My Month in Books- February

NYC had a lot of snow this month- 8th highest total ever for a February. Here’s what I read from January 27-February 24:

TitleAuthorHow I heard about bookRating
The House in the Cerulean SeaT.J. KluneI don’t know1
The Thursday Murder ClubRichard OsmanI don’t know2
Send For MeLauren FoxJenna (Today Show)3
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoTaylor Jenkins ReidGoodreads Newsletter4
HamnetMaggie O’FarrellIRL book club (college alumnae)5
The Art of Stopping: How to be Still When You Have to Keep GoingDavid KundtzShannon Ables The Simply Luxurious Life6
The Four WindsKristin HannahJenna (Today Show)7
Tomorrow Will be BetterBetty Smithone of my besties8
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance during the BlitzErik LarsonI don’t know9
The SanitoriumSarah PearseReese’s Book Club10
Simple Organizing: 50 Ways to Clear ClutterMelissa Michaelsemail from Barnes & Noble11
Good NeighborsSarah LanganBarnes & Noble book club12
The Tea ChestHeidi ChiavaroliIRL book club (tea society)13
The Discomfort of EveningMarieke Lucas RijneveldIRL book club (college alumnae)14
This is the order that I liked the books. It does not mean that the top are the great American novel, a page turner or the feel good book of the century. It just means that some books made me feel more than others this particular month.
I am happy to say that I got BINGO this month! 25 books to get one line across! Next month there will be a new BINGO card!


I was recently shopping for a new book. I looked at a review. In the first line of the review was a plot point of the book. No spoiler alert sign, no warning…just a plot point. Because the plot point was a “trigger”.

Thanks to, we know that trigger is to initiate or precipitate. Certain words or phrases bring about certain thoughts or ideas, which are harmful to the person experiencing them.

But what do we think about trigger warnings in books?

I understand the reason for them: some people have gone through traumatic experiences and do not wish to relive them. I completely understand.

However, is it fair for the rest of us to be forewarned of what is going to occur in a work of art?

Do we cater to the 10% of the population that might have a problem?

Or do we let majority rule?

Here’s my thought:

If a book contains trigger warnings, how about we put them in the back of the book. My feeling is if one is worried about the content of something, the onus should be on them to search for it. Make it standard in every book that the last page is the trigger page.

This way, no one starting out the book has any indication of what the plot points may be- they read the book and decipher clues without being told anything.

And in reviews, I think the triggers should appear at the bottom of a review in italicized type so that the reader of the review can skip it if they want.

I know that I want to go into a book without knowing anything other than the briefest plot summary. The joy and beauty in reading a book is discovering what lies on the next page. If it is something horrific, I want to be caught off guard- that is what the author intended. I think you lose the power and impact of a story or situation of you know it’s coming.

I will not read the book that was spoiled by a trigger warning. Instead of savoring the words or the story, I will constantly be on the look out for the “scene” that was described. I will not enjoy the book…

But that’s me:

What do you think about trigger warnings in books?

Do You Remember….

No- I’m not going to go into the lyrics of that Earth, Wind and Fire song. And some of you are probably smiling in recognition, and others are going “What’s Earth, Wind and Fire?” What I am going to talk about is: how much do we remember from the books that we read.

Never Not Reading proposed this question yesterday: After you’ve finished a book, have you forgotten the title character’s name? A few days ago, when we were all watching Jeopardy, there was a question; “Who was Templeton in Charlotte’s Web?” Now, I’ve read that book multiple times- I read it with my daughter when she was younger. But I couldn’t remember which character was Templeton. Rat- for those of you scratching your heads….

So how good is my memory towards what I read?

I routinely forget the authors. I will tell someone that I really liked a book, and then I will stumble for the authors name. So I guess this means I really don’t care if the author is male or female. But really, how bad is it that I can be amidst a book, and have absolutely no recollection of who wrote it?

Some of my blogger friends post the What did you finish, what are you reading, and what are you about to read. Yeah- I may have finished a book yesterday, but I find myself going into Goodreads or my nook to see what it was.

Is it an age thing?

Do I read too many books?

Outside of the title and author (like they count for anything) do you remember the contents of a book? I have book club this coming Tuesday. I finished the book about ten days ago (“The Guest Book” Sarah Blake- ha- didn’t even need to look that up) but I’m going to have to glance over it before I go to club, because honestly- not quite sure I remember the small strokes, or frankly, the big strokes…other then I thought it was average. That part I do remember: very average.

I’ve read 29 books this year. While a few stand out, it’s the books on opposite ends of the spectrum. I remember the books I loved, and I remember the books I hated. The ones in the middle- well- they’re kind of lost in my mind. I sort of, kind of remember the plot, but details…don’t even think about quizzing me.

I know when my daughter is reading something for school, she takes copious notes. Her books are filled with post it notes, and they’ve been taught the Cornell system for remembering things from books. Her school often requires the students to buy certain texts so that they can write notes in the margins and highlight. (Hence why Rebecca is floating around my house) So clearly, even when clinically reading a text, we still need reminders as to what’s important, who people are, what are the clues tossed in along the way…

So, I guess what I’m asking you today is: Do you remember the details from books? Do you think it’s important to remember things from books? What are the parameters? Are some books just more forgettable than others? And why can some people pull a quote out from thin air? Do you just memorize a few all purpose quotes?

Who’s Your Hero?

I was reading a book review from Jessica the other day. She wrote an aside that she realized that she tends to read female protagonists. So  it got me thinking: do I read more male or female leads in books?

I’m going to go into my Nook (no Kindle here…) history for this calendar year and give you a quick count. Take 30 seconds to think about your own habits as  you imagine me counting.

Male- 8

Female- 12

Neither/Both- 8

So it would appear by my standards that I am really all over the place. I have no clear favorite, but really base my interest in a book based on the story itself. Hmmm. I’m actually surprised, because I thought for sure that I would have been leaning totally towards the female protagonist. When Jessica posed the question, my brain was screaming “Female Protagonist. Girl rule boys Drool. Of course I love female leads.” I made an assumption that because I identify as a woman, that my books would identify that as well.


So let’s drill down on the numbers. My favorite book that I read this year was Amor Towles “A Gentleman in Moscow”. I mean, gentleman is in the title, so you know you’re getting a male protagonist. But it didn’t matter. Book was elegant and intelligent and I just loved going page to page reading about the life of this gentleman.

My second favorite book this year was “Daisy Jones and the Six”. I know- woman in the title, but no….the book looks at things from the perspective of different people. So yes- we hear from Daisy, but we also here from other people. There is neither an overriding masculine or feminine tone to this book: it’s just a fun, interesting read where the voices of multiple characters are sharp and clear.

After looking at my list, I do realize that when I just want to be entertained, I almost always go for female leads. There are times when I don’t want to think: I want to sit under a blanket with a mug of tea and read, and these times are female protagonist time. I want to relate on that level, I want a character like me, or like my friends. My binge books lean towards females. I’m going to bet that the majority of my summer list will contain female leads.

What about authors? Male or female? I’m counting…

20 female

7 male

It would appear that I do tend to gravitate towards female authors.

So maybe I like books that are written from the perspective of a woman, no matter what sex their main characters identify as? Maybe women write the types of stories that I want to read? Maybe women write better dialogue and I am a dialogue girl?

Who knows.

But now that the question is out there on the table, you know I’m going to overthink this too. You know I’m going to be looking at the books I read/choose and asking myself the male/female question. Is the sex of the author important when choosing a book? Is the sex of the main character important? Do I choose books based on either criteria?

So now I’m throwing it out to all of you: answer any or all of the questions that I too am pondering. But basically, how does the sex of the author or sex of the main characters affect your reading habits?



Plot, Characters, Setting Oh My

TJ and I have been tossing on and off about book reviews, how you should do them and what does it mean. Shalini talked about how one bad aspect of a book can really screw you up (actually I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I totally remember my light bulb moment after I read it, so there you go…) Therefore, if you like my blog today, thank me: if you don’t, blame them…

What’s the most important aspect of a book?

Does one aspect of a book matter more?

I’ve been seriously pondering both of these questions lately. What makes a book good or bad? What makes you like a book or hate it? Can you like a bad book?

I know- threw a lot out there at you on a Monday morning. So I’m going to think about these questions from the viewpoint of the book I finished over the weekend, “Star-Crossed” by Minnie Darke. There will be spoilers, but it’s a romantic comedy, so, really.

Predictability: Ok- since I led into this, this book is pretty straightforward in that you know what’s going to happen. You may not know the details along the way, but you know exactly what the arc of this story is going to be- you can almost guess the pages of the climax and the final reveal. Does this make the book bad? Many people critique a book saying it was cliché, and therefore worthy of a lousy review. should a book be dinged because it’s predictable? Well, that depends. In this case no, because of its genre. When I picked up the book I wanted a light, easy, fun read. It’s a romantic comedy: when you decide to read one, you’re pretty much signing on for predicable: do you really want to read a rom com where the two main characters don’t end up together in the end? So yes, predictable, but I expected it. Not dinging this book for that. But another genre of book? I don’t want it to be a pat and scripted journey.

So: how important is predictability? Depends on the genre.

Plot. This kind of goes in hand with predictability. And it also depends on genre. The plot of the book I discussed was straightforward, but again- rom com. It’s supposed to be that way. But, in this case, the little details that filled in the blanks were good: I thought how the author got where she was going was interesting and fun. Our female protagonist is a low level (but rising) employee at a monthly magazine. She has a think for a guy who truly believes in horoscopes, so when she is entering the horoscope copy for layout, she sort of tweaks it so that maybe it will lead him to her. Clever, right? And along the way, we see how she has changed the patterns of other lives because of her false predictions. Even though the story was totally predictable, I enjoyed the ride the author took us on. It was light and easy and fun.

Characters. Do you need to like the characters? This is something I think about often. I know many people will stop reading a book, or ding it badly if they do not like the main character. Is this fair? Again- I think it depends on genre. In the book I’m using as an example, I think you must love, or really like, the two main characters. But other books? I liked “Gone Girl” even though I hated both the main characters. But they intrigued me: sometimes that’s all the hook you need.

Setting/description. How much do you need? How much is important? Ok- I do not like overly descriptive work. When someone gives me a laundry list of the designed names in a closet, and gives me intricate detail of clothing, I am starting to fall asleep. I don’t need to know everything on their kitchen counter, or every objet d’art on their shelves. I want to know the general style, the general upkeep and the colors: that’s what I need to give me a sense of the person. I need the details to be organic. I don’t like laundry lists and I don’t like details that do not matter to the story. But…I know many people who love all those details. I also think that description is a stylistic choice: some genres and stories beg for more description, others need to be sparse. In my rom com of choice, I thought the author gave us just enough so that we got the essence of the characters and where they were in life without burdening us down with minutia.

So if I were to rate “Star-Crossed” I would give it a 3.75. Though I liked all the basic elements, and the plot line was original, some of the hijinks were a little too forced. Some of the main characters traits were a little too cute. But, as far as light, summer rom com it was perfectly fine. I think genre really matters when discussing/reviewing a book: my expectations clearly change dependent upon the type of work I’m looking at. I’m currently reading “Rebecca”: there is no way I would judge it as I judge “Star-Crossed”. First big thought of the week: genre matters, and the guidelines for reviewing/discussing should be different per genre.

I think these are the most important aspects of a book, but I’m going to be playing with all things books and reading this week. If I missed something important today, I’ll more than likely hit on it at some point.



Recently I wrote about adaptations of books and rating them. I obviously have a lot of thoughts on both of these subjects. Today I’m talking about a sort of hybrid: historical novels. I think that they are adaptations of history and therefore, I’m going to rate them as such…

I recently read “Lost Roses” by Martha Hall Kelly, her new prequel to “Lilac Girls” (which I also read) I also recently read “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris. There may be spoilers ahead: I’m not sure how I want to pen my ideas.

Historical novels are books based on actual events yet are fictional. Hmmmm. Should we be doing this? Why would we do it? What could go wrong when we take an actual event and fictionalize it? Are you starting to see where I’m going with this?

I know both of these books are based on actual events. They speak of real people who did things in their lives. In one case, the author had actually spoken to the namesake tattooer. So these things really happened.


And there’s the problem. We take an actual person, an actual thing that they did, and then you build a fictional story around it. Fictional. As in, one thing was real, and maybe 80% is what the author dreamed up based on historical documents. Hmmmm.

As a fledgling writer I have been in classes where I have presented a story or chapter and have been met with choruses of “That would never happen in real life.” “That’s not believable.” Even published authors have received criticism that things aren’t realistic. (and we all know that sometimes what we write, even though labeled as fiction, is actually based on real events, so like it or not, things happen). So with actual fiction, every story, anecdote and happening must pass the believability test. It has to actually seem like it would happen. Not so much with historical fiction.

I think there is much more license to be creative when something is deemed historical and based on a true event. You have to believe it because this is a real character who had a real life and real things that led to this incident or time in history. You must believe all the words on a page because it “happened”. It’s based on a “true story”.

I call bullshit.

Here come the spoilers.

“Tattooist” is basically a love story. Boy meets girl as he is branding her with a tattoo in Auschwitz, a concentration camp run by the Nazi’s in World War II. All these things are fact. Real people, real places, real events. Truth. The author actually spoke to the tattooer before he died.

But the story…If this was the first Holocaust book that someone read, they would have a very poor understanding of what it was. This book was more reminiscent of summer camp, and boys and girls sneaking behind the cabin to have sex. Which is literally a scene in this book. Now I want to ask you logically: with what you know about concentration camps and Nazi’s, do you think that a male and female prisoner would be able to sneak behind a building to have sex (excuse me- make love) and long talks? Do you understand why I looked at the book and said “Bullshit”?

Now, in this case I’m not blaming the author. She actually interviewed the main character back in the early 2000’s. But honestly, I can’t imagine his memories were very real. First off, by then he was probably in his 90’s. I’m sorry, memory fades with age. Secondly, he is a Holocaust survivor: he is going to have the memories he chooses to have because he survived one the most horrific periods in history. Like anyone who has experienced a personal tragedy, they need to separate things in their mind- the survivor instinct lets you build a whole new reality. But to say “Based on a True Story”? I take offense to using those words with this book.

In “Lost Roses” I am totally blaming the author. She has chosen to write about women in a prominent New York society family during WWI. I don’t think she actually spoke to any of the women personally. These women were pioneers in helping those who could not help themselves, refugees and others. Commendable. Women like this should be recognized.


To say that there were parts of this story that were ridiculous is an understatement. The coincidences and chances of fate that happen? You would not believe how many people happened to be walking down the street at the same time as their love from twenty years prior, especially as they are now in a completely different city. And the degrees of separation? every time they met someone new, that person knew all their friends and relatives. Amazing. Fate at its finest.


How many acts of fate and coincidence am I supposed to believe because something is labeled “based on a true story.” In 1917 Russia, am I supposed to believe that a woman by herself was able to get a horse and a cart through the revolution and onto Paris? Really? In a country with no food and constant rioting because no one was really in charge, a beautiful woman was able to get out alive, feed herself and feed her horse, from St. Petersburg to Paris? Really?

Come. On.

But I guess it happened because it was based on a true story.

So yes, I’m throwing the entire historical fiction novel, especially those based on a true story, under the bus. Don’t get me started on revisionist history either- just because we wish something was so doesn’t mean it was. But that’s not even a blog- that’s a book…


Historical fiction? Yay or nay?



The Book Clubs- Part 2

A few weeks ago I discussed how I was going to counter empty nesthood: by joining two book clubs. One at my local Barnes and Noble which would be discussing new and noteworthy (aka hyped) books and one at an independent book store focusing on foreign books in translation.


Except, all my IRL friends said that I was totally going to the Barnes and Noble one. And they added, there was no way I was going to the foreign book one.

Oh how well my friends know me.

This past Monday I did indeed skip the independent bookstore club (I mean- I didn’t read the book, so, you know…) and on Tuesday I went to the B&N one.

First off- great success to the B&N club. It was run by two young enthusiastic readers who came prepared with great questions and the ability to keep the group in line. There were probably about fifteen of us in all, fourteen women and one lone man. Why do men not like book clubs? The majority of the women were older than me, but there one or two younger. In all, it was a lively group filled with varied opinions and ideas and thoughts. The conversation solidly revolved around the book for the hour. I will definitely be going again next month.

Here’s the thing about me and reading and book clubs. I love to discuss books. I love discussing how the author moved the plot forward, or what devices were used. I love questioning why something was done in a certain way. But sometimes I wonder if I read books differently than others.

The book we discussed was “Lost Roses” by Martha Hall Kelly, the prequel to “Lilac Girls” (which I read and disliked as well) I made a point about a part of the book I thought was preposterous, and no one else had picked up on it. After I said it, a few people opened there mouths and said – “Oh wow- I didn’t think of that. that’s right.” But some people just stared at me. I made another point about how a character acted in a particular scene and I said I lost all sympathy for her after that scene, and people again said they hadn’t thought of it like that. So I can’t help but wonder: am I odd? Do I read into things differently than others? Do I look for oddities?

When you read a book, how do you read it? I know we all know how to read, and as bloggers and blog readers, we’re actually pretty good at it. But how carefully and critically do you look at novels that you’re reading? (and don’t talk to me about grammar because we all know that I don’t do grammar and will not fault anyone for incorrect grammar) When it comes to characters, do you actively look for the subtle moments when they change? Do you notice inconsistencies in plot line?

I know numerical inconsistencies drive me crazy. The only time I ever emailed an author had to do with ages of her characters- she changed the age of several characters several times (and it wasn’t a self published book!!!)

So, what makes you question a book? What makes you decide you like, or don’t like a book? Inquiring minds want to know.


One Star

I had a very interesting conversation with TJ Fox the other day. We were discussing reviews and rating systems and I said I never give a one star review (or five star for that matter), and I usually discount one star reviews as well. TJ asked- “Don’t some things warrant a one star?”

And I got to thinking…

Is there anything so bad that it should be given the lowest star count on a rating system?

What would make a book so bad that it would deserve only a star?

My thought process is that a book would need to lack in all areas. The plot would need to be ridiculous, the characters one dimensional, the dialogue unbelievable, the setting mundane and lifeless. There would be no rhyme or reason to the chapters or structure. it would need to make no sense. And the grammar would need to be completely off the mark. I have yet to meet a book that lacks in all these criteria simultaneously.

When reviewing something, what goes into it? When you tell someone “Don’t read” or “Do Read” or “Must read” on what basis are you setting that? How much of that is personal preference?

I have a really good friend S. Her taste in books is opposite mine. She never enjoys the books I like. Is she wrong? Am I wrong?

No. Because that’s the problem with reviews: you can be biased by what genre or style you like or don’t like.

I recently read Taylor Jenkins Read “Daisy Jones and the Six”. The story unfolds in an interesting way: from the perspective of someone making a documentary of a band. So the story is told in snippets of how interviewees answered questions. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell a story of this sort. I love quirky ways of telling a story. Others don’t. How fair is it to give this book a one star review because you don’t “like” the method? (I saw one star reviews of this book, so this is a legitimate concern)

I don’t like science fiction. Just don’t like the genre. Would it be fair of me to rate a sci fi book one star?

I did not like the TV show “Breaking Bad”. I stopped watching after season two. I also only watched one episode of “Game of Thrones”. Is it fair for me to say DNF (did not finish) or one star because it’s not my taste?

This week I talked about book to movie adaptations: plot changes, characters eliminated or changed, miscastings…. To someone who has read and loved a novel, the adaptation of it just falls short. But what if someone never read the book and just watched? I never read the Inspector Lynley books, but I thought the series on PBS was pretty good. But Jane Fritz thought that it was totally miscast. We would rate it differently because we are viewing it from two different angles. Would it be fair for Jane to give it a one star because it’s not what she wanted to see based on her preconceived ideas?(to be clear, Im using this as an example- I don’t know what she actually would rate the series) Just like me with the Malkovich Poirot: I thought it was HORRIBLE because I am a Poirot purist. But what if I had never picked up a Christie? Would I still think it was horrible?


How does one write an impartial review? How do you divorce personal preference and just look at the bones of a work? What should a review be based on?



We all agreed that John Malkovich was by far the worst Poirot ever. Though to be fair, I  saw a movie with Tony Randall playing the detective, which was just…..indescribable…. It was done in the sixties, so I’ll forgive it to a point…. But what other roles have been horribly miscast?

I love Tom Hanks. He is one of my favorite actors, and he actually seems like a really great guy. Fine actor. I can’t tell you how good I think he is. Except, you know, he can’t play everyone. For example- “Bonfire of the Vanities”. Not only was this a horrible adaptation of a book, it was just a horrible movie. I mean horrible. And miscast is an understatement. The last person who should have played the arrogant prick of a main character was Tom Hanks.. (In hindsight Kevin Spacey would have been perfect actually…)

And how about the iconic Dan Brown character, Robert Langdon. I remember reading DaVinci and was casting the movie in my head. I immediately thought Liam Neeson. Maybe Russell Crowe. Tom Hanks never entered my imagination. I have no doubt that Tom Hanks is a brilliant guy- but he doesn’t play as an elbow patch wearing Harvard academic. Not. at. All. And they keep making the movies with him, and I keep watching them, and I keep shaking my head…..why oh why?

This is one of my problems with film adaptations of books. As a reader, you get a mental picture of a character. This week a couple of people had very interpretations of what Jack Reacher should look like. And that’s great, because we all bring our own interpretations into things. But when you have imagined a character one way, and then see them on a big screen as something else….well, it’s hard to change your mind.

Sometimes you have the perfect casting. Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy. End of discussion. I will never read P and P again without picturing Firth. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth Bennett. David Suchet is Poirot.

It’s a wonderful thing when an author writes such a brilliant character that we all “know” what they will actually look like. We know how they would act, we know how they would react. Some authors have the innate ability to bring a character to life. Things like this are what makes a great book: iconic characters and settings. And a literature purist just doesn’t want to see the dream fade. They want the character to live on in their memory.

If I overthought this subject a little more, I could probably argue that there is some psychological component to this. We imagine something and then the reality is quite different. Maybe we want to keep our fantasies safe…..but this is a blog for another day…

But anyway….worst miscastings?

Eliminating and Melding

I love books.

I love movies.

I don’t always love books made into movies.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when characters are eliminated or melded together. I understand why it’s done: keep production costs down by reducing headcount, keep storyline cleaner, save time. I understand the practicality- I am all about the practical. But….

The first time I encountered this daunting character thing was upon reading Gone With the Wind. SPOILER ALERT: In the book Scarlett has three children, Bonnie is her third. The movie adaptation of this book only has her having one child.


Even at twelve, I was incredulous that this had been allowed to happen. It was a 9 thousand hour movie, with 8 billion people in the cast. Really? They couldn’t cast two kids? The additional kids were a great way to really look at Scarlett’s character as a whole person. Being a Mother changes you, or should change you? Did we miss integral parts of the story because they weren’t included in the movie? Did the premise change? How much of the integrity of the book was compromised by cutting out these characters?

Not long after my disillusionment with the movie/book dilemma of GWTW, I encountered another slight- “Rich Man, Poor Man” (SPOILER AHEAD) In the movie there is a sister character and a girlfriend character. In the mini series, these characters were combined.

What? Combine a sister and a girlfriend to make one character? Madness…

Now, I admit that RMPM is not a classic of literature- it’s a page turning soap opera of a story. But you take any lesson or value or literariness out of the book by melding these two characters together. If the book had melded these characters it might not have gotten published- that’s how strong the need is for there to be two separate characters. Nature/nurture was a strong foundation of the novel, and it was completely reduced to cheap and tawdry in the mini series. But I guess even back in the seventies we just wanted cheap and tawdry…

So- which book/movie adaptations annoy you the most regarding eliminating or melding of characters? These were the ones that came to mind because these were the first time I recognized the phenomenon.  Which characters were integral to the storyline of a book but ended up in the vast black hole of unused characters?