Monthly Archives: April 2019

Choosing Books

A book is a gift you can open again and again – Garrison Keillor

untitledBetween 600,000 and 1 million books are published in the U.S. every year. Even if you could read at birth, you would never be able to consume all of those books in your lifetime. And that’s just one year. Everyone who reads has preferences about what they read. I have been thinking lately about how I choose the books I read. In thinking about that, I have realized it’s kind of a complicated process.

I read several mystery and thriller series, so the first consideration I have when buying or reading a book is whether it’s part of a series I read or a new series I’m going to try. I read roughly 20 different series. So, when those books come out, I pick them up and read them as quickly as possible.

The second consideration is whether the author is someone I’ve read before, who doesn’t write a series. Abi Waxman, Susan Reiger are examples. I like their writing and will read just about anything they write.

The third consideration is subject matter. Is it something I’m interested in reading? My reading topics vary. I like mystery/thriller, chick lit, legal thrillers, good stories, history, true crime, etc. If it is a subject I’m interested in, I’m likely to pick up the book.

If it’s an author I’m not familiar with, I look at all of the following: the cover art; the blurbs from critics, authors, etc;  the first paragraph; and the last sentence. To me, those are good indicators of whether I will like the book. It’s not foolproof, but most of the time, it works. I have discovered some really good books and authors that way.

I enter to win a lot of books. And I win a lot of books. Sometimes, I read them and don’t care for them and sometimes I read them and find a new author to add to my growing list of people whose books I will read no matter what. But I try to read and review them all. It keeps me in books and reading and busy. Busy is good.

So, how do you choose what you read? What considerations do you have when choosing books? I’m interested to hear how other people choose their books.


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Girl, Read This Book

Girl (2)I really, really wanted to hate this book. In fact, I’m not sure why I entered to win it. I am always leery of “lifestyle” gurus. (Martha Stewart messed me up!) And I hate Gwenyth Paltrow. But. I decided to read this with an open mind. I decided that I would give it a fair and honest review. So, here goes….

I did not read Girl, Wash Your Face, though I saw it everywhere. But this book. It did something to me. I have probably sticky-noted half this book. If you are planning something big for your life. If you want to reach a goal you think is impossible. If you want to feel better about being human, then you need to read this book. Yes, there were things about it I found … presumptuous. That having been said, Rachel Hollis provides some really, really good advice on how to achieve your goals. Some of the advice is obvious – have a clean house because chaos breeds chaos – and some advice is not so obvious – stop making to-do lists and use a list that has goals, steps and mile-markers.

I am in the process of planning something that I think will be big in my life. I have been working on it seriously for a few weeks. This book came along at the right time. It has give me some excellent advice about how to make this new project truly successful. So this book came to me when I needed it and I have taken to heart a lot of the advice in it.

Things I like about Rachel Hollis: she is honest about the fact that she cannot do what she does without help. She has a nanny, a housekeeper, and a staff who help her. Most lifestyle people want you to think they “do it all” and do it by themselves. This is bullshit and she says how damaging it is for women who read and buy into these “lifestyles.” They feel incompetent and unable to succeed because they don’t see the behind-the-scenes that really goes on. I respect and like that fact that she is honest about how she does it. I also like the fact that she admits that she doesn’t like volunteering at her kids’ school and, therefore, doesn’t do it. She is kind but firm about saying no.

Things I don’t like: the folsky, aw-shucks thing. I don’t know if it’s genuine. But it annoys me. To no end.

I still think that this book is a book EVERY WOMAN should read. It is filled with good advice. It is practical and helpful in most ways. I banked a lot of really good information from it. It’s short – 200ish pages. It’s well-written and easy to read. So I suggest you pick up a copy and pursue your dreams.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

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So Here’s The Thing…This Book Is Funny

So Here’s the Thing… by Alyssa MastromonacoI did not read Alyssa Mastromonaco’s first book. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I just haven’t gotten yet. This book is a collection of essays and stories that are informative and entertaining.

Ms. Mastromonaco worked in the Obama White House. She went on to work at Vice and A&E TV. Her stories are funny and sweet. I particularly liked her essay about not having children and being a cat lady. She is honest and refreshingly funny.

If you are interested in politics and women and funny stories, this is the book for you. Word of caution, if you are a Trump person, you may want to skip this book. And if you follow my reviews, I highly doubt you are a Trump person. But just so you’re warned.

I won this book from goodreads and received no compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

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Walk This Way…

Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music ForeverI was in high school when Run-DMC hit the mainstream. I was a member of the MTV generation. I vividly remember when “Walk This Way” hit the airwaves. I’d never heard anything like it. I was vaguely aware of Aerosmith, and I knew who Run-DMC were, but I didn’t realize you could mix rock and rap until I heard this song. I remember sitting with my best friend, watching MTV on a Friday night, and loving the video. Run-DMC was on one side of a wall and Aerosmith on the other, each trying to play music and each being annoyed with the other…until Steven Tyler broke through the wall and then they hit the stage…together. Cheesy? Yes. But back then, it was revolutionary.

Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever is the story of the making of that song. But this book is more than that. It’s about the beginning of a massive cultural shift in America, that continues to this day. Prior to Walk This Way, rap was not getting a lot of radio play. Radio was reserved for the likes of the Eagles, Foreigner, and other rock bands. MTV followed radio format and largely played rock and new wave music. It wasn’t until this song hit that rap became mainstream and invaded the public consciousness. It made stars of Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J.

The story is told in alternating chapters. One chapter is about Run-DMC and the other about Aerosmith. It also includes such supporting characters as Russell Simmons (brother of Run) and Rick Rubin (record producer legend). It tells so many stories, aside from the making of the song. It talks about culture, race, records making, radio, video. The story was engaging and the book is well-written. You learn things that you may not have known before – that Jam Master Jay wasn’t on Run-DMC’s first three album covers, but he was the glue that held the guys together and was the most “musically” oriented of the three, or that Joe Perry and Steven Tyler weren’t so fond of each other and the other members of Aerosmith were referred to as LI3 (the less important 3). The book charts the rise and fall and rebirth of everyone involved. The story is fascinating.

Geoff Edgers has written a really good book, capturing an important moment in this history of American music. This is the song that made Jay-Z, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar possible. This is the song that brought rap music to mainstream America. This is the song that was polarizing to the hip-hop community and even to each band, themselves. The book lays all of this out and is immensely readable. I recommend this book if you want to learn more about the beginning of rap supremacy in American music, the rebirth of Aerosmith, or just an entertaining read about the making of a song.

I won a copy of this book and received no compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.


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3 Books 40s Edition

Well, we’ve reached the end of my three books experiment. Three books that have been formative in my 40s, thus far. It’s been interesting to look back on the more than 2,000 books I have read to find the three books that helped formed me through each decade of my life. It was really hard to narrow it down to three for each decade. I don’t know how people narrow it down to three in my life. So, here we go with the 40s…

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and The Unwinding Of The Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams. Okay it’s a tie. I said there was a tie. Both books deal with similar subject matter. Both writers were diagnosed with fatal cancers in their 30s. Both were highly educated professionals. Both had spouses and small children. Both decided to write about their journey through life and into the process of dying. It sounds morbid, but it’s really not. There are meditations on what is important in life. What matters. How easy it is to lose track of The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes Afterwhat matters. Both books have had a profound impact on me.

These books bring some humanity to dying. They are also a reminder that as much as we in the West don’t want to think so, dying is as much a part of life as living.


The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book is labeled as YA, but I honestly believe that EVERY SINGLE PERSON should read this book. It has supplanted To Kill A Mockingbird for me. It is a perfect encapsulation of America right now. This book hit me like a sledge hammer. I have read it twice and I will be reading it again. I cannot overstate how important I think this book is.



Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionJust Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The true story side of The Hate U Give. Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI fights against people wrongly convicted or sentenced to massive amounts of prison time for minimal crimes. He is passionate and amazing and this book was another one that completely blew me away. It is another book I think EVERYONE SHOULD READ. Period. We need to do something to restore our humanity and this book can help. It’s emotional and if you can’t find sympathy or empathy for the people Stevenson discusses, you have issues.

So, there you have it.  All the books that have been formative to me thus far in my life. I hope that you got some inspiration to read or found some of your new favorite books.

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3 Books – My 30s

Picking three books that formed my thirties was harder than I thought it would be. I read a lot of great books. But I was able to narrow it down to three.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle EastThe Great War By Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk.  I turned 30 when the GWOT was a year old. I was a political science major in college and had always been interested in history and specifically, the cold war and the middle east. This book sets out a complete history of western involvement in the middle east. This book is a monster (1,366 pages), but it is a comprehensive history of western involvement in the middle east.

Fisk writes chapters describing the all sorts of different events and places. Two that stuck with me was his description of the Algerian war for independence when the guerillas put the heads of French sympathizers on a pike. The other chapter was the chapter about the arms bazar and the arms dealers working in the world. I kept thinking that chapter would make a particularly good Cohen brothers movie.

Aside from that, the book is extremely well-written and Fisk pulls no punches in his criticism of how the west has dealt with the middle east and terrorists throughout history.  “Who would ever say a word in favour of terrorists? What cause could justify terror? So our enemies are always ‘terrorists’. In the seventeenth century, governments used ‘heretic’ in much the same way, to end all dialogue, to prescribe obedience.” That is some pretty deep thinking. This book went a long way to form my world view about the middle east.

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing by Stephen King. I could have picked any number of writing guides. I could have picked legal ones. But, I chose this book because I think it’s the best book on writing I have read. Stephen King is a damn good writer, whether you like his subject matter, he writes well. His advice should be heeded. I recommend this book to my students because I think they need to broaden their horizons and good writing is a dying art.

Stephen King manages to discuss his life, but also the craft of writing in a way that is engaging and entertaining, but also educational.


The Quiet AmericanThe Quiet American by Graham Greene. Oh, man do I love this book. I went through a phase in my 30s where I read almost everything by Greene I could get my hands on. But this particular book resonates with me so much. The story of a young American CIA officer and an old British agent in Viet Nam prior to the U.S. war. It’s such a well-written and compelling story. I love this book so much. It’s another book I reread every so often because I always find a different perspective.

Graham Greene is an author who has a gift for using language to paint pictures. He is eloquent and literary, but accessible, a talent that not too many writers have. I love the story and I love the writing.

Tomorrow my little 3 books experiment comes to an end with 3 books 40s version. Keep in mind I’m only half-way into my 40s, but I have four books chosen. Two are the same topic, so I’m doing two. I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am.

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Bad Blood Is Good Reading

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood is a great book. I love good investigative reporting and John Carreyrou has written a great book about Theranos. I listened to the podcast The Dropout by ABC News, which discussed the rise of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. The podcast was great. The book was even better.

Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford at 19 to found Theranos. She said she was out to revolutionize medicine and blood testing. But what she said and what really happened are two very different things. Elizabeth took a microfluitics class and decided that she could draw blood through a patch, run tests and make diagnoses, and distribute medicine via the patch. It did not work. Then she came up with the idea of being able to run hundreds of blood tests with a finger stick and a few drops of blood instead of a venous blood draw. The question is whether Elizabeth knew this couldn’t work and stole money from investors, or was delusional and believed it could work, despite the protestations of her employees.

Holmes was dictatorial in her leadership and refused to accept or even hear any criticism. She had famous people on her Board, who believed and defended her without having seen the technology ever work. How she conned these men is beyond me, but she did. To the extent that former Secretary of State George Shultz believed her over his own grandson. Talk about a cult of personality.

Carreyrou takes us on a journey from the glorious beginning of Theranos and Elizabeth’s determination to become the female Steve Jobs, to its downfall in which one wonders whether Theranos was an elaborate hoax to scam people out of billions of dollars. I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question. I’m not sure if she was delusional or if she is a brilliant conwoman.

This book reminded me of “All the President’s Men.” It has the same kind of suspense in it. Carreyrou is followed by a PI, as are the sources he uses. Former employees are threatened with litigation. Holmes took Nixon-paranoia to a new level. The labs all had fingerprint reader locks. She has an armada of bodyguards, and everyone signed extensive nondisclosure agreements – such that employees could not even say on LinkedIn who they worked for a put a specific job description. Their phones and emails were monitored. (An employee who forwarded emails to his personal email was threatened with litigation if he did not delete them.) The security went beyond cautious and into the land of black helicopters and aluminum foil hats. Was this to hide the scam? Or just protect trade secrets? That is left to the reader to determine.

If you are interested in a well-written and well-investigated true crime story, you will love this book. I highly recommend it.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.


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3 Books – My Twenties

I spent most of my twenties in school. College and law school. Despite the absolutely massive amounts of reading I had to do for school, I managed to read for pleasure as well. I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother started me on the road to being a mystery lover. She got me Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, and Encyclopedia Brown books when I was a kid. I graduated to Agatha Christie. Then, in my late teens/early twenties, I discovered Sue Grafton.

A Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton. Sue Grafton was my gateway to female detective fiction. I moved on to Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Patricia Cornwell, Peri O’Shaughunessy, etc. A Is For Alibi started it. Sue Grafton introduced the world to Kinsey Milhone, one of my all-time favorite characters. I love Kinsey. She’s smart, independent, and stubborn. She works in a male-dominated field in the 80s, when most women didn’t do that. She showed me how to be tough and that it was okay to also be human. When Grafton died, shortly after Y Is For Yesterday was published, I actually cried. I felt like I lost a friend. The alphabet ends at Y for me.

A Thousand Days and RFK And His Times by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Okay, I may have cheated here. These are actually two books. I’m going to say here – I’m a Kennedy democrat and I actually liked RFK more than JFK, though there were both dead before I was born. These two books – each more than 1,000 pages – give a comprehensive history of their lives, the Kennedy Presidency, and RFK’s presidential campaign. One of the best modern histories I have ever read. I loved both of these books and I own them both in hardcover. Schlesinger was a historian, along with working in the Kennedy White House, and a gifted writer. I have read many of his books. These two, however, have done more to form my political beliefs that almost anything else I have read.

Conspiracy by Anthony Summers. This is the first book I read about the JFK Assassination. It led me to read more than 100 other books about the subject. I will always believe that Oswald never fired a shot. And it has NOTHING to do with Oliver Stone’s movie, which was loosely based on two other assassination books I have read. Conspiracy was what led me down the rabbit hole of the Kennedy Assassination books. I own two copies of it (the paperback I initially bought and a hardcover I bought later). This book is well-researched and well-written. It’s not the most comprehensive book, but it is a good place to start.

So there you have it. 3 books that were formative to my 20s. Tomorrow, my 30s. We shall see what you all think of those.

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3 Books – Teen Years

As promised, this is 3 Books – Teen Years. I read a lot of books in high school and several that I really hated, including The Scarlet Letter. But I read a lot of books I really loved. These three books, however, were the most formative of my thinking at that time.

Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. Okay. Typical teen pick. But. This book resonated with me SO much. I gave my copy to my step-son when he was in high school and told him to keep it. I was so done with it. When I was in high school, I thought Holden Caulfield was written to me personally. He touched every teen angst chord I had. He hit every teen emotion I had. I thought he was brilliant. I read all of Salinger’s published work after that and loved it. A few years ago, I attempted to read Catcher again. It did not age well. I actually started to hate it so I put it down. That book will forever live in my teenage mind as THE book of that time. But I will never read it again.

Slaughter-House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. I am 99% sure that if you drop some acid, put on Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and read this book, it would make total sense. Without acid and Pink Floyd, this book is a long, strange trip. I actually picked it up because it was, ostensibly, about the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany in WWII by American troops. My grandfather’s relatives were from Dresden and since my birthday is the anniversary of D-Day, I love WWII-related books. But this books is only tangentially about the fire bombing. It was written in the 60s and you can tell. That being said, this book had an enormous impact on me. It fit right into the existentialist angst and books I was reading at the time (The Stranger, No Exit, Being and Nothingness). I have read this book once again in college. It made more sense. And I have a feeling if I read it now, I would probably get more out of it. But I’m not sure I’m willing to put that much effort into it.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I read this my senior year in high school for AP English. We spent half a semester dissecting this play. It’s about so many things. It’s themes and language and plot has been borrowed so many times over the centuries. It endures all these hundreds of years later. It endures because it’s universal. Who hasn’t stood in the face of injustice, not sure how to react or what to do? Who hasn’t been paralyzed by indecision and/or fear. I read the play again for book club about ten years ago. Only Becky and I showed that day, but we had one of the best discussions ever about it. I got so much out of it the second time around. So much. It’s like Gatsby. I read it every ten years and find new things in it every time. Same for Hamlet. I did not like Shakespeare AT ALL until Hamlet. This play changed my mind and my view.

Tomorrow, 3 book that formed me in my 20s. These titles might surprise you. Or they might not. But I’m guessing it will.

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3 Books – Tween Years

So, yesterday, I talked about three books that were formative to me in my childhood. Today, I will talk about three books that were formative to me during my tween years. I refer to tween as 10 to 12.

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I do not think you can find a woman my age who was not influenced by this book. This book was the girl’s guide to growing up and puberty. It made me feel less weird and less alone. I gave this book to Felicity to read when she turned 12. It hits on every issue and every emotion girls at this age feel.

Superfudge by Judy Blume. I still own my copy of Superfudge. The dust jacket is long gone. But that orange book brings back such fond memories. This book if flat-out funny. I love this book so much. I read it to Patrick when he was little and he loved it, too. Peter and Fudge are two of my favorite literary characters. The part about peeing in the plant still cracks me up.

Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My grandmother bought me the entire set of Little House books, which I still own to this day. I have read the entire series at least twice. I grew up with the tv show. But the books are so much more. They tell the story of what it’s like to grow up in the west (well, Wisconsin, but that was the west then).  I loved these books so much. They are well-written. I know there are accusations floating around that Laura Ingalls Wilder was racist – I don’t care. These books made a huge impression on my childhood and I will always read them with a certain level of nostalgia.

So those are my tween books. Not a bad list. Tomorrow, my teen list. This is where things get….different and unpredictable.

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