Miss Clark, never offered as she might have known she’d be pestered to death), so I would rely on my memory to remember what I had read. I liked some more than others and the ones I liked best probably took place in mansions. (As an adult I relived my “Drew” years by reading Chelsea Cain’s delightful Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.)

I went on to devour the Hardy Boys series, and after those were exhausted, read the Trixie Belden, Kay Tracey, Judy Bolton, and Ginnie & Geneva series (never got into Bobbsey Twins as I think I found them a little twee) but my next obsession came from a Mickey Mouse Club addiction.

“Y? Because We LIKE You!”

ipiccy annette donnaIf you are close to my age, you probably remember singing along to the opening of the Mickey Mouse Club — “Hey There! Hi There! Ho There! You’re as welcome as can be!” But what I loved most were the introductions of the club members and Annette’s appearance! Y? Who knows, I just know she fascinated me, and I was thrilled to find she was featured in a mystery series I found at the five-and-dime store, Knickerbocker’s.  I read Sierra Summer multiple times which give me a  hankering to visit California’s Gold Country.

Since these cheaply bound books weren’t in the library and cost only 10 cents, it was easy to splurge on others, including the Donna Parker series. The one I loved most was Donna Parker in Hollywood, and what sticks in my mind was her itchy black wool bathing suit.  This was most likely the book that set me on the road to ruin when it came to my love of anything set in the glamourous world of La La Land, including celebrity memoirs and books by Jackie Collins.

Get Me the Next Book, STAT!ipiccy nurse

My next obsession came in the form of nurse stories, mainly the series featuring Sue Barton by Helen Boylston and Cherry Ames by Helen Wells, starting with their first adventures as student nurses. Sue Barton had a life trajectory that wasn’t all apples and roses so I don’t remember reading the later titles and wonder if it was because the library didn’t carry them due to the “real-life” content. Still, I loved reading her experiences in the years before marriage and kids. (An interesting side note about the author, Helen Boylston: She based her books on her actual nursing experiences, plus she was also a good friend of Rose Wilder Lane, who called her “Troub” for “Trouble, and lived with her for several years, some in Albania.)

The Ames series was fun as Cherry immersed herself in various jobs, probably a forerunner of my love for “behind-the-scenes” kinds of narratives.

And hey, who remembers these? I used my allowance to buy Harlequin nurse stories at the corner hole-in-the-wall magazine store.


I also spent my allowance on comic books (12 cents each!) with my favorites being Superman and Archie, but I would also read Batman, Richie Rich, and Casper, and these weird comics based on classic books such as Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, and more.

ipiccy comics

Next up I return to my early teens where Miss Clark introduced me to my next genre fascination and allowed me to check out smut.

robin 3rd grade

If you missed the first installments, you can find the first one here and the second here.








Magical Reading: Chapter Books

I fear this history of my reading over the years may turn out to be longer than I originally planned, but quite frankly, that’s how I’ve always rolled. Anything I think will be an easy peasy project becomes anything but simple. So buckle up, it may take me all summer to chronicle the history of how books shaped my reading life.

If you missed my first post on my reading history, you could find it here.

Finally, Chapter Books!

When I entered my second-grade classroom, my eyes were immediately drawn to a table judys journeyin the rear with a stack of books that appeared to be thicker than the easy picture books and readers from the first grade. I didn’t care that they were above my grade level, I just wanted to burrow my face into the stack. I don’t remember when we were allowed to select what we wanted to haul home (although I do remember taking more books than I had time for, a practice that continues to this day). But I do remember Miss Rorrer reading us a chapter a day from Judy’s Journey by Lois Lenski, a title from American Regional series. I was entranced, and even though the teacher admonished us to not read ahead, I got a copy from the public library and devoured it.  I went on to try a few more by the author such as Prairie School and Flood Friday but never finished the series because I soon discovered something I liked better.

Prairie Life

I don’t recall if a librarian recommended the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series or if I discovered it on my own. Still, I remember hearing the angels sing and devouring them one after the other. I rarely read any book more than once, but I read this series at least four times (except for By The Shores of Silver Lake) throughout my childhood and once when I became an adult. I went on to read anything else about pioneer life I could find (especially loved Steele’s We Were There on the Oregon Trail), a topic that still interests me. As an adult, I went on to read the various biographies and historical accounts that chronicled what it was really like for the family. Two of note are Susan Wittig Albert’s A Wilder Rose, a novel based on Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the well researched and eye-opening Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser.

ipiccy little house

More Magic

island blueI don’t know how old I was when I discovered Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. However, I can still remember the magical feeling I experienced as I read about a girl’s survival (I later learned it was based on an actual Native American who lived alone on California’s San Nicolas Island for 18 years). To this day, I love a good survival story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

Historical Celebrities

What I remember most from the school library was the profusion of biographies available, mostly from the series Childhood of Famous Americans. Who else remembers those orange cloth-bound books with such titillating titles such as Pocahontas, Brave Girl, or Ben Franklin, Boy Printer? I remember enjoying them, especially Clara Barton, Girl Nurse. These most likely started my love for memoirs, especially those by famous people. (Insert your own snarky remark here.)


Weekly Reader and Book Fairweely reader

During elementary school, two events helped shape me as a reader. Once a week, the teacher would pass out the Weekly Reader, a small newspaper printed for children. I don’t remember much of what I read, but what I loved was the feel of the paper and how much I looked forward to seeing it. I think it’s what started my continued love of magazines (mainly about celebrities).

I also loved going to the “fair”–the Scholastic Book Fair anyway. It was a short downward slope to forming my shopaholic ways when it comes to buying books.

book fair

That’s it for this post. Stay tuned for the next part of my grade school years when I discovered books in series!







50 Shades of Books: 64 Years of Reading

When we first started the virus lockdown, I was having a tough time focusing on reading, so I turned to my BoBs (Books of Books I began 47 years ago, pictured in my new blog photo) to take a journey into what I’ve read over the years. It was interesting to not only see what books I read but also how my tastes (and handwriting!) have changed over the years. I started reminiscing about how I developed as a reader waaaaay back before my saddle shoes graced the steps of Harrison Elementary School, which then led me to the decision to chronicle my reading from age 3 to the present day. So over the next weeks, months, years (seems at this point I have nothing but time), please forgive my self-indulgence in posting about reading experiences and books that have influenced my reading tastes.

My Very First Book

My mother said as soon as I could grab, the first things I would latch onto were books. Now she may have been humoring me, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t remember having many children’s books in our little trailer-house, but if we did, they were most likely those Little Golden books from Knickerbocker’s.

What I do remember is discovering our 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook and deciding I was going to use the pages to practice writing my name. Then someone told me (probably a neighbor friend) that continually writing my name showed I was self-centered, so I stopped. Below is the actual book which I still own. I’m unsure who was the recipient of “I Love You” and no idea what “EUESS” meant.

My First Booktalk

One thing I was looking forward to when I started first grade was reading the Dick and Jane series, but Mrs. Browning sent me past “Go,” putting me the “advanced” group where we read a different set, most likely the Ginn readers. I remember looking forward to each day’s reading assignment.

But what I’ve never forgotten is my trips to the Cottage Grove Library and what a treat it was to haul home a huge stack of picture books. I was so impressed by D’Aulaires’ Don’t Count Your Chicks that I took it to Show and Tell and gave my first booktalk, imploring everyone to read this fabulous book. The only problem is I made the grave error of giving away the ending! I never did that again.

And from there, it was a slippery slope to more advanced reading in the form of chapter books and two of the most magical reading experiences of my life, which will be the topics of my next post.

My Favorite Books of 2019

From the “Better Late Than Never” Department

In between games of Typing Maniac, I’ve been outlining my next posts and it dawned on me that I’ve never shared my favorite books of 2019 list on this blog.

As usual, I had a plethora of titles to recommend. Click here for the complete printable list on a Google doc. I had written about some of them in my post from a year ago so if you need a refresher, check Recent Reading for 2019.

Below I’ve highlighted a few more titles with a reminder that clicking on the highlighted book title will take you to the Goodreads entry or my review.

Perfect Book Group Choices

Hands down, my favorite novel of the year was The Dearly Beloved. One concern I’ve heard from readers is this might be too “faith-based,” but it’s not. Quite frankly, if I hadn’t been sent an early copy with a personal note from the publisher, I probably wouldn’t have read it. The author presents the religious topic from four different viewpoints with much fodder for discussion. Read my GoodReads review for more details.

Olive, Again is the sequel the Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, and again features curmudgeonly yet somehow endearing Olive as she navigates life and old age.

Crime Fiction

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson is a riveting domestic psychological thriller featuring a cat-and-mouse game between two women trying to outguess each other’s next moves. It was definitely twisted in all of the good ways.

As I said in my Goodreads review, I’m not saying much about Tarryn Fisher’s The Wives lest I spoil it but if you’ve ever heard the term “unreliable narrator,” you’ll be on the edge of your couch trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t.

J. A. Jance never ever disappoints me when it comes to writing about J. P. Beaumont (“Beau”) and I loved every minute of the 24th entry in the series, The  Sins of the Fathers. I always add the caveat that if you’ve never read this series, read the first title, Until Proven Guilty, and then feel free to skip around but don’t go too far astray as Beau’s development is a major component of the story.

Narrative Nonfiction

Mortician Caitlin Doughty’s previous book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, is one of my favorite books about cremation–OK, it’s the only book I’ve read about life in a crematory, but it’s still fascinating although at times it can be a little stomach-churning. Her latest book, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs, addresses questions from children about death and dying and not only did I find it fascinating, but I also loved the whimsical drawings throughout.

Ever since I read Nickel and Dimed, I’ve had a fascination with “immersion journalism” where the author reports on what goes on behind-the-scenes of any type of industry.  If you’re interested in what life is like working in an Amazon warehouse, customer call center, or even a busy McDonald’s (it’s more interesting than you might think), pick up On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger.

Even if you don’t give a whit about grammar, words, or how language should be properly used, read Dreyer’s English for the snark and humor. I’m not one to read a book from cover to cover on how to correct your grammar but Dreyer is hilarious and I devoured every word.

Stay tuned as my next blog post will focus on a bunch of memoirs I’ve read over the past few months.

By now many of you have probably seen this clever grouping of book titles, but if not, it’s worth reading through it.

No photo description available.




“UpLit” or “Feel Good” Books

Hello everyone! I know it’s been almost a year since I last posted and I promise to do better in the coming months–I mean, what else do I have going on?


During stressful times, readers may want to escape by wandering into different kinds of reading than their normal fare. Some prefer “escapist” titles which can be found by simply looking for a thriller, romance, fantasy, or even a celebrity memoir. Others prefer “comfort reading” which may take them back to childhood favorites or a title they’ve read multiple times. And there are even those who like to read something closer to home such as novels based on apocalyptic events or set in a dystopian civilization.

But many readers prefer reading that will lift their spirits or leave them with a hopeful feeling that the book world has dubbed “UpLit.” (For a more thorough explanation check librarian Kelly Moore’s blog here.) 

Click here for the entire list of titles. Enjoy!


Recent Reading for 2019

Following is a rundown of what I’ve enjoyed so far this year. Most are now available or soon will be. It’s rather long so carve out a few minutes to wade through this.

Remember clicking on the book title will take you to either my review or the book page on GoodReads.


ipiccy oregonTwo books by Oregon authors are a little offbeat but both are excellent. 

Karen Thompson Walker is from Portland and her first book, Age of Miracles incorporated the theme of “slow-apocalypse”  in which heading into an apocalyptic event is slow and becomes normal life. She continues this theme in The Dreamers where a sleeping sickness has taken over a small college town. I felt the tone read like a “gentle fever nightmare.”

 If, Then by Kate Hope day (from Corvallis) also has a quirky attitude with the topic of “multi-verses” where people exist in two different planes at the same time. It’s a mind-bender and I compare the reading experience to being in a carnival funhouse. (If interested, the author will be appearing at Salem’s Book Bin on May 24.)

Mainstream Fiction

A novel sure to appear on my Best Books of 2019 list is Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I was surprised at how much I loved this because the oral history told in the form of interviews didn’t seem that enticing, but it soon became riveting. The story of the 70s iconic band is told from various points of view (lead singer, band members, and others involved with the group), and one can’t help but think of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham though it is nowhere the same story. I would recommend this be “read” in audio as the various voices would lend even more authenticity to the storytelling. Also, get the musical vibes by listening to the Spotify playlist (also on YouTube) created by the publisher.

At first glance, Cape May appears to be aimed towards readers who enjoy a good beach read (similar to Anne Rivers Siddons or even Elin Hilderbrand), but it’s not. Taking place in the late 1950s, it’s a novel about a very young couple’s honeymoon shenanigans that have a lasting effect on their marriage. It was compelling (and a little steamy) but what made the book worthwhile was the epilogue which covered the rest of their married life. I’m recommending this for book groups if no one minds the racy scenes.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin has been receiving quite a bit of attention and I loved it. It’s a literary novel about messy family dynamics with a bit of a twist at the end. Another sure bet for book groups.


Chilling Thrillers

By now readers of this blog should know there’s nothing I love more than a good twisty psychological thriller and many good ones have been published over the past few months.

Burning up the bestseller list is Alex Michaelides’ Silent Patient, and I was lucky to be a very early reader. I’m a sucker for anything set in a mental institution and the final revelation packed a heckuva punch.

Two thrillers with interesting locations were Fiona Barton’s The Suspect and Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad. Both of these dragged a bit but the Thailand setting in The Suspect and The Balklands (based on the author’s experiences) in Beautiful Bad kept me reading. 

For a chronicle of family foibles, Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-In-Law kept me guessing. At first, the MIL seems like a totally unlikeable and cold woman but the author has a few surprises for readers by the end of the book. Hepworth’s earlier book, The Things We Keep, is wonderful.

While I was reading Dear Wife, I had no idea where it was going, but decided to go with the flow and be surprised. Since this isn’t due to be published until June, you can mitigate the wait by reading the author’s earlier book, The Marriage Lie, which is also “unputdownable.”  

Alice Feeney made her mark with her first book published a year ago, Sometimes I Lie, and readers are still talking about what really happened at the end. I Know Who You Are isn’t quite as twisted and ambiguous but it’s a solid thriller with a few shocking revelations.

My most recent psychological thriller is Liv Constantine’s Last Time I Saw You, which was quite good and kept me on the edge of the recliner. Her previous book, Last Mrs. Parrish, is also a good thriller.

If you have a hankering for a creepy gothic style read set on a remote isle featuring a spooky manor and ghost sex (yep, that’s right), look no further than Stephanie Merritt’s While You Sleep. Read this one with the lights on.


I’m a huge fan of Lucy Knisley who wears her heart on her sleeve by drawing and writing from her own life in graphic form, aka “comics.” Her latest, Kid Gloves, is a harrowing and poignant story of the struggles she endured during her pregnancy and the birth of her son. If you haven’t read Knisley and aren’t sure if you’d like this kind of format, start with her earlier book, Relish. 

Cathy Guisewite is the author of the syndicated comic strip, Cathy, and I was sad to see it discontinued, but am pleased she has a humorous book of essays which often mirrored her fictional counterpart’s life. In Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, Cathy writes about life as we age, along with stories about her experiences as the single mother of an adopted daughter and of coping with aging parents.

Librarian colleagues are raving about How To Forget by actress Kate Mulgrew, a very heartfelt memoir about her parents and their illnesses (father had cancer and mother Alzheimer’s). This is one of the best and beautifully written memoirs many of us have read in quite a while. To be published in late May.

Ruth Reichl annoyed me with her last book, My Kitchen Year, where she talked about how cooking “saved her life” after losing her job as editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine. Her latest memoir, Save Me the Plums, soothed my irritation as she toned down the angst and wrote a fascinating report of the inner workings of the magazine while also discussing her main passion in life, food.

I expected more out of Olivia Newton John’s memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’. There was nothing wrong with it, I just found it a little tedious and at times a little coy, but then I’m more of a casual fan so it may be that true fans will enjoy this more than I did. (One of my gripes about celebrity memoirs is when they write a story involving someone famous but then act evasive and won’t say who it is.)

For sheer hilarity, Helen Ellis’s Southern Lady Code is chock full of snarky and off-the-wall essays about the “true” meanings behind various southern phrases. The author reveals that those southern phrases may not be as sticky sweet as they first appear.

That’s all for this blog. We’ll be heading south to close on our Arizona villa so I’ll be back soon after to tell you about two wonderful novels coming out this summer. Many of us are positive they will be blockbusters.