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Top Reads ~ Book Reviews For Your Consideration From My 2023 Goodreads Year In Books

It was a good year for bibliophiles. 

There were so very many good books to thrill me, teach me, make me cry, surprise me, guide me, challenge me, and delight me. You? How did your bookbag fare in 2023? 

Here is my Year in Books as recorded from the Goodreads Challenge.  

I get a kick out of how they tally, analyze, and create lists kind of like those high school superlatives.  I hope you’ll find some stimulating suggestions from my 47. Following is kind of movie trailer books review:



Last year was my first time participating in the Goodreads challenge and I was a bit too naively eager, having set my goal at a too-ambitious 50 books; and read 31.  

I learned my lesson and was better able to gauge my reading.  

I set my goal this year at a more reasonable 25 books. And now I feel a bit like an overachiever, having read 47. 

Goodreads is kinda’ like your coach, championing you and your end-of-year progress. They wrote me: “You read 47 out of 25 books.188%!

Congratulations! You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too!”

Awww.  Few things feel as good as a positive atta’ boy. 

(And how do they know I’m good at other things? Maybe Alexa whispered to Goodreads?! Ha. 😀)

Truth be told though, I would’ve read the books regardless of the Challenge. Heavens, I don’t read to garner the goal.  No, it’s all about the story. The writing. Always has been. 

I think I may have shared with you that I was a total bookworm as a child, reading with a hunger and curiosity that was never quite satiated.

It was with no small amount of frustration that during the peak of my corporate career, I couldn’t carve out enough time to read books except on the beach at our place in Aruba. For 10 days a year… Not enough time. 

But that is when Bill bought me a Kindle  for the very practical reason that he couldn’t bear for me to bring seven to ten books to read on our vacation. He’d joke with the airline check in staff that the luggage weight was not due to my swim suits ~ “Her bikinis are small.” 😂

Here, in the last few years, I feel like I’ve come full circle.  Reading at every opportunity, listening to audiobooks on my Wellness Walks.

I get my reading material from a mix of Kindle purchases, recycled books from friends and family and The New York Public Library using my digital library card.  Thank you Patience and Fortitude.

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The Goodreads “Superlatives”

The Most Shelved Book: Little Fires Everywhere.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I loved this book ~ a great story that intrigues; great characters to keep you engaged. Single mother arrives in Shaker Heights; mother and daughter befriend the fancy family in town; Mother has a mysterious past ~ and a custody battle that dramatically tears up the family and town and an obsession that leads to loss.. 

People also shelved Made in New York ~ Written by my friend 😀author, Frank Vizard. The book highlights intriguing entrepreneurs/makers that changed our world. It’s fascinating to discover their spirit, services, and products. I was so taken with one creator/founder, Alice Min Soo Chun, the inventor of the solar-powered, portable SoLight Design, that I hosted her as a special, inspiring woman on my Facebook videocast, Ladies Who Lunch Conversations to learn even more and to showcase her brilliant light products. 😉

Made in New York by Frank Vizard

Longest Book: Angela’s Ashes (452 Pages) 

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Average book length I read in 2023: 303 pages  

Are books getting longer? Some of the audiobooks I listened to on my Wellness Walks seemed like they were. 

~~~

My Most Favorites: 

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Authored by a favorite: Ann Patchett, I just had to experience this gem as an audiobook because it’s read, er performed as the book cover notes, by the inimitable Meryl Streep. And Meryl definitely delivers a performance. This is a lovely, lovely, engaging story ~ the pandemic is the backdrop, the reason why three daughters return to their family’s cherry farm in Michigan. There, they beg their mother to tell them the story of her early acting career success and her romance with a famous Hollywood actor. After all, they seemingly have all that time being together when not picking cherries.  Streep’s reading is magic. The award-winning performer surely sets a new benchmark for narration. Often, I’d replay a passage just for the sheer joy of listening to Streep interpret the words. Glorious. Perfection.  I saw an interview where Patchett said when she was writing the book, she had Streep in her head when creating the mother, Lara, and telling her story ~  this “meditation” on love.  Please enjoy this extraordinary book. 

Another audiobook that was electrifyingly good, is Dear Mr You read with great enthusiasm by the actress Mary-Louise Parker. What a trip. I have seen Ms. Parker on Broadway a few times, and she used to live in our family-sized Gotham apartment building. I never spoke to her there, though. But you know her unique, captivating voice.  She is a Powerhouse when telling her story of past loves and the men in her life.  The book’s construct is unique also ~ she presents the stories as letters to the men from her life. Funny and poignant. 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Maybe THE best book I read is Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. 

Set in the 1960’s this story is about a woman chemist but due to patriarchy, Elizabeth Zott is never going to succeed at the research institute where she works. She does fall for a man who falls for her mind! It is chemistry ~ the love kind. I won’t spoil the story here but due to life circumstances, she becomes a beloved, albeit reluctant TV cooking star. This is a wry, hilarious, and yet poignant story.  I promise you will love this page turner. 

And if I wasn’t so thrifty, I’d sign on to Apple TV to see the Lessons in Chemistry show. (We have sooo many cable packages and movie channels already, I can’t justify paying for more.)  I hear it’s great, and Brie Larson is terrific in the lead, as is the vintage on-set kitchen design. 

Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang

Land of Milk and Honey is one of my most favorites, too. It could go under the category of environmental (see below) because it takes place after the world has experienced a kind of smog that has killed off the food crops and of course the fish and animals one would normally eat. The story centers around a young female chef who has secured a spot as the executive chef in a remote, swanky restaurant and kind of resort in Italy where a rich benefactor and his daughter still manage to have access to all the luxury ingredients and foods that are now impossible to get because of the smog troubles. Here in the clean world of “before” they entertain the global elite. Along with the culinary references, there is drama (what restaurant kitchen doesn’t?) but I’m also talking about the relationships of the characters, the high stakes drama of the rich trying to escape the dying world  and the surprise ending.  It’s a great story: fast-paced writing, and eerie in a good way. It’s said the book is a love letter to food and wild delight. 

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

I Have Some Questions for You, Rebecca Makkai, is a good read about a woman film producer and podcaster, Bodie, who returns to her New Hampshire boarding school to teach for a semester and figured she’d be ok with going back to the scene of the crimes. She’d been content/determined to keep the murder of her roomate buried in the distant past. But through a series of compelling circumstances, Bodie is drawn in by her students and therein lies the pursuit and plot twists to this crime thriller. 

~~~

Never Say Never, Never Say Always by Susan S. Warner

Marked Highly Rated on Goodreads is: Never Say Never, Never Say Always ~ authored by a recent Ladies Who Lunch Conversations guest: Susan Warner. This true story of grief and the author’s journey to loving again will enoble you.  

I have to explain. 

Because I earned my Death Doula certificate this year, it was only natural that I’d be interested in a few books that dealt with grief and how to manage dying with grace and love and legacy. Therefore: 

My First Review of the Year

Bittersweet by Susan Cain

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, by Susan Cain was a good one. 

I wrote a brief rating that noted “I loved this book so much ~ I felt like I read it twice because I’d go back and reread portions in order to better understand and inculcate its meanings.”  The author seeks to have us explore why we “experience sorrow and longing, the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality, and love.”  That’s a potent mix.

The In-Between by Hadley Vlahos

I listened to The In-Between on audio, as it was read by the author, Hadley Blahos who is a nurse in end-of-life care tells her story of missed chances when she got pregnant in college at 19, the death of a friend, overcoming many roadblocks to succeed at nursing school, and working ~ as a single mother.  Working for her clients with great respect, honesty, and passion, we learn of her palliative and hospice work that she terms that “in-between” passage from this life to the next.  Some of the stories are just downright magical and very enlightening. This memoir can transform you.  

I’ve learned that the author has just signed a TV deal that will bring her stories to the screen.  Sounds good to me.  

I highly recommend this book.  

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck 

It can be argued that Kairos is a story about dealing with death: of a country and way of life as well as a lover.  Author Jenny Erpenbeck is a highly regarded German writer and I was keen to explore her work.  You will be rewarded with moody and descriptive prose… 

The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat 

The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat,  was yet another foray into going with grace. This book is both a personal account about the death of the author’s mother from cancer that leads her to an analysis of how other writers across many time spans portray death in their literature. Suicide? Murder? Illness? Terrorist attacks and accidents? Dantical explores writers’ interpretations, including Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Márquez. It is not at all depressing; rather in deconstructing passages, she explores the inevitable through artful analysis. 

~~~

I indulged in a few ecological narratives from a different perspective.  

Ledger by Jane Hirshfield

Ledger by Jane Hirshfield’s poems are tender and a kind of mourning and grieving for our changing environment, as well as injustice overall.  Ledger offers a compassionate window to loss and a true love of nature and everyday objects.  I like her perspective and I highly recommend this almost meditative book… In fact, I was so enamored of Hirschfield’s style, that I read her book, The Beauty, right after the Ledger. 

The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield

Enchantment by Katherine May

In a similar vein, Enchantment by Katherine May is a way to view our hyper xx world but from the point of view of wonder; awe.  The author takes you on a journey to reawaken our senses to recognize the restorative power of earth, water, fire and air and the magic that is there if we recalibrate our ability to focus using our innate sensuality. May leads us to find peace and beauty.  

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Likewise, Braiding Sweetgrass is almost poetry ~ and ode to Nature as practiced by Native Americans. The author is a scientist and a professor and her writing is tender and beautiful. You learn a lot from how she grew up using tradition to show gratitude for the environment. Sweetgrass is an astonishing plant, too… However, I found that there was a lot of repetition on certain subjects and wish she could have edited it down. But hey, when she writes that we need to hear the language of other beings we are capable of understanding the earth, perhaps we do need to hear that with frequency… 

From the sweet to the scary:  New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, a New York Times best seller, is probably the most popular writer in the burgeoning climate fiction category.  As I write this, here in New York a giant winter wind and rain storm is raging ~ the wind is howling and the rain is pelting the windows as I peck this out ~ along with attendant coastal flooding, sooo this mid or near-term disaster novel doesn’t seem so far fetched or in the future as science fiction anymore… 

In the book, glaciers have melted, sea levels have risen and thus, the world as we know it is forever changed. The citizens of New York, ever resourceful and plucky, adapt. This character driven story lets us experience a future that seems to be telling us what normal will be. Downtown New York is like Venice. People motor about in boats, skiffs, and hovercrafts to get to work and school.  The status of buildings and accessibility to food is told in a very matter of fact way, not dystopian but in a resigned kind of way.  I got a sense of, “If this is the hand that we’re dealt, then here’s how we’re gonna manage it.” Of course it’s frightening in a very real sense. From a storytelling standpoint, it works because this emerging climate fiction creates worlds that we can understand.  We won’t like it but by the time most realize we could have prevented it, we’ll be sailing to the office… 

I like the way the author weaves the tale.   

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

This is just all too real. But we need to know this stuff.  Great book; great writing. 

~~~

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

This past year, I made a special effort to again, read more classic literature  ~ it was my Jane Austen year ~ (surprisingly, we were never assigned any of her books in school), as well as books authored by underserved writers who, in previous times, usually never had the chance to get published.  Our loss then, is our gain now and I encourage you to explore books that give voice to people and experiences that heretofore were closed to too many readers. Not in a book banning way but more from an ignorance and prejudicial perspective.   A few I suggest in addition the ones below are: The Neighbor Favor, Your Driver is Waiting. Each of Us a Desert. 

The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest      and Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns and   Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead   

I love everything by Colson Whitehead.  Great writing, outstanding narratives and memorable characters.  The Nickel Boys is frightening; riveting. The Nickel Academy reform school is a place of horrors. One mistake by the protagonist, Ellwood, turns him from a follower of Dr. King’s admonishment to love, to one of pragmatic cynicism. The story weaves history through this tragic portrayal.  You won’t soon forget this one. 

Solito by Javier Zamora

This story of a young boy’s intrepid journey to the United States is harrowing, to say the least. It’s a testament to his fortitude and luck. The details of him getting to his destination to be with his family breaks your heart but enriches your spirit.  

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

This dragged a bit but overall it is a story of women triumphing over life in the Old West. 

~~~

Enchanting books include: 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett    

 Bel Canto. A world famous opera singer is brought to Lima, Peru to impress the Japanese ambassador who the Peruvians know is passionate about opera.  (As am I.)  The performance is a triumph but before the assembled guests can leave the embassy, terrorists storm the mansion.  All the guests are hostages.  They also find a way to live together while they wait for their captors or the government to reach a settlement. The story is fraught with danger but also with love as the passion for the music and the closeness brought on by the situation brings what would be “odd” couples together.  You’ll be somewhat surprised by the ending. Ann Patchett is a wonderful writer.  And she owns a bookstore! What’s not to love about her? (see Tom Lake above.)  

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Yuta Onoda, Paperback | Barnes &  Noble®

Kiki is a children’s book, translated from the original Japanese by one of my brother-in-law’s children, Emily Balistrieri ~ who also earned a Pen Award last year for the novel, The Tatami Galaxy. 

This is a delightful book for children of all ages as you follow Kiki, the good witch and her loyal cat, Jiji who for a year, must  serve the community in a town far from her parents, all as part of her witches training.  You’ll find high jinx and some close calls and lots of love as Kiki learns friendship and responsibility. 

More enchantment:   

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han  The Summer I Turned Pretty is a wonderful coming of age story set in a New England summer beach town.  It’s also a good movie series. 

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl   I so love Ruth Reichl and her writing.  Save Me the Plums is a juicy, lively, honest retelling of her career at Gourmet magazine and all the Conde Nast goings on.  We know the ending ~ that the unthinkable closing of the classic magazine but I was still riveted to learn all the details of how Gourmet got put on the chopping block.  

And few can describe food in such a sensual way as Ruth can.  You will enjoy this journey as she writes it.  

I met Ruth at the 92 St Y for one of her lectures and book signings. 

The Incarnations by Susan  Barker

A strange but gripping story of a taxi driver who is haunted over the centuries by a mysterious soulmate who sends him letters. 

~~~

Alternatively, there are some books I took on and had respect for, but ultimately can’t really recommend. Ouch. I hate writing this, especially because the two books are memoirs and I can imagine what it took to get these stories written. 

Spare by Prince Harry

But in the end, Spare by Prince Harry came across as resentment, anger, and pointing fingers and a bit of “I told you so.”  Dare I say “whining.”  Not that I don’t think that he got a bum deal but there comes a point when grievance has to be recognized as not a winning strategy.  I can’t imagine there will be a follow on to Spare because he’s pretty much blown it all and told all the bad stuff here.  No big reveals or juicy stuff either. 

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

The other dud was Brittany Spears’ The Woman in Me. Because I adore Michelle Williams and she did the narrative for the book, I listened to it on audiobook.  However, William’s award-winning voice couldn’t make up for the poor narrative and writing. Like Spare, this book too does have its share of whining, albeit here, Britney has cause. This poor woman has been through hell. And the fact that she essentially lost her thirties while she was forced to live under her father’s conservatorship ~ for nearly 14 years is just scandalous.  However, she never seems to take any responsibility.  She tells us she so wanted to be a performer. Yet, she hated the grueling schedules. She thought she was mature but she couldn’t manage. I wanted her to explain, to delve into those contradictions rather than just complain about it.  Everyone now knows about her Justin “reveals.” It does add to the story.  From a book review standpoint, I felt that it reads more like a girl’s diary. It jumps around too much from chronological storytelling to episodic. I wanted to know more of what she was thinking and feeling, especially while she was under conservatorship. Not just the Dragnet facts. I wished there was more thoughtfulness and introspection about her truly tragic story. 

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie  

Couldn’t get on board with this one either… Too bad. Loved the premise of two best Afghan girlfriends and their changing worlds. 

~~~

Cookbook

Yes, Yes. I am a very proud member of Les Dames d’Escoffier.  😂But in spite of that, (or because of that?!), I highly recommend this book. 

I so enjoy using the splendid and unique cookbook and have gifted it. Here, Les Dames d’ Escoffier New York, the most influential and accomplished women in the food world, present their favorite recipes for everything from simple weekday meals to spectacular party dishes. 

Authors Silvia Baldini and Sharon Franke showcase seventy-six family recipes and pairings by Pascaline Lepeltier, MOF, and including a dedication by Lidia Bastianich to LDNY founder Carol Brock and a foreword by Carla Hall.

You’ll “discover the dishes and recipes that some of the most heralded women in the food business, in the greatest city in the world for food, cook when they are in their own home kitchens.”

And the best part besides how delicious the photographs are and how mouth- wateringly tasty the dishes are?  The monies from the book sales goes to our Scholarship Fund!


Ana Turns by Lisa Gornick

I have highlighted Ana Turns previously but it’s worth including again here. I was given an author’s copy to review and I can honestly tell you it’s a book worth reading. It is good writing and an original way to offer the story, told in one day/24 hours of a woman turning 60. The narration flips from the present to the past in the life of the two main characters ~ lovers for nine years.  You might be surprised at the ending…

And this is the end of my 2023 book recommendations. I hope you are enlighted and enjoyed the sneak previews enough to get some or all of these books to read. 

For the full list of my 2023 books, you can go here to My Goodreads page ~ and Follow too 🙂

And of course, please remember you can enjoy my books: those I’ve authored and those I’ve contributed to:
Let’s also make this the year that we show our Library Love! 

Can’t wait to see what books are in the bookbag for 2024. 

Cheers!


2 Comments

  • Garden Glamour

    Thank you so much for your input. So glad you enjoyed the Reading List suggestions. Do you have any favorites and recommendations to share?? Happy Reading.

  • Anonymous

    Some great additions to your winter reading list.

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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