Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 Favorite Books

Reading Ratings of 2015 (Annette’s Reading List)

Below are the books I have read and reviewed in 2015. You can read reviews by clicking on the titles. Choosing a “favorite” is more difficult than it sounds. Each book as its merits.  They all touched me in different ways. I wanted to mark so many more that stood out, but in the end I whittled it down to the top one (or three) in a category. 

Click on the titles to read the reviews.


And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This fun book’s originality and wit stood out and
wins my “favorite book of the year award.” 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Log of the SS the Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford

Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik

Serena by Ron Rash

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton! by Karen Russell

Although I'll admit there's one part in the book that turned me off, in the end I really liked this book because the setting and premise are so different.  Very original.

This book was touching (and at times a tad odd), but it really stuck with me.          


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins Martian by Andy Weir

All the books in this category were outstanding, but The Martian kept me turning the pages the fastest.

Zorro by Isabel Allende


84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Tracks by Robin Davidson

A Walk in the Woods  by Bill Bryson

Again, all the books in this category were very good, but only Bill had me laughing out loud!

Biographies/Historical Narratives:

In this category, I’m not even going to try and decide—all books were excellent.

What’s not to love about a race around the world?—Set in the 1800s with two women—and all true. the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Sad and unforgettable, this book left a lasting impression. Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor

A fascinating dip into history.

Pulitzer Prize Winners: by Toni Morrison

This book nudged past Olive because it was so heart-wrenching and raw.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

Happy Reading,


What’s your favorite book that you read in 2015? Post a comment or email:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Barging Back to the Past (Lost Love)

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is about bookseller extraordinaire, Monsieur Perdu, whose shop is a barge on the river Seine in Paris.  There, Perdu dispenses books like medicine to his patrons.  He knows just what they need to gain confidence, courage, or combat pessimism. Yet this book doctor can’t cure himself.  For twenty years his heart has been broken by a lost love and yet no book can get him to move past it and carry on with his life.  Then, one day something happens to jolt his senses and he does something wild and unexpected.  He takes off in his barge leaving his old world behind.  Perdu travels south on canals and rivers through beautiful French countryside in a quest to face the truth of his past.  Along the way he picks up some quirky companions who join his journey for reasons of their own.

This book was sad, heart-warming, yet life affirming and amusing and I enjoyed every moment of it.
As a side note; this book jolted my own senses.  It revived and strengthened my love of travel, just as A Year in Provence and French Dirt had me dreaming of a trip to France.   

It sparked a few new bucket list items for me.

1.    Find and buy a book from a barge bookshop. (Probably not easy)

2.    Vacation on a traveling barge.

3.    Visit some of the wonderful French towns Perdu stopped at.  

What got me even more excited was an awesome book review by Suzi at in which she not only described some of the destinations in the book she also provided links to restaurants, bakeries, hotels, and barge tours!    Mon Dieu! I’m ready to go!


This book met a several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a set in a foreign country;  read a book from your local bookstore; and read a novel that has a recipe in it.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, November 30, 2015

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman

Racing Reporters (Race Around the World)

Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman.  In 1889, two women set off to race around the world in an attempt to beat fictional character, Phileas Fogg’s, record of 80 days.  The race was a grand marketing stunt to boost newspaper sales.  Joseph Pulitzer, owner of The World decides to send star reporter, Nellie Bly, around the world.  Hours later, The Cosmopolitan magazine grabs its chance for equal publicity by sending their own female journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, the other direction in an attempt to beat Nellie. Nellie didn’t even know about the other woman until she was halfway around the globe.
Both women are given very little notice to begin this bold adventure in the Victorian age, a time of great restraints—more than just corsets.  I’m referring to social restraints; a time when women didn’t go anywhere unescorted, much less travel to foreign countries alone. 
Sounds like fiction, and would surely make a great movie, but this story is true. ­Written as a historical narrative this book reads more like a novel, maybe even a sequel to Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. The women experience nail-biting delays, unbelievably rough seas; they get carried in sedans on the shoulders of coolies in exotic locations where the locals stare in amazement at the “clothing” the ladies wear on their hands.  And to top it off, along the way, Nellie acquires a not-so-friendly pet monkey.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I had read about these women before in another book called Around the World in 72 Days by Jason Marks, a much shorter though still informative book about their journeys. Both books are good. If you want a more thorough understanding of both the women’s lives before, during, and after the race, you may want to read Eighty Days.  If you’re satisfied with a briefer overview, check out Around the World in 72 Days.    

My book club elected to read this book and the ones who read it really liked it.  In fact, it turned out to be one of our more lengthy discussions because there was so much to go over.  Good book....great story, even more so because it's true.  It left us all wondering....hey, why haven't they made a movie of this yet?  

This book met a several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a book with a number in the title; buy a book from your local bookstore; read a book set in a foreign country; read a book set in the 1800s; and read a historical fiction/narrative.

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Little Free Libraries Mini Midwest Tour

Connecting with Midwest Readers (Fun Stuff)


You may have read my other posts about Little Free Libraries where you can take a book/leave a book: Little Free Libraries or Coeur d’Alene Update. Well, I just can’t seem to get enough of them.  This fall, my husband and I took a road trip for our vacation traveling from northern Idaho through Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, heading back through Iowa, South Dakota, Montana again and on home. I thought wouldn’t it be fun to make small detours along the way and visit Little Free Libraries all over.  So, I went on the Little Free Library Map and located some “libraries” on the way to our destinations. It’s almost like a treasure hunt. Sounds great! Right? Well, my husband didn’t think so.  With our outdated GPS system and nothing but construction all over, we got lost many times, all the while our GPS lady kept insisting over and over again that we “make the next legal U-turn” to get us back on track. But my husband was such a trouper and despite almost ripping his hair out, we actually made several stops—all different…all wonderful!


Miles City, MT. (2216 Main St)  This Little Free Library is not one I had mapped out.  My husband just happened to spot it on our way out of town; that was the first Little Free Library we saw and he was still up for my game. What a cool find it was—a cute Little Library in front of this stately brick mansion.

I took:   Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds (for my granddaughter)


Fargo, ND.  (1437 S 9th St) What a fun and funky Little Free Library this is!  It’s covered in an array of gems and buttons and eclectic finds like a butterfly, pumpkin, bird nest, and then wrapped in Christmas lights.  So creative!

I left:     Zorro by Isabel Allende (because I figured these people would be adventurous)
I took:   Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett (for my granddaughter)


Bemidji, MN (home of Paul Bunyan).  (918 4th St) This Little Library was tucked away on a quiet street that should
have been easy to get to, if it weren’t for our confused GPS.  Unfortunately, we were in such a rush by the time we found it, I didn’t have time to browse for a book.


Becker, MN. (11255 3rd St) This bright and cheery Little Library was in a nice neighborhood in a tiny town we passed on our way to Jordan, MN. 

I took:   One, Two, Three! by Sandra Boynton (for my granddaughter, who is two years old and has other books by this author.)

Minneapolis, MN. (?) I should probably have skipped this Little Library when the address didn’t show up on the map.  While there were endless choices for Little Free Libraries in Minneapolis (the map lit up like a Christmas tree) I could see that this one was really close to our B&B, so we gave it a shot.   The first thing I saw was a Forbes Magazine on display and behind it were real estate and business books—not the usual Little Free Library reading fare. Maybe it was supposed to be more of a private exchange between colleagues?  Needless to say I didn’t take a book, however I did leave one just because we were there.  I wonder if he’ll throw it away. Ha.


Blue Earth, MN. (In the park).  We stopped in this small town to see the Jolly Green Giant Statue. After we took our
That's me by his shoes.
photos with him, we drove around town a bit and saw a park where we decided to eat our lunch under the picnic shelter. On the way out, what do you know, I saw this cute little log cabin library!

I took:   Tailypo: A Ghost Story by Joanna and Paul Galdone (for my granddaughter, who at first was not all that interested in the book, untillllll the old man hid under the covers from the monster—now she can’t get enough of it!)

Storybook Island Park
Rapid City, SD.  Turned out to be a bust, not because they didn’t have any Little Free Libraries, but our GPS couldn’t find one of the streets and the other two were strictly geared towards kids. So I had to skip it because I didn’t bring any kids books.  That’ll teach me.  On my next tour I’ll have to bring a mix.

Belle Fourche, SD.  (717 State St) After our fruitless tour of Rapid City during rush hour, my husband was pretty much done with my Little Libraries. He vowed no more.  My sad eyes (and pleading) must have won him over, though, because the next day he agreed to one last stop in the small town of Belle Fourche.  It was a beautiful way to end the tour!  This shining star of a Little Free Library was a perfect little house with glass door and the icing on the cake was the real American flag flying from it.  I loved it!!  Each book in the library had a little bookmark explaining the Free Little Library concept.  You could tell that whoever is the steward of this library takes great pride in it. So, there I left my last book.   

I took:   His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal (This time a book for me!)

Tip: I found that on the Little Free Library map, it sometimes worked best to plug in the zip code as opposed to the City/State/Province/Region. Belle Fourche, SD, for example, didn't come up in the city/state field, but did come up when I entered the zip code.
Thank you to everyone who built and shares their Little Free Library, for your creativity and for putting a smile on so many faces—especially mine!!

Happy Reading,



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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong—Tugboat Update

Covington Inn B&B (Travel)

Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong is a travel book that lists unusual hotels across the United States. My husband and I had stayed at the Dog Bark Park B&B in Cottonwood, Idaho earlier this year and loved it.  We then planned our vacation with some more quirky sleeps including a stay in a train car at the Whistle Stop B&B in New York Mills, MN and a night at the LaVoie Treehouse in Long Prairie,MN.

Covington Inn B&B, St. Paul, MN

The third off-beat hotel we stayed at was not listed in the book, but inspired by it.  Somehow I found the Covington Inn B&B, a tugboat on the Mississippi River in St Paul, MN.

The boat was wonderful!! Our “Riverview” suite was downstairs in the hull. It had a bed high up on a pedestal with a step down to a little living room with a couch and fireplace. While the furnishings were mostly updated and modern, it gave me the feeling of another era.  Maybe it was all the nice woodwork.  I could imagine
Our private living room.
myself as being on the boat in Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. Instead of a view of the Nile, however, we had a spectacular up-close and personal view of the Mississippi River.  From our living room, there were two seats tucked up a couple steps in a nook where two portholes overlooked the Mississippi River to downtown St Paul on the other bank.  If the portholes opened, it seems like we could have reached right
Our view through a porthole.
out and touched the water….we were right at water level. So cool! I really enjoyed just sitting there watching boats go by and even a skiff with a ladies’ rowing team sped past. 


The salon upstairs had a lounging area with a sofa, fireplace, and a high ceiling with windows way up to the deck. Dining tables were set around the room. Breakfast in the salon was again outrageously delicious—French toast with fresh fruit and tons of handmade whip cream with two sausage links on the side. Tasty!  

Click below to learn more about these quirky accommodations,

Happy travels, happy reading,


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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong—Treehouse Update

LaVoie Treehouse (Travel)

Today, I’m continuing with my update on Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong.  Last week I highlighted my stay in a train car at the Whistle Stop B&B in New York Mills, MN.

LaVoie Treehouse
Next up on our autumn vacation was the LaVoie Treehouse in Long Prairie, MN. It had always been Joyce’s dream to build a treehouse and she finally got one in her backyard—in the midst of a mini forest.  It’s not all that far from her home, but you couldn’t see it from there because it was tucked into the woods, like a wonderful log cabin in the sky.

A cozy and inviting room..
The bed had a red and white quilt layered with a red and black fleece throw.  A fake bear rug greeted us on the pillows .  It was so cozy and inviting looking.  There were two wicker chairs and two retro red dining chairs with a matching table.  A bookshelf held some treehouse and woodsy-type books, and appropriately, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. The 

room was much bigger than I thought….even with a deck and chairs.  Five big windows looked out into the woods, so we
felt like we were one with nature.  A small woodstove was situated on one wall…which I was happy about because the nights can get a little cool at this time of the year.  A really nice feature was the vaulted metal ceiling held up by a star log formation. Obviously, there was no electricity—just candles and lanterns. No indoor plumbing—no water which meant no toilet.  But they did have an outhouse close by.

Our view.
Breakfast was another filling treat with treebear porridge (maple-flavored oatmeal) topped with hazelnut creamer, fresh fruit, a tasty bran muffin and a chocolate bar for dessert—a woman after my own heart. This was a fun, rustic adventure—definitely not your typical hotel. Our stay even came with a bottle of wine and t-shirts that read “I went out on a limb and stayed at a treehouse.” Fun! Fun!

Ready to book your stay?  Contact Joyce LaVoie at

Happy travels, happy reading,


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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong—Train Car Update

Whistle Stop B&B (Travel)

I first reviewed Quirky Sleeps by Bruce and Susan Armstrong in May, 2015.  Quirky Sleeps is a travel book that lists unusual hotels across the United States. As I mentioned in that review, I had already checked one remarkable hotel off the list—the Dog Bark Park B&B in Cottonwood, Idaho.  I loved sleeping in the dog-shaped hotel!  It’s not something you get to do very often. But we had more funky hotels planned. At the end of September my husband and I finally took our postponed vacation, which included two uncommon stays listed in the book, plus a bonus one I found on my own.  
Imperial Car

First up was the Whistle Stop B&B in New York Mills, MN.  What can I say about this luxury train car?  Well, it exceeded all my expectations.  My husband and I stayed in the “Imperial Car,” a former day coach on the Yellowstone Park line, built at the turn of the century.  It was just gorgeous—and big.  I’m guessing it was about 70 feet long.
Living Room

The car was a Victorian wonder—looking up we counted eighteen stained glass windows in tall rounded, tin-pressed textured ceilings.  The walls were dark wood, the carpet dark green with a flower motif.  The long train car was pure luxury split into separate sections. There was a bedroom, dining room, living
room and sitting area in front of a wood stove. Details were well thought out—velvet valances hung over the many windows, brass hat racks held vintage purses, gloves and stoles. Steamer trunks and suitcases were strategically placed throughout. Oh yeah, I forgot the private toilet room and a separate soaker tub—pure heaven.

The B&B is in the middle of nowhere. The town is a bumplet in the road with no other attractions, but that’s perfect because there was no reason to leave this place. We had burgers delivered to us and we sat at the dining table eating and drinking wine and listening to the soft music of the CD player that was on when we arrived. I kept thinking how lucky we were to experience this!

There are actually three luxury train cars and one caboose as well as rooms available in the huge Victorian home.  I don’t know about the others, but our train, the “Imperial Car” was perfect. 
And it wasn’t over yet.  Breakfast was brought to us in a basket with a little vase of flowers, and piping hot omelets, along with honeydew melon, strawberries and blueberry scones and of course, coffee and orange juice. Yum! 

At the time of our stay, I was reading Eighty Days: Nellie Bly andElizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman.  This true event of the race took place in 1896, right around the time our train car was built, which made my stay even more exciting being able to imagine Nellie or Elizabeth right there beside me. It was like stepping back in time with them.
Find out more about this unique B&B at

Happy travels, happy reading,


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