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.

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









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. 







SPARKING JOY: Books for Simple Living

Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a reality series based on Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is causing battle lines to be drawn on the hardwood floors. Some watchers have been inspired to delve into closets and kitchen drawers, keeping only items that “spark joy,” and others are annoyed with the entire “KonMari” method. The harshest words seem to be for the idea that no one should have more than 30 books with author Jamie Ford posting this photo saying, “Is this what Marie Kondo meant by only keeping books that “spark joy”?”


But did you know I was cool before living a simpler life became the latest trend? In 1994 I stumbled upon Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life and it struck a chord. Since then I  have strived to keep my clutter tamed and am always reading the latest book for new inspiration and ideas.  Following is a rundown of my favorite books that may help you spark the inclination to simplify and become more of a minimalist.

The Basics

ipiccy kondo

Some of the advice from Simplify Your Life may be a bit, well, simplistic and a little outdated (getting rid of your car phone) and a bit impractical (pay off your mortgage), but there are still plenty of ideas to inspire you to reduce stress and clutter. One idea I’ve flirted with but never had the nerve to try is to put a bunch of stuff in a box and label with a date, then after a year toss it without looking inside. A little extreme but will you miss what you don’t remember?

For more inspiration or to just smirk at Marie Kondo’s suggestion of thanking everything for its service (can you imagine unloading your handbag every night and thanking each item then reloading it all back the next morning?) read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s worth learning more about the “KonMari” method, but I haven’t yet had the stomach to clean out the closet and stack all of my clothes in one place. (For a short but hilarious review, check out Laurie Notaro’s comments here.)

For more of a memoir-type of book that may help you gain inspiration, try Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less and Judith Levine’s Not Buying It. Both chronicle the authors’ decisions to reduce their consumerism to varying degrees of success. Neither author gives much information in the way of practical advice but might be worth reading to see if this could be a goal.

Since we’ve retired, my husband I have discovered the joys of attending garage and estate sales, mainly for entertainment rather than acquiring more stuff, although we do occasionally find something worth adding to our household (hint: estate sales have great deals on cleaning products). The positive results of seeing how people live are observing how much stuff they accumulate over the years and how much they go through to get rid of it after a move to a retirement residence or a death in the family. This brings me to The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning which isn’t as gruesome as it sounds. The author nudges readers to get rid of stuff before you leave this realm so your heirs don’t have to take care of your household. I mean think about it–your kids and/or relatives have plenty to do without spending weeks trying to decide what to do with your wedding china and casino shot glass collection, and news flash, many don’t want them (article Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want).

ipiccy not buying it

Now What?

OK, so you are inspired to get busy and have carved out a few days to become clutter-free, but where do you start? Fortunately, there are many “how-to” books providing practical advice. Here are two of my favorites.

ipiccy practical

If you are going to purchase a book, make it Cluttered Mess to Organized Success by Cassandra Aarssen. It’s chock full of worksheets to assist in keeping track of various household information (medical, books, emergency contacts), practical advice, “recipes” for cleaning supplies, and even labels for your various baskets. Or you could get a fistful of dimes and plan on copying lots of pages. The “paper purging guide” was a big help in determining what I could discard.

That leads to New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks. This book fileis best if your “digital clutter” is getting out of hand, but what I found most valuable was the suggestion of keeping an open file box for household files (important folders are kept in the safe). I started with two boxes and have since reduced it to one. The open top makes it easy to tuck something into a file folder and also since it’s easily in view in the den closet, I am reminded to clean it when it gets too stuffed. It’s not pretty, but it works well for my purpose.

Moving Along

ART OF HAPPY MOVINGThe Art of Happy Moving by Ali Wenzke will be published in May and I realized that one way to think about decluttering is to look at everything you own and wonder “Hmmm, is this something I’d want to pack and schlep to another house?” There may be things you aren’t quite ready to discard, but you’re a step ahead if you keep a mental list of what items wouldn’t be worth carting along, such as the three crockpots sitting in my garage (I know I know, but all of them would be included in the moving sale).

In addition to divulging insights about your belongings, the author also has helpful information on the practical and emotional aspects of a big move, including tips on selling and buying a house, evaluating a new location, and how to adapt once you have relocated. I thought her ploy to help children weed out their toys was brilliant.

For an interesting take on downsizing, Live Laugh RV’s blog post on downsizing from a 4000 SF house to a 300 SF RV is enlightening and encouraging.

Easy MoneyiPiccy money

A few years before I retired, one of my universal concerns was if we would be okay financially. Fortunately, I ran across Jeff Yeager’s How to Retire the Cheapskate Way, and it reassured me that as long as we didn’t want to live like the Kardashians or even Caitlyn Jenner, we would most likely be fine. One of my favorite quotes is Yeager’s Cheapskate Retirement Principle #10: “Simple-sizing is like downsizing, but it’s based on recognizing that whenever you simplify your life, it usually saves you money, and also reduces your stress and makes you happier. Particularly before you retire, the rule is “Lose it if you don’t use it.”

Happy Money isn’t available until June, but it might be worth getting from the library to see what Ken Honda, Japan’s “Zen Millionaire,” has to say about our relationships with money. This quote is from the publisher’s book description: “What Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up did for your living space, Honda’s Happy Money will do for your feelings about your wallet.”

Minimalism 201

For those who are serious about becoming a total minimalist (and perhaps moving to a tiny home?), a couple of books go beyond getting rid of a few knick-knacks and out-of-date mom (or dad) jeans. ipiccy less

Less by Rachel Aust has a nicely laid out format along with concise lists of life’s necessities, plus the author also includes suggestions for decluttering your mind, easier cooking, keeping the budget simple, and recipes for ecologically friendly cleaning solutions. The photos aren’t very appealing, but the recommendations on how to simplify are well done.

For the truly hardcore who think that perhaps reducing your furnishings and belongings to a simple pad that works as both a bed and couch and an iPad for all of your entertainment needs, try Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. The author writes of his experiences of becoming a radical minimalist with thoughts on how it improved his mental health. You might not be tempted to jettison everything in your house but it may help you think a little deeper about what’s important in life.

Wrapping It Up

If you want to read even more about simple living, check out this GoodReads list of books on Simple Living and Minimalism.

shelfI realize this has been one of my longer (and not very simple!) posts and I thank you if you’ve made it this far. This topic is near and dear to my heart, and I’ve wanted to write about it for a long time. We are far from being true minimalists but we have been able to stay in our 940 SF house for 42 years, and even though it’s a continual struggle, I consider that a success. I’m sure everyone will empathize with the bookshelf issue, but fortunately, e-readers have come to my rescue. I still haven’t wholly reduced my clothes closet contents (and under the bed and shed storage), but I’m working on it. And if you need advice, I’m here for you.

A Few More Good Books

While I’ve reported on my favorite books of the year, I thought it appropriate that I let you know of a few other good titles I’ve read over the past five months.

Note: For most titles, I have attached a link to either my GoodReads review or the general GoodReads entry. 


A couple of years ago I read Iain Reid’s dark and twisted novel, I’m Thinking of ipiccy fictionEnding Things and if you want to see if the book is for you, check out my review here. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up his follow-up novel, Foe, and while it wasn’t quite as dark as his previous book, it was still a good mind-bender. I can definitely see this made into a fabulous Twilight Zone episode.

I’ve been a fan of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket books for years even though she tends to run hot and tepid. Winter in Paradise is the first in a trilogy set on the island of St. John and it is a frothy escape from the grind of everyday life. If you’ve never read her books, try The Blue Bistro or for a good binge-read, get the “Winter” series which starts with Winter Street.

The first Liane Moriarty book I read was The Husband’s Secret and I was blown away [a side note: the “exploding flowers” on the book jackets started a cover trend] and her follow-up, Big Little Lies, if not equally as good, was compelling and turned into a blockbuster HBO series. Even though her latest book Nine Perfect Strangers got off to a slow start, I ended up enjoying it. Some have said the plot twists were implausible but I found them very timely.

I am a huge fan of Stephen King (The Shining remains one of my favorite books of all time) but I have strayed a bit from reading his latest books. I saw Elevation at the library and decided to pick it up because it was short. It’s not scary, just an odd story about a man who suffers from every woman’s nightmare, losing weight but still staying the same size–OK, maybe that does classify it as horror.


Even though Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange is set during a hot summer, the tone is dark (gothic noir?) as you know from the beginning it isn’t going to end well. It wasn’t the best gothic suspense novel I’ve read but it held my interest and the setting based on the Grange Hall estate in Hampstead sent me down a rabbit hole of googling images of the estate.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous is still on my “to-be-read” list but I included it for those who want more titles with a gothic feel. Reports have been mixed with some saying it’s rather slow and plodding but others have loved it.

While You Sleep (March publication) could also be titled “Fifty Shades of a Grey Ghost” because hoo-boy! it had some pretty steamy scenes involving a spirit. If you’re still interested, it’s set on a Scottish isle and is rife with lots of scary grabs, and while a twist or two may be guessed, the ending will have you thinking “What just happened?” It will also have you checking the VRBO or AirBnB reviews a little more carefully before booking a vacation rental.

Last year I enjoyed The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen so I was looking forward to their second collaboration, An Anonymous Girl, and I was not disappointed. The authors took their psychology research and applied it towards this very in-depth look at ethics and morals along with some good plot turns.

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Even though I’d grown disenchanted with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I decided to try the 25th title, Look Alive Twenty-Five and it roped me back into the series. Stephanie’s life is still messy but some of her new exploits had me chuckling and even laughing out loud a few times. I maintain these are still best in audio as the narrator is excellent.

I adore the Bakeshop Mysteries series by Ellie Alexander featuring appealing characters who live and work at Torte bakery in the charming setting of Ashland, Oregon. The 9th book in the series, Live and Let Pie, starts with the crew moving into their remodeled digs and even introduces a couple of new characters. The food descriptions are yummy and recipes are tempting. And as usual, I recommend these be read from the beginning; a complete list of titles can be found here. Readers who enjoyed the Goldy Bear series by Diane Mott Davidson may want to give these a whirl.


Forty years ago, I read Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America and it instantly ignited myto shake passion for reading books by anyone who performed some type of death-defying endeavor. I was excited to see his son, Jedidiah Jenkins had written To Shake the Sleeping Self, the chronicle of his bicycle trip from the Oregon coast to the southern-most tip of South America, but turned out that while the adventure was amazing, his storytelling lacked a certain panache. You can read more of my thoughts here.

dreyer's englishSo as I’m writing the above paragraph, I wondered if the phrase “southern-most tip of South America” is correct or if it has a redundant word or two. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have given it a thought but after reading Benjamin Dreyer’s excellent book on language style and usage, Dreyer’s English, I find myself looking at my writing with a more careful eye. I’m not sure it’s changing for the better but at least I’m thinking about it! Anyway, if you do any kind of writing (and don’t we all?), buy a copy to keep on your shelf.

Tina Turner’s My Love Story details her amazing and many times harrowing journey from meeting Ike Turner and getting out of his clutches to meeting the love of her life and then surviving a stroke, cancer, and a kidney transplant.

In Pieces by Sally Field is interesting but not as compelling as I had hoped. She divulges some of the harrowing incidents that marked her life and talks about her complicated relationship with her mother, and her dishing on Burt Reynolds was revealing.

And then there’s the “memoir” This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillipps, the latest in a series of young female celebrities writing candid essays about their lives. I wasn’t as impressed as others have been but then maybe I’m a little too old to appreciate the whole “Insta-celebrity” phenomenon.

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For sheer fun, get Sarah Andersen’s group of comics for adults called Sarah’s Scribbles. They are all a quick and realistic yet humorous look at a millennial’s life as an introvert who also loves books and cats. The titles are Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Happy Lump, and Herding Cats.

That’s it for this post. I’ll be back to catch up on Library Reads and then my plan is to write about the life-simplifying trend, something I did 25 years ago after I read Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life.


Favorites of the Best of 2018 Lists

There are such a plethora of “best books of the year”  lists anymore that I can’t keep up so I’m going to simply offer various lists that I think are the most interesting. Of course, I have my own list that some of you may have received in my holiday cards, but even if you did there may be some other compilations that spark your interest.

My Favorite Books 

I’m unsure how to post this list so I’m offering three options, or feel free to go wild and check out all three!

For the “visual” readers, here are collages of the book covers:

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The collage above is of my favorite fiction. I don’t have a clear favorite as all were worth reading.

The vertical strips are of the nonfiction titles. Some of these have appeared on many other lists, with Educated coming out on top, and it well deserves its high ratings.

For those who want a visual listing with accessible annotations, check out the list I created on Bibliocommons (via Pima County Library) here. Clicking on the book will take you to the publishers’ book descriptions.

And for those of you who don’t require a colorful book cover but instead want my personal thoughts of each book, here is a copy of the holiday letter I sent in my cards. Readers who check out this Google doc will be rewarded with a sneak-peak at a few 2019 titles I loved.


Librarian Favorites

In December 2011, my librarian friend Stephanie Chase and I came up with the idea to poll library staff via Twitter for their ten favorite books of the year. We were surprised at how quickly #libfavs11 caught on around the U.S. and over the years the number of voters and books has at least tripled. We are very proud of our brainchild and of how varied the list has become. Jenna Friebel, a youth librarian from the Chicago area, created a collage (below) of the top ten titles. If you would like to see the entire list of 876 titles mentioned over 10 days, you can see the spreadsheet here. It’s worth checking out the first 30 titles just to see the breadth of the selections.


My GoodReads Compilation

I can’t remember when they started doing this, but GoodReads takes all of the books I’ve read over the year and creates a compilation. It’s always interesting to go back and see what I’ve read (all 120 titles for 2018) along with the silly stats they provide. If you are interested in delving into I’ve read in 2018 (with no judgment! 😉 ). you can find it here.

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LibraryReads and NPR Concierge


The list of January publications as selected by library staff was recently released and can be found here. I read and enjoyed The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (from Oregon) and have heard great reports for Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room and Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch. Right now I’m reading An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen and it’s keeping me engrossed. Also, check out the list’s new feature of “readalikes” for each title should the book you want not be available.

And whether you are a visual or “reader” learner. NPR’s annual interactive Book Concierge with its varied list is a fantastic way to check out the best books of the year. I could spend hours playing with this site. Check it out here.

Next post will be a quick rundown of my recent reads along with library stack photos.

Happy Holidays everyone!










Gifts for Literary Friends

Xmas-tree-of-booksStumped on what to give your book-ish friends? At first, it seems simple to choose books for that special someone, but when it comes down to it, knowing what they want to read can be fraught with peril. Exactly how well do you know their reading tastes? Should you give them something from the literary best books list such as Tommy Orange’s There, There or Tara Westover’s Educated (both mentioned in my last LibraryReads blog)? Or perhaps the new Michelle Obama memoir, Becoming, might be more to their literary taste, or maybe Tina Turner’s terrific and amazing memoir, My Love Story, or Roger Daltrey’s Thank You Mr. Kibblewhite, might be appreciated. But then maybe they would prefer some good thrillers, but as we know different genres and authors abound. Or do you throw up your hands and get a gift card for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or even your local Indie bookshop? A gift card is an easy way out and probably the most practical but think about personalizing it by including a “suggested” list of purchases. Following are a few surefire ideas for gift giving or feel free to print this post and include it with the card.

Books About Books

The ultimate gift for any book lover is James Mustich’s 1000 Books To Read Before You Die. The author has compiled a varied collection of books with annotations, and as you can see from the photos, has also created an attractive and appealing layout. Any book group member or anyone looking to create a list of “must-read” titles, or even those participating in reading challenges, will want to make it a permanent part of their library.

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More books to consider for book nerds include Anne Bogel’s short book of essays, I’d Rather Be Reading, which gave me a bit of a sprained neck from enthusiastically nodding in agreement to all of her thoughts on what us avid readers suffer through–sure, most of our angst could be considered first world problems but most will understand the struggle is real.

Another fun book is Book Love by Debbie Tung, a book of comics catering to every bookworm’s love of anything literary. It’s not due to be published until after Christmas but it’s worth the wait.

For those of us who are familiar with horror books starting in the late 60s and continuing through the 70s and 80s (Stephen King!), Paperbacks from Hell is absolutely absorbing and hilarious. Read my GoodReads review here for more.


ipiccy library book

Those who love libraries (and isn’t that most everyone we know?) will want to own a copy of The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Covering both the history of libraries and the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, this is a book sure to not only entertain but it is also fun to admire the design. I got fooled when I tried to remove the signature card in the pocket inside the back cover. Remember those?

If the one receiving a gift is a traveler and has a hankering to visit the cats at Hemingway’s house on Key West or wants to visit everything Bronte in one trip, or is simply an armchair traveler, consider giving them the updated edition of Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon. To continue the fun, Writers Between the Covers, a compendium of stories from the lit world describing scandals, affairs, and just plain kinky goings-on between authors is a fun romp.

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For Non-Reading Fans

Even if that special someone doesn’t care to sit and read an entire book cover-to-cover ipiccy dying(I’m married to one), the following may be just the ticket as they are perfect to have on hand for occasional perusing or, dare I say, bathroom reading?

Am I Dying is a great book for the hypochondriac in your life, or perhaps keep it on the shelf to check as a reference if a pain doesn’t disappear.

Bear Grylls’ How to Stay Alive is chock-full of advice on how not to die if any of the outlined scenarios happen to you. Hopefully, one will never have to land a plane or try to escape from quicksand but it’s always a good idea to know where to get quick information if needed. Me, I’m keeping mine in the car, just in case I have a brake failure.


I’m not sure if having “coffee table” books is still a thing, but even if it isn’t, it would be fun to have Charles Phoenix’s Addicted to Americana on displayI don’t own this but I really would love to have a copy for my table (hint hint). It’s a hoot to peruse and part of the entertainment is thinking about a road trip to visit any of the architecture and signs still standing.


Non-Book Book Gifts

Or, you could just get your loved ones socks such as these sweet little numbers I bought for myself. You can find them (along with other book-ish clothing) at Out of Print.


For a more comprehensive list of literary non-book gifts, check out Anne Bogel’s gift guide.

Happy Holidays everyone! Next up is the much-anticipated list of my favorite books of the year.