Best Staged Plans by Claire Cook

Title: Best Staged Plans, Author: Claire CookBest Staged Plans. Finished 9-16-16, 2.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2011

Sandy Sullivan is a professional home stager who lives and works in the Boston suburbs. So getting rid of her own house and downsizing should be a breeze, right?

Well, best staged plans and all, Sandy’s husband, Greg, is dragging his feet and their son, Luke, has returned home and moved into the “bat cave” in the basement.

Sandy reads them both the riot act and takes a job staging a boutique hotel recently acquired by her best friend’s boyfriend. The good news is that she can spend time in Atlanta with her recently married daughter, Shannon. The bad news is that Shannon soon receives a promotion and heads back up to Boston for training, leaving Sandy and her Southern son-in-law, Chance, as reluctant roommates. And Sandy finds herself in another delicate situation when she suspects her best friend’s boyfriend may be seeing another woman on the side. Fixing up houses may turn out to be easier than fixing up lives.    from Goodreads

Sandy has a husband and two grown children and is living in an old house in the Boston suburbs that she wants to sell.  Her daughter lives in Atlanta and miraculously her best friend’s boyfriend just bought a hotel there that could use a home stager?  Yeah.  She heads off in a huff, telling her husband not to call until their house was ready to sell, and maintains the attitude for much of  the book.

Sandy did talk a lot about staging, not anything you didn’t know if you’ve watched any HGTV, but it’s always good to be reminded. She even listed her top tips at the end: de-clutter, scrub, move things from the wall, rotate accessories, lights, mirrors, warm and neutral paint, decorate in groups of three, drop the frames.  All good reminders if you want to freshen up your house.

Well, maybe it lost something in the narration because I did listen to the first half in the car, because I have Goodreads friends who really liked it.  The intended audience would be midlife women who like to see their stories told with humor, so I fit the right age group, I just could not get myself to like Sandy and her perceived troubles.


The Lovers by Vendela Vida

Title: The Lovers, Author: Vendela VidaThe Lovers. Finished 9-12-16, rating 2.5/5. fiction, pub. 2010

Unabridged audio read by Suzanne Toren. 7 hours.

Twenty-eight years ago, Peter and Yvonne honeymooned in the beautiful coastal village of Datça, Turkey. Now Yvonne is a widow, her twin children grown. Hoping to immerse herself in memories of a happier time—as well as sand and sea—Yvonne returns to Datça. But her plans for a restorative week in Turkey are quickly complicated. Instead of comforting her, her memories begin to trouble her. Her vacation rental’s landlord and his bold, intriguing wife—who share a curious marital arrangement—become constant uninvited visitors, in and out of the house.

Overwhelmed by the past and unexpectedly dislocated by the environment, Yvonne clings to a newfound friendship with Ahmet, a local boy who makes his living as a shell collector. With Ahmet as her guide, Yvonne gains new insight into the lives of her own adult children, and she finally begins to enjoy the shimmering sea and relaxed pace of the Turkish coast. But a devastating accident upends her delicate peace and throws her life into chaos—and her sense of self into turmoil.       from Goodreads

I listened to the majority of this in the car but followed along in the book.  I admit I didn’t felt a twinge of interest until page 68.  There were many discussion worthy storylines, but overall it just didn’t speak to me.

Yvonne is a recent widow who decides to go back to the place of her honeymoon, Datca, Turkey.  She rents a house and meets a few people who help her heal in different ways. As the days unfold we get the whole story on her marriage and children.  I enjoyed learning a little about the Turkish culture.

This might appeal to readers who like introspective international stories.

Bleachers by John Grisham

Title: Bleachers, Author: John GrishamBleachers.  Finished 9-11-16, rating 2/5, fiction, pub. 2003

Unabridged audio read by the author.

High school All-American Neely Crenshaw was probably the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Fifteen years have gone by since those glory days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the man who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty.

As Coach Rake’s ‘boys’ sit in the bleachers waiting for the dimming field lights to signal his passing, they replay the old glories, and try to decide once and for all whether they love Eddie Rake or hate him. For Neely Crenshaw, still struggling to come to terms with his explosive relationship with the Coach, his dreams of a great career in the NFL, and the choices he made as a young man, the stakes could not be higher.     from Goodreads

Last month I started listening to this audio for my 30 books in 30 days challenge.  After a slow-moving cd or two I went to Goodreads to mark it as currently reading…and found out that I read it in 2003!  Honestly, I thought it sounded familiar but I thought that maybe I just hadn’t finished it.  Well, when you are reading a book a day and are halfway through a book already it’s easy to make the decision to soldier on.  And, to be honest, it did feel a little like I was sacrificing myself for the sake of the challenge.  I really didn’t like this one.  I’d have to check but I have to think it was one of my least favorites for the month.

Neely, a has been high school football player, comes back to his small football crazed town when he hears his legendary coach is dying.  He meets up with other football alumni doing the same thing.  I couldn’t find one character to care about or plot point to keep me interested.


How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis

Title: How To Be Happy, Author: Eleanor DavisHow To Be Happy. Finished 4-23-16, rating 2.5/5, graphic novel, 145 pages, pub. 2014

Eleanor Davis’s How to be Happy is the artist’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories. Davis is one of the finest cartoonists of her generation, and has been producing comics since the mid-2000s. Happy represents the best stories she’s drawn for such curatorial venues as Mome and No-Brow, as well as her own self-publishing and web efforts. Davis achieves a rare, subtle poignancy in her narratives that are at once compelling and elusive, pregnant with mystery and a deeply satisfying emotional resonance. Happy shows the full range of Davis’s graphic skills — sketchy drawing, polished pen and ink line work, and meticulously designed full color painted panels– which are always in the service of a narrative that builds to a quietly devastating climax.

from Goodreads

I am not a graphic novel fan, but I tried this during the readathon and it was a nice change of pace. I really enjoyed the illustrations in this short story collection, but didn’t quite get the point of all of the stories.  Davis tells you right from the beginning that this book has nothing to do with ‘how to be happy’ but I wish the stories had leaned a little more in that direction.  But, again, not a regular graphic novel reader, so I could be way off in my assessment.


Tempest in Eden by Sandra Brown

Tempest in EdenTempest in Eden. Finished 3-24-16, rating 1.5/5, romance, pub. 1983

Unabridged audio performed by Renee Raudman. 5 hours 39 minutes.

A renowned artist’s model, Shay Morrison thinks nothing of exposing her body to inspire great works of art. Hidden inside her, where no one can see, is the pain of a failed marriage. Then she accidentally walks in on Ian Douglas as he steps from a shower. Every gorgeous bit of him is immediately apparent — as is his disapproval of Shay. What isn’t so obvious is his profession: Ian is a minister in a very staid community. Challenged and hurt, Shay decides to seduce him. But waiting for her are the traps of her own weaknesses and the potent force of sexuality …  from Goodreads

I’d been reading some heavy things lately and thought this quick romance by an old favorite would be a fun, light listen.  Well, it was light and fit my needs in that area, but I spent at least half of the book rolling my eyes at the characters.  Shay was insufferable and every time I thought she’d turned a corner I was disappointed.  A minister and nude model fall in love over a weekend, after finding themselves in bed together?  Of course. 

There were one or two nice moments, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Just Ask the Universe and Keep Calm and Ask On by Michael Samuels

fpoJust Ask the Universe. Finished 5-7-15, self-help, 119 pages, pub. 2011

Just Ask the Universe is a realistic guide to personal development. By creating a blueprint for self-growth and commanding your subconscious mind, the Universe will manifest all your dreams. For over two decades, Michael Samuels has studied and methodically tested hundreds of books on self-improvement, spirituality, and the metaphysical. Just Ask the Universe accumulates the wisdom from “thought teachers” like: Wallace Wattles, Anthony Robbins, Rhonda Byrne, Joseph Murphy, Robert Collier, and Napoleon Hill, and compiles it under one unified lesson: if your thoughts are clear and in harmony with your mind and the truth of your surroundings, your life can be filled with all the richness the Universe has to offer. As a culmination from these teachings, Michael will show you how to use simple and fun techniques to create a more desirable future. This approach, coupled with real-life stories, will teach you how to achieve personal power to overcome any barrier.   from Goodreads

Hm. I don’t really read these types of books but the author sent it and it was short enough to pick up.  There isn’t anything bad about this book (I like the way he made personal religious beliefs, whatever they are, fit with his vision) but there wasn’t anything great about it either. I did the ‘want’ exercises and if all 60 things come true then I will come back and revise my rating!

It was too short and too repetitive, but the ideas were good. I also think maybe there weren’t enough of them. The book did leave me in a good, happy place.



fpoKeep Calm and Ask On. Finished 12-4-15, rating 1.5/5, self-help, 108 pages, pub. 2014

Hot off the heels of his international best seller “Just Ask the Universe” and his critically acclaimed follow up “The Universe-ity”, Michael Samuels returns with a fun and witty practical manual called “Keep Calm and Ask On: A No-Nonsense Guide to Fulfilling Your Dreams.” With a few easy and entertaining steps, Samuels will inspire you that living the life of your dreams is not all that hard. It’s actually easier than you think. He will show you how to further develop your “I want” list to make your goals become a reality. He will also show how music and laughter are the two keys to unlocking a greater life. Samuels has studied the teachings of the greats just to pass the word around in a simple and no-frills manner. This is not some drawn-out, monotonous Law of Attraction book that only teaches you a small piece of the subconscious puzzle. The answers are here and Samuels did the research to give you the total picture with no hype or tricks. If you want something, the universe will deliver! Just remember to keep calm and ask on…   from Goodreads

Having read his first one in the spring and not hating it I picked this one up so I could maybe reach my reading goal by the end of the year (short is good).  Unfortunately, this continuation on the law of attraction (think it and it will come true) that he started in the first book suffered from a meandering writing style that essentially only added two new things to the first book – make a playlist for your life EVERY SEASON and laugh a lot.  There I saved you  the hour or so it would take you to read it.



You by Caroline Kepnes

fpoYou. Finished 10-28-15, rating 2.5/5, fiction, pub. 2014

Unabridged audio read by Santino Fontana, 13 hours

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.  from Goodreads

So this creepfest begins in a New York City bookstore where our neighborhood psycho, Joe, becomes obsessed with Guinevere Beck during the few minutes she was in the bookstore.  Using all of the tools that technology allows he finds and follows her and finds a way to secure her cell phone and boyfriend, leaving Beck little chance but to fall into his web. 

Everyone I know and love as bloggers has loved this one and I tried to take some time after I finished to figure out why I didn’t like it.  I really, really didn’t like it.  Was it that Fontana’s narration was too good and made me feel like I had just spent time with a scary sleazeball at a bar?  Was it the 2nd person point of view that left nothing redeemable in Joe?  Could it have been the glaring holes/ridiculous plot points that made this seem silly?  I don’t know.  Everyone else loved these things about the book but they didn’t work for me.

Joe was a scary dude and I was relieved when our time together was over.

Kathy sent me the cds and I would be happy to pass them on if anyone is interested.  Listen and see for yourself if you love it like the masses 🙂  Leave me a comment and I’ll send it your way.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)The Secret Garden. Finished audio 5-12-15, rating 2.5/5, children’s fiction, pub. 1911

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

from Goodreads

Unabridged audio read by Finola Hughes. 8.5 hours.


This beloved children’s classic, that details the healing of the spoiled, irritating Mary Lennox and her similarly unlikable cousin Colin, can certainly be appreciated as a coming of age story. Mary had bad parents who died and she was shipped off to an equally distant uncle in the lonely moors of England. Spending time with the saintly Dickon and the robin who communicates with them (my two favorite characters of the book) helped to turn these two brats (Mary and Colin) into good kids.

The idea of nature being a healer was a good one and I liked the transformation of the children and even the adults.  Spending days working in a secret garden is certainly something that holds a magical appeal to lots of people.  And Burnett’s writing did make me feel like I was on the moor and the isolated nature of it really brought home the lavishness of the garden they were creating.

Let me say a word about the narration because I do think it’s possible it contributed to this book leaving me cold.  Mary and Colin’s voices were so whiny and irritating all the way through that even as they grew into better kids they were still grating on my nerves.  This might not have happened if I had read the book.

Mary did manage to grow on me a bit and the end was as expected for a children’s book, but I was bored most of the time.  It moved too slow and add that to the annoying narration and it just didn’t work for me.  I read the reviews of the people who loved it (almost everyone!) and in theory I should have loved it too. Oh well, maybe my next classic for The Classics Club will be a better fit.

So what was your favorite part of the book?  Did you like the audio if you listened to it?

The Invisible Man by HG Wells

The Invisible Man by WellsThe Invisible Man. Finished 4-23-14, 2.5/5 stars, classic, 192 pages, pub.1897

Unabridged audio, 5 hours 30 minutes. Read by James Adams

I loved The Time Machine by Wells and started this book with high hopes.  A scientist finds a way to make himself invisible.  It sounds cool right?  The scientist, Griffin, does have the power, but the basic necessities of life are lost to him.  When he eats, the food can be seen moving through his system and how does he find basic shelter for himself?  Griffin isn’t very likeable, maybe due to the potion or maybe he’s just a narcissistic jerk.  He finds himself having to swaddle his body and face in clothing so he can appear human and live a real life.

The possibilities for this premise are endless and by today’s standards are definitely lacking, but even giving credit for the originality of it at the time it was published, 1899, I just couldn’t appreciate it.  This may be another case of the audio not doing the novel justicel.  I tried to listen to the audio once several years ago and only made it an hour before giving up.  I’ll be reading my next Wells, War of the Worlds,  the old-fashioned way, as it was intended.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Finished 10-13-13, rating 2.5/5, memoir, 132 pages, pub. 1997

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem.  After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.

By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father’s voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an “inexhaustible reservoir of sensations,” keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.   (from Goodreads)

I read this memoir during the 24 hour read-a-thon last month for the same reason I read the others, it was on my shelf and short.  I think I have owned this book since I lived in the Washington DC area 16+ years and 4 moves ago so I felt good about finally reading it!  Unfortunately, as much as I was riveted by the real life of Bauby and the tragedy of his end, this memoir just didn’t work for me.  And, yes, I feel bad saying that since the man wrote it by blinking his one good eye to convey every. single. letter.  It’s hard to critique that sort of accomplishment so I won’t.  I will just say that I think I would have preferred to read a biography capturing his whole life rather than this memoir version, but I totally respect the power of the human mind to overcome and Bauby is a perfect example.