Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Title: Far From the Madding Crowd (Barnes & Noble Classics Series), Author: Thomas HardyFar From the Madding Crowd.  Finished 3-14-18, 4.25/5 stars, classic, pub. 1874

Unabridged audio read by Nathaniel Parker. 13 hours, 35 minutes

Gabriel Oak is only one of three suitors for the hand of the beautiful and spirited Bathsheba Everdene. He must compete with the dashing young soldier Sergeant Troy and the respectable, middle-aged Farmer Boldwood. And while their fates depend upon the choice Bathsheba makes, she discovers the terrible consequences of an inconstant heart.

Far from the Madding Crowd was the first of Hardy’s novels to give the name Wessex to the landscape of southwest England and the first to gain him widespread popularity as a novelist. Set against the backdrop of the unchanging natural cycle of the year, the story both upholds and questions rural values with a startlingly modern sensibility.   from Goodreads

I watched the movie last year and really liked it. I’m going to do a comparison post in a few days so I’ll try not to compare  the two now.

Bathsheba is a woman before her time.  It’s 1800’s England and Bathsheba, once a young woman living with her aunt, becomes an independent woman when her late uncle leaves her his successful farm. She is a head strong woman and not the first one who has had her intelligence questioned by her terrible taste in men.  Gabriel Oak knew her when she lived with her aunt and is steadfast and loyal. Mr. Boldwood owns a neighboring farm and was forever changed when he received a Valentine sent from Bathsheba.  Sergeant Troy has his head turned by the pretty Bathsheba with her money.  Bathsheba, at least at first, doesn’t want to marry and be put under a man’s thumb, but things change when her heart starts to beat a little faster.

I liked this classic.  Being a city girl myself I loved learning more about the everyday life on the farm.  Bathsheba and her one time maid, Fanny, both made the very same mistake but suffered very different fates due to their circumstances.  I liked the way it showed the truth that opportunities don’t come to all and mistakes, when made, are more easily forgiven when you have money.  Bathsheba did drive me crazy at times, but probably no more flawed than the rest of us.  The three suitors were all interesting in their own right, but it is Gabriel Oak who is my new crush 🙂

This is my second Thomas Hardy novel and  my 21st selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!


Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Title: Lilli de Jong, Author: Janet BentonLilli de Jong. Finished 3-14-18, 4/5 stars, historical fiction, 335 pages, pub. 2017

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid a life of poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can’t bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.    from Goodreads

What an emotional book.  Lilli was a devout Quaker and lived happily with her parents and brother, but when her mother dies suddenly and her father takes up drinking and a sexual relationship with his cousin, Lilli’s life quickly turns.  Finding strength in Johan, her father’s assistant, she has one night of passion and many promises for a bright future after Johan and her brother go off to set up a life in Pittsburgh.  Lilli, jobless thanks to her father, pregnant thanks to an absent boyfriend, and homeless thanks to a jealous cousin is suddenly on the streets of Philadelphia.  Being an unwed mother-to-be is no easy feat in 1883 and Lilli’s life and that of her baby girl go from bad to worse.

This was a series of 10 diaries written by Lilli during her almost two years of hardship and life was tenuous. I read it over two nights and was drawn in completely.  It did move a bit slow for me, but was such a interesting look at the life of women at the time.  Lilli’s story will stick with me for quite a while.

We read this for book club last night.  There were five of us, and only one didn’t care for it. There was a great discussion about how much has really changed for women since then.  It was also pointed out that this was a book of survival during a harsh time, so even though it was difficult to read it was an honest look at life at the time.  At its heart it is a book about what being a mother really means and the lengths one will go to for her child.


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L Sanchez

Title: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Author: Erika L. SánchezI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Finished 1-6-18, 4.25/5, YA, pub, 2017

Unabridged audio read by Kyla Garcia. 9 hours 41 minutes.

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?     from Goodreads

I don’t read a lot of YA books, but last year The Hate U Give ended up being a favorite and this one, a National Book Award for Young People Finalist, also satisfied my desire to learn about American lives so different from my own.  Julia, a Mexican-American teen in Chicago, lost her sister to a freak accident and she struggles in the aftermath.  Her sister was the perfect one, going to community college while living at home, and when she died Julia’s mother lost it.  Julia is trying to understand her older sister after the fact and it leads her to surprising answers.

Julia is a teenager with some issues and she was trying at times, yet she did grow on me.  I had sympathy for her cockroach infested apartment (been there and it was disgusting) and her embarrassment over being poor when she met a boy she was interested in, but it wasn’t until she was sent back to her family in Mexico for a visit that I began to really root for her.  Julia is a memorable teen and I have high hopes for her future as a writer and for a relationship with Connor, her first love 🙂  I wouldn’t mind a follow up book at all!

This is an immigrant story, Julia’s parents are undocumented and used a coyote to cross the border, a mystery when she discovers her perfect sister had a secret, and a coming of age story with a heroine full of angst and mental health issues.  This really is a relatively quick read that delves into many issues that will keep you engaged.  I really liked this one.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Finished 9-22-17, rating 4/5, children’s classic, pub. 1964

Unabridged audio performed by Douglas Hodge and enhanced with sound effects.

Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last!

But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!  from Goodreads

The audio was excellent and even had sound effects.  At only 3 1/2 hours I want to listen to it again with Gage because I think he would love it since he loves both of the movie adaptations, although I have a marked preference for Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka.  I loved the original and this took me right back there, to my childhood, excited every time one of the few channels on TV was showing the movie

Is Willy Wonka the best person to hold up as an example of all good things?  Nope.  But the story is so fantastical and fun that I can overlook that.  Charlie and his Grandpa have such a heartwarming relationship that the warmth and goodness coming from them makes up for the meanness of the others.  Already having the visual in mind when reading the book didn’t stop my imagination from adding more to the mix.  I can’t say enough good things about the audio production and am glad that I experienced the story that way for this one.

This was my 20th selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!

Three bestselling authors in one post!

As the year winds down and Christmas preparations hit high gear I’m just going to knock out short thoughts about these three books I’ve finished recently.

Title: Rogue Lawyer, Author: John GrishamRogue Lawyer. Finished 11-2-17, rating 3/5, fiction, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Mark Deakins.  11 1/2 hours.

Sebastian defends people other lawyers won’t go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid rumored to be in a satanic cult, who is accused of molesting and murdering two little girls; a vicious crime lord on death row; a homeowner arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house.  Why these clients? Because he believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial, even if he, Sebastian, has to cheat to secure one. He hates injustice, doesn’t like insurance companies, banks, or big corporations; he distrusts all levels of government and laughs at the justice system’s notions of ethical behavior.    from Goodreads

Jason and I listened to this on a road trip and it was okay.  Sebastian was a fun character and the cases he found or that found him were fun, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into each of them.  I didn’t realize at the beginning that it was more a series of short, sometimes connected short stories, and that took away some of the enjoyment for me.  Jason liked it better than I did.

Title: Friction, Author: Sandra BrownFriction. Finished 12-6-17, rating 4/5, thriller, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Stephen Lang.

A Texas Ranger, relegated to deskwork due to past recklessness, petitions to regain custody of his five-year-old daughter, and his case is assigned to a family court judge who is as attractive as she is ambitious. When a masked gunman barges in during the custody hearing with his sights on the judge, the Ranger reacts instinctually and goes after him. But authorities apprehend the wrong man, and the real gunman remains unknown, at large, and a threat. Will this take-charge lawman jeopardize his chances of custody by going after the would-be assassin? And will this unlikely pair be able to deny the forbidden attraction building between them?    from Goodreads

I haven’t read Sandra Brown in years and I really enjoyed this thriller.  I could have done without the (few) sex scenes, but I really liked Crawford, a Texas Ranger, and Holly Spencer,  the judge deciding his child custody case.   There were layers to the mystery and the narration by Lang was excellent.

Title: E Is for Evidence (Kinsey Millhone Series #5), Author: Sue GraftonE is Evidence. Finished 12-13-17, rating 3/5, mystery, 200 pages, pub. 1998

Kinsey Millhone series #5 (1-A is for Alibi, 2-B is for Burglar, 3- C is for Corpse, 4- D is for Deadbeat)

Being a twice-divorced, happily independent loner has worked like a charm for P.I. Kinsey Millhone—until holiday weekends like this one roll around. What she needs is a little diversion to ward off the blues. She gets her much-needed distraction with a case that places her career on the line. And if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, her ex-husband, who walked out on her eight years ago, pops back on the radar…

It all begins with a $5,000 deposit made into Kinsey’s bank account. Problem is she’s not the one who deposited the money. But when she’s accused of being on the take in an industrial arson case, Kinsey realizes someone is framing her…     from Goodreads

I like Kinsey.  She’s fiercely independent, successful, but also a bit lonely.  Some of her personal relationships were missing in this one. but we did get to meet one of her ex-husbands so that was fun.  I thought this one dragged a but did pick up the pace with a letter bomb.  These mysteries are always quick which is another reason I like this series.



Yes Please! by Amy Poehler & Something New by Lucy Knisley

Two memoir catch ups!  How did I get so behind?!

Yes Please! Finished 9-27-17, rating 4/5, memoir, pub. 2014

Unabridged audio read by Amy Poehler.  7 hours 30 minutes.

Do you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy’s one-liners?

If your answer to these questions is “Yes Please!” then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon” and “The Robots Will Kill Us All” Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by.   from Goodreads

Amy read it along with a few friends helping along the way: Kathleen Turner, Seth Meyers, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, her parents, and probably one or two more that I forgot about.
I liked it, but for me, I felt like she was trying too hard.  Maybe that’s just part of her charm, because I know she’s funny.  I laughed and learned that she’d been at this comedy thing longer than I thought.  I was impressed to learn about the Upright Citizens’ Brigade that she helped form, less impressed with her sex tips. She is accomplished and successful and full of energy.  I LOVE Parks and Recreation and might have loved a book written by the great Leslie Knope even better.

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift BrideSomething New. Finished 9-29-17, rating 3.5/5, graphic memoir, 292 pages, pub. 2016

A funny and whip-smart new book about the institution of marriage in America told through the lens of her recent engagement and wedding…. The graphic novel tackles the all-too-common wedding issues that go along with being a modern woman: feminism, expectations, getting knocked over the head with gender stereotypes, family drama, and overall wedding chaos and confusion.    from Goodreads

This is my third book by the talented graphic artist and author and this fell between the first two for me.  I liked it and loved her drawings, but I was also bored.  Wedding planning is a wonderful and tedious business and it is probably most interesting to the people who know you or are going through the same process.  I do think this would be a perfect gift for the newly engaged.


Ack! Two way past their due date book reviews- Loving Frank & Rules of Civility

Title: Rules of Civility: A Novel, Author: Amor TowlesRules of Civility. Finished 8-28-17, rating 4.75/5, fiction, pub. 2011

Unabridged audio read by Rebecca Lowman

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.   from Goodreads

I listened to this beauty of a book and loved it.  It felt like a classic throwback.  The language, the atmosphere, the characters, the story.  Perfection.   Katey was a wonderful protagonist.  Unlike my problems with Mamah in Loving Frank, Katey was smart, independent, driven, and, ultimately, likeable.

This is a perfect New York City story, circa 1938, and I wish I had more to say to recommend it, but I waited too long to write this.  I read this for my book group but didn’t end up going to the discussion.  Later, one of the ladies mentioned she thought it had a Great Gatsby feel to it and she’s right (although I’m no GG fan I do appreciate it).  Read it!

Title: Loving Frank, Author: Nancy HoranLoving Frank. Finished 8-22-17, rating 4/5, historical fiction, pub. 2007

Unabridged audio read by Joyce Bean. 15 hours.

“I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.”

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this groundbreaking historical novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Mamah’s profound influence on Wright.

from Goodreads

I went in to this one knowing very little about Wright’s personal life and I think that was a good thing.  As far as I can tell, very little is known about the real affair between Frank and Mamah so the author had great license to depict the two and their relationship.  Neither of them comes off as particularly warm and fuzzy.  They are both married with children when they meet and still manage to go off to Europe together leaving them behind.  Back in the early 1900’s this was more scandalous than we might find it today and they faced a backlash from the press.

Mamah left her very small children behind.  As easy as it might be to understand her attraction to a successful, gifted man, it was less easy to understand her abandonment of her children.  So, she had flaws, maybe just as many as Frank Lloyd Wright himself, but the story was compelling.  But, the ending, the ending!!  Wow.  I would recommend this one. As a matter of fact, a friend handed this to me at a party and told me I had to read it.  Now I’m telling you.


In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins

Title: In Your Dreams (Blue Heron Series #4), Author: Kristan HigginsIn Your Dreams. Finished 10-10-17, rating 4/5, romance, 469 pages, pub. 2014

Book #4 in the Blue Heron series.  (1-The Best Man) (2-The Perfect Match) (3-Waiting on You)

Emmaline Neal needs a date. Just a date—someone to help her get through her ex-fiancé’s wedding without losing her mind. But pickings are slim in Manningsport, New York, population 715. In fact, there’s really only one option: local heartthrob Jack Holland. Everyone loves Jack, and he won’t get the wrong idea…. After all, Jack Holland would never actually be interested in a woman like Em. Especially not with his beautiful ex-wife creeping around, angling to reunite ever since he rescued a group of teens and became a local hero.

But when the wedding festivities take an unexpectedly passionate turn, Em figures it was just one crazy night. Jack is too gorgeous, too popular, to ever end up with her. So why is she the one he can talk to about his deep, dark feelings? If Em is going to get her dream man, she’ll have to start by believing in him…   from Goodreads

Oh, how I love this romance series.  The Holland clan from wine country New York is a family we all wish we were somehow a part of, even if only through friendship.  Two of the Holland sisters started the series and this time around it was brother Jack’s turn to find love.  Gorgeous and always gracious, Jack was still damaged goods after his wife broke his heart.  Emmaline had her heart stomped on by her first love who dumped her when he lost a ton of weight.  They didn’t seem like a love connection, but love is rarely a straight line.

Emmaline’s ex-fiancé is getting married and Jack’s heroic rescue had left him emotionally devastated.  The two pretend to be a couple, but nothing goes as it should.

Higgins always manages to create light-hearted and charming stories that tackle serious issues.  This one is no different by highlighting the dark sight of obesity weight loss and the daily toll of PTSD.  Looks like I only have one more book to read in this series and I almost don’t want to read it because then I’ll have to say goodbye to Manningsport.





Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Title: Don't Let Go, Author: Harlan CobenDon’t Let Go. Finished 11-11-17, rating 4.25/5, thriller, 347 pages, pub. 2017

Suburban New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas hasn’t been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana were found dead on the railroad tracks—and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life, broke up with him and disappeared without explanation. For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother’s death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he’s been looking for. 

When Maura’s fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions—about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana—whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.   from Goodreads

No one can keep me turning pages long into the night like Harlan Coben.  The man has a gift and I look forward to his yearly contribution to my personal library.  I love his Myron Bolitar series and although this is a standalone Myron does make an appearance at a local pick-up basketball game.  There are a lot of similarities between Myron and Nap as far as geography and attitude.

Told exclusively from Nap’s point of view we learn about the worst night of his life when his twin brother was killed and the love of his young life disappeared.  Years later he’s a police detective who has been mentored by the father of his brother’s girlfriend who also died that night.  When Maura’s fingerprints show up at a murder scene, Nap finds himself involved in finding out what really went down 15 years ago.  Coben tells us at the beginning that this is based on rumors from where he grew up in New Jersey so you know that Nike missiles are going to show up.

I really liked this one.  As with all of Coben’s books it moves fast and has lots of moving parts so it keeps you on your toes.  My mom read my copy before I did and I found her reading it in the car when she was waiting to pick up Gage, so I knew it was going to be good.   I was a bit let down with the end for a few different reasons but that’s probably just me.  I’d still recommend it because, hey, it’s Harlan Coben!

We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee

Title: We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter, Author: Celeste HeadleeFinished 11-5-17, rating 4.25/5, 244 pages, pub. 2017

Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Harper Collins

In this urgent and insightful book, public radio journalist Celeste Headlee shows us how to bridge what divides us–by having real conversations


Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.

And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication.

Whether you’re struggling to communicate with your kid’s teacher at school, an employee at work, or the people you love the most—Headlee offers smart strategies that can help us all have conversations that matter.

I’d never heard of radio host Celeste Headlee, but I agreed to read whatever Trish sent me and she chose this little gem of a book.  It’s based on a Ted Talk, but my speakers aren’t working so I couldn’t listen, but I’d give it a try if you can since the book stems from that talk.

Headlee had me at her dedication, “For Grant: I wanted to be a better person so I could be a better mom.”  I think this speaks to so many parents out there.

This book is so timely in our current politicized environment and she touches on having discussions with people who differ on politics as well as having productive discussions with your boss or employees.

Did you know humans now have the attention span of a goldfish?  Technology over the last few years has made up skim and look for sound bites instead of taking the time to read or really listen.  I love to blog, but to post and read other blogs it takes more time that I sometimes have.  Throwing an update on Facebook takes less than a minute. This affects our conversations too.  How many times have you found your mind wandering when someone is talking?  Or just waiting for a break so that you could add your own story or comment?  Most of us are guilty.

This book was easy to read and had great information, even for people who think they don’t need help.  I like that she added lots of studies to back up her recommendations.  I found so many things to work on in my own conversations.

Here are a few tips for you.  Put away your phone!  Even having your phone on the table inhibits conversation.  Be present (meditation can help with this).  Be respectful and end on a good note.  It’s not about you.  Keep it short and don’t repeat (especially the negative stuff).  Ask open-ended questions and don’t unload your daily accomplishments on an unsuspecting acquaintance.

I really liked this one and can’t wait to try out some of the tips.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of the book so I could give you all my honest opinion.