Sunday, December 28, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

2014 Book Winners  (Annette’s Reading List)

Below are the books I have read in 2014. You can read reviews on almost all of them. I’ve noted the ones that stood out as my favorites.  Favorites is a hard game to play, and I wanted to mark so many more that stood out, but in the end I bit the bullet and only chose the top two or three in a category.  As a side note, just because I didn’t write a review on the book, doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.

Click on the titles to read the reviews.


Babayaga by Toby Barlow 

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok 

This charming book rocketed up to win my “favorite book of the year award.” 

Heartburn by Nora Ephron (No review)

The Hundred-FootJourney by Richard C. Morais

The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society by Barbara Zitwer (No review)

Lady at the O.K.Corral by Ann Kirschner

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

A Long Way Down Nick Hornby

The Painted Girls Cathy Marie Buchanan

Serendipity by Louise Shaffer (No review)

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This book rises to sit among the favorites. 

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

by Maria Semple
Another star of 2014.


This category is a win/win situation.  Both books were great and I can’t decide if one was better than the other.

Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge


Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah
Great book.  If you enjoyed The Glass Castle, there’s a good chance you’ll like this book.

I Guess I Missed the Boat by Barry Finlay

Two Wheels North by Evelyn McDaniel Gibb (No review)


The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson  (Short story)

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde (Short story)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (Play)

by Washington Irving  (Short story)

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Short story)
Short and unusual, this book was a like discovering an odd treasure.  I liked the originality of it.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw  (Play)

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
No surprise here, I’ve read and reviewed this book twice.  It’s one of my favorites of all time, so naturally it lands as number one on my classics list of 2014.

Happy Reading,


What’s your favorite book that you read in 2014? Post a comment or email:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Honeymoon from Hell (Whodunit)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie is a fun whodunit set on a steamer cruise ship in Egypt. While gliding down the Nile on a luxury seven-day trip, a young, wealthy, beautiful bride on her honeymoon is found dead.  As luck would have it, mustachioed Belgian detective, Hercule Poroit, happens to be vacationing on the same boat and with the help of acquaintance, Colonel Race, they set out to solve the sordid crime. 

Some facts, ergo motives, were already all too crystal clear.  Linnet Ridgeway is a woman of means, and means to get whatever she wants.  She’s got the looks and money to spin the world her way.  What she wants is her friend Jacqueline’s fiancé, Simon Doyle.  And although Simon and Jacqueline were madly in love, Linnet manages to peel him away from the defenseless woman.  They marry and head off to exotic Egypt for their honeymoon.  Jacqueline, however, is a woman scorned. As you know, hell hath no fury like that type of female, and Jackie isn’t taking this lying down. Surprisingly, Jackie shows up at every stop on their honeymoon. She’s an evil shadow casting a spell on their wedded bliss.  Then suddenly Linnet is found dead. But things don’t add up when Jacqueline has a solid alibi.  That’s when Hercule sharpens his investigating skills and digs deeper into the motives of the other travelers on board the ship.

The book is fun, fun, fun.   I also loved the movie—the 1978 version with a star-studded cast.  Peter Ustinov is Hercule Poirot, Mia Farrow the jilted Jacqueline, Bette Davis a rich American, Maggie Smith her maid, Angela Lansbury a washed-up romance novelist, George Kennedy is Linnet’s American trustee, Jack Warden the
Austrian Dr. Bessner, and David Niven the helpful Colonel Race.  The movie is a visual treat. The scenes of Egypt, the elegant costumes, the luxurious setting on the boat all bring breathtaking beauty to the twisted plot with the age-old theme of love, greed, and jealousy.

Experience the total entertainment package—indulge in the book, then watch the movie.  Enjoy!

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

The Spinster and the Madam (Deception and Greed in the Old West)

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas. Emma is a thirty-something spinster who sets out to marry a man she’s only corresponded with, but never met.  Her brother thinks she’s a twit and minces no words about his opinions of her when he helps Emma board a train to Nalgitas, New Mexico in the late 1800s.  He makes sure she sits next to a respectable woman during the train ride to keep his naïve sister safe.  That woman, however, ain’t no lady. She’s Addie French, a madam at a brothel called The Chili Queen.  When Emma reaches Nalgitas, instead of her dream man waiting for her, she discovers a note calling the whole thing off.  Poor Emma can’t return to her brother with the bad attitude. She does the only thing she can think of and sets off to find Addie at The Chili Queen, which she thinks is a boarding house. Addie agrees to take Emma in and together they develop a plan that involves secrets, deceptions, greed, and justice. 

While I liked The Chili Queen, I have to be honest that one particularly dark part cast a shadow on the entire book.  Granted, there were several dark parts in The Diary of Mattie Spenser, which I loved.  In fact, one scene was very disturbing, but the rest of the book pulled me through it.  However, I have to cry foul regarding the brutal portion in The Chili Queen.  It was unnecessary roughness and seemed out of place in this type of book.  Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it. I still recommend it, just be prepared for a nasty bump in the road.

Of the three Sandra Dallas books I’ve read, I give the following ratings:

The Chili Queen – Good
The Persian Pickle Club – The Best!!

Happy Reading,


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Monday, December 1, 2014

Notable December-born Authors

Honoring the Magic Makers (Authors)

Happy Birthday to Notable Authors born in December! 
Click on the links to read reviews.

December 7, 1873              
Willa Cather

American author born in Nebraska who wrote stories of the struggles of pioneer life, including O’Pioneers and My Antonia (both are quick reads which I have enjoyed). She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours.


December 12, 1821            
Gustave Flaubert

French novelist and playwright, famous for Madame Bovary, his first published novel which was originally printed in a series of articles. Due to the shockingly naughty and immoral theme of adultery, Flaubert was brought to trial along with the printer and the manager of the series. All were acquitted and naturally the sensationalism boosted sales of the book.

December 15, 1896            
Betty Smith

American author born in Brooklyn, NY, known for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, about a poor Irish-American family struggling to make ends meet during the early 1900s. This was a book that a bunch of us read before our book club was officially formed.  Everyone gave it a thumbs-up. No one can forget little Francie Nolan’s spunk and determination.


December 16, 1775            
Jane Austen

An English author know for her works of romance in the times of strict social customs. Unless you’re living under a rock, you may recognize her titles such as:  Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, or her first novel, Northanger Abbey. For a woman who wrote about romance and courtship, she herself never saw much action in the love arena. Although one man did propose to her, he was no Mr. Darcy. She took a second glance at this big, stuttering oaf and turned him down. Jane died at the age of 41 after an illness that is now speculated to have been caused by a myriad of possibilities including Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, or a recurrent form of typhus.


December 16, 1898            
Ralph Moody

An American author who wrote about growing up in the American West.  His autobiographies about life in Colorado was (and still is) a wildly popular series:  Little Britches, Man of the Family, The Home Ranch. My son and I enjoyed reading Little Britches together, a charming book that touts the qualities of hard work, determination, and moral standards.


December 26, 1956            
David Sedaris

American author known for his humorous books of autobiographical stories: Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames to name a few. I’ve only read Me Talk Pretty One Dayso far.  Loved it!  


December 28, 1933            
Charles Portis

American author known for True Grit, his entertaining book about a fourteen-year-old girl who hunts down her father’s murderer in the late 1800s. This brilliant, quick and easy, fast-paced, action-packed book is one of my favorites.  I saw both movies made from the book, the 1969 film starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby and the 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld.   In my opinion the winner, hands-down, is the 2010 version. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin were wonderful, but Hailee Steinfeld stole the show.  She was true to the character in the book as the fast-talking, smart-as-a-whip teenager.  In 2011, she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress. She lost to Melissa Leo for her role in The Fighter.  While I’m sure Melissa did great, I think Hailee should have won.


December 30, 1865            
Rudyard Kipling

An English author of novels, short stories and poems, many set in British India where he was born and named after the beautiful Rudyard Lake. Kipling was a fascinating man who traveled all over the world (India, England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan) and the United States (San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Yellowstone, Chicago, New York, and more).  He and his wife, Carrie, settled in Vermont for years where two of his three children were born.  There he wrote The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous and the poem, Gunga Din. While I have read Captains Courageous eons ago, I think it may be time to revisit him with his novel Kim or the short story The Man Who Would Be King, both of which are sitting on my bookshelf waiting for my attention.

December 31, 1965            
Nicholas Sparks

An American author known for books of love triumphing against the odds. Sparks seems to have the Midas touch as most of his books not only became bestsellers, they also hit the big screen. You’ll probably recognize titles such as:  Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, and Safe Haven. Those are just some of his books that have been turned into movies.  I’ve read a couple of his novels, A Bend in the Road and The Notebook, which even my non-reading daughter enjoyed.  But I think his memoir written with his brother, Micah Sparks, Three Weeks With My Brother, was probably my favorite of his books

Happy Reading,


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

A Reign of Terror and Oppression (Memorable Memoir)

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah is the heart-breaking true story of an “unwanted Chinese” daughter.  Adeline’s birth mother died from complications shortly after Adeline was born and soon a new stepmother entered the lives of the Yen family. The new mother called “Niang” gave birth to a girl and a boy, bringing the total brood to seven children.  Right from the beginning her own children were favored as the stepchildren suffered under her rule. Niang was a vindictive, conniving, tyrant who manipulated her husband, kids, and other family members’ lives in a “reign of terror and oppression.”  In an effort to divide and conquer, Niang encouraged strife and betrayal amongst the siblings.  Everyone was affected by her endless emotional abuse, but it was Adeline who was singled out.  Her own father, however, was not innocent, as he always sided with Niang, no matter how unjust, even dispensing own variations of mistreatment. This poignant and memorable book is about the basic struggle for love and acceptance, about defeat and ultimate triumph.  Like The Glass Castle it’s tragic, compelling, and unforgettable.

Falling Leaves, a complete biography from childhood to adulthood, was first published in 1997.  Two years later Yen Mah published an abridged version of this book called Chinese Cinderella.  I read Chinese Cinderella over a decade ago and it wasn’t until my book club chose Falling Leaves that I realized it was the same story.  Either book is riveting, and I highly recommend them.

This was a book club selection and all our members thought it was very good--a definite thumbs-up!  We were all outraged at the evil stepmother and her husband's disregard to his own children.

Let me know what you thought of this book by leaving a comment or email  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Dark Burden of Love (Love and Tragedy)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman is about a lighthouse keeper and his wife on an isolated island in Western Australia in 1926 who save a baby from a ship wrecked on their shores and bury the dead man who was with her.  This baby seems to be a gift from God to Isabel, the lighthouse keeper's wife, who's had several miscarriages.  With a heavy and reluctant heart, her husband, Tom, gives in to her pleas to keep "Lucy."  This sets the stage for an emotional journey of love, guilt, betrayal, and justice.  It's no secret right from the get-go that this book is designed to pull at your heart strings, and it did a good job of it.  In fact, it pulled on my heart like a taffy machine, yanking all my maternal instincts back and forth and back and forth again until it finally managed to coax out a couple tears, which are not always that forthcoming from me (see Firefly Lane).  

I really did like the book, tears, anguish, and all.  It was a fast read with a devastating story that will stay with me a long time.  It's a harsh reminder that sometimes we must do the best we can when fate relentlessly slaps us around.

Prepare to be moved.  Also be prepared to see it on the big screen as this book will be made into a BLT (bring lots of tissues) movie starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Fassbender.  Filming was scheduled to begin September, 2014, but no word yet on a release date in theaters.

Rachel Weisz

Michael Fassbender

Happy Reading,


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Crime and Drama in California (Classic Love and Murder)

Do you believe in love at first sight?  Frank and Cora did. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain is about a couple who instantly fall in love, tainted with a hearty dose of brutal lust.  He’s a drifter and she’s married to the owner of a roadside diner. They start a passionate and violent affair where bitings and beatings are all part of the fun. It isn’t long before they plan to take out Cora’s husband and then the fun really gets rolling.  Their quest brings them down a windy road with twists and turns around every corner. 

This crime novel was first published in 1934.  It is narrated in a “hard-boiled” roman noir voice where there’s some cheesy fast talk, punctuated with vintage exclamations like “swell, by golly, and grand.”  When it was first written, the violence and sexual heat caused quite a stir.  Offended Bostonians banned the book. But despite, or more likely because of the notoriety, this book has been popular for eight decades. There have been numerous film adaptations.  It’s a fast-paced, short book with only 87 pages in my version. 

See what all the fuss is about and make up your own mind as to what the title means since there is no postman in the book. 

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Courageous Incident of a Boy on a Mission (Autism)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is about a 15-year-old boy with autism who discovers a neighbor dog has been killed with a pitchfork. Christopher makes it his quest to find the killer, all the while writing a book about the mystery.  Christopher does not like to be touched and has difficulties with social interactions, but he does have a gift for math and logic.  With great determination, he uses his logical reasoning to track the killer and soon finds himself in an unexpected journey of discovery, betrayal, and complicated relationships. 

I enjoyed this book because it was so different from anything I’ve read.  I liked “getting into Christopher’s head” and learning his fears and methodology for coping with them. Not only did I like Christopher, but I also had sympathy for those who loved and cared for him. This novel made me feel as though I might have a tiny bit better understanding of autism.  It’s a quick read that left a bittersweet aftertaste.

Happy Reading,


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